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Photos: Sound and Vision

Skiing with the United States Association of Blind Athletes

BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT — How does a person even fathom launching oneself down the side of a snowy mountain on one or two waxed planks? To non-skiers, it might seem like adrenaline-fueled insanity, perhaps one of the many reasons the skiing and riding population enjoy it. Now try doing it while visually impaired or blind. To many, it seems impossible, not to mention impractical. The United States Association of Blind Athletes is an organization that seeks to change such perceptions, aiming to empower individuals and change the way we approach blindness.

Andrew Mcleod holds onto Gardner Popp’s arm as she guides him towards the ski slopes on Friday, Feb. 28, during the 11th Annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest hosted by the United States Association of Blind Athletes at Breckenridge.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Andrew Mcleod gets a bit of assistance clicking into his skis during the afternoon session of the 11th Annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest hosted by the United States Association of Blind Athletes on Friday, Feb. 28 at Breckenridge.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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“The mission of the Association of Blind Athletes is to enhance the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired by providing quality sports experiences and opportunities,” says Mark Lucas, the association’s executive director. Lucas has been with the organization for 27 years and the executive director since 2001. For those who spend even a short amount of time with him, it is clear how much Lucas cares about each participant of the annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest. Lucas says he wants to continue to “inspire the nation” with the abilities of people who are blind and visually impaired.

Gardner Popp and Debi Quintero use a pole to assist blind athlete Andrew Mcleod (center) as he skis the mountain at the 11th Annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Blind athlete Andrew Mcleod (center) uses a pole to assist in skiing at the 11th Annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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The fest had 15 participants, some who are seasoned veterans, others who are stepping into skis for the very first time.

Blind skier Lillian Goldman of Portland, Oregon pumps her arms in the air after successfully completing another run at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Blind skier Lillian Goldman and her guide Nicole Chandler proudly beam at their joint efforts as they prepare to load the Quicksilver lift for another run at Breckenridge Ski Resort on Friday, Feb. 28.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Blind skier Lillian Goldman of Portland, Oregon uses a headset to communicate with her guide on the slopes at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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So how does a blind skier successfully navigate a crowded ski slope? With a healthy dose of listening, patience, trust and a dash of courage. Lillian Goldman, a native of Portland, Oregon, relied on a wireless headset to communicate with her guide, Nicole Chandler. Nicole serves as Lillian’s eyes and ears on the slopes, telling her which direction to turn, when to slow down and what obstacles are in her path. It is a true team effort in which they work through challenges together and celebrate each other’s abilities and successes.

Nicole Chandler is one of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center volunteers participating in the 11th Annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest hosted by the United States Association of Blind Athletes at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28. Chandler is guiding Lillian Goldman over the course of several days and is communicating via wireless headset, letting her know what obstacles are in her path on the ski slopes.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Blind skier Lillian Goldman holds onto the arm of her guide Nicole Chandler after skiing at Breckenridge Ski Resort on Friday, Feb. 28.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Fifteen men and women participate in the 11th Annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest hosted by the United States Association of Blind Athletes at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Californian Courtney Mazzola soaks up the sun as she skis with her guide Katherine Foley at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28. Mazzola has been a participant of the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes for nine years.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Courtney Mazzola takes a mid-mountain break with her guide Katherine Foley and Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center volunteer Barb Tabb at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Executive Director of the United States Association of Blind Athletes, Mark Lucas, (center) checks in with groups of athletes, guides, and Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center volunteers as they make their way down the slopes at Breckenridge Ski Resort on Friday, Feb. 28.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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Courtney Mazzola, a surfer and skier from California, is a 9 year veteran of the program.

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“When I return, I never know what it’s going to feel like. Last year I was doing black [diamond] and there was, just, this sense of terror,” she recalls, laughing at mid-mountain, “and I thought ‘am I actually going to make it?’ and then I did.”

When asked by Lucas about her guide, Katherine Foley, and what she credits to her success. Mazzola answers enthusiastically.

“I have an amazing guide, an incredible match this year,” Mazzola says, “I asked for someone who is sensitive to subtlety, but not micro-managing…for me, it really helps to build the whole trust (bond) which is so essential.”

Courtney Mazzola sits next to her guide, Katherine Foley, both smiling during a lunch presentation at the 11th Annual Anthem Winter Sports Fest hosted by the United States Association of Blind Athletes at Breckenridge on Friday, Feb. 28.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com
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check out the full video interview with Courtney and Mark

More information about the United States Association of Blind Athletes, can be found at usaba.org and on the organization’s Facebook page.


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