Ex heli-ski guide launches Braille Mountain Initiative following battle with rare condition that left him blind

Backcountry skiers are dwarfed by the mountains as they make their way along a mountain ridge near McGillivray Pass Lodge located in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia, on January 10, 2012. Rescue officials are asking backcountry users to choose low-risk activities as the risk for COVID-19 grows. The warning comes after the Alberta government asked ski hills in the province to close to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Twenty-nine-year old Tyson Rettie is an avid outdoorsman from Okotoks, Alta., who spent his life enjoying the mountains as a heli-ski guide.

However, when Rettie was diagnosed with a rare disease that resulted in him losing his sight, he decided he wasn’t ready to give up the back country just yet.

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This past winter was Rettie’s first season skiing as a blind person, following his diagnosis of a rare form of Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy.

He noted that while the path down the mountain is a little more complicated without sight, it’s still a sport he enjoys being a part of.

“I go skiing with the same people I went skiing with before, now I just require a little more instruction,” Rettie said in an interview with 770 CHQR.

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“If it’s really open terrain with very few obstacles then my partner will tell me and then I have the opportunity to ski freely,” he added.

“If we’re in terrain where there are a lot of obstacles, I’ll ski a couple metres behind them, we’ll go slower and they’ll be very vocal about what’s around them.”

Now Rettie is looking to help other blind and partially sighted individuals get back to enjoying the outdoors, despite their disability, with the Braille Mountain Initiative.

“We’re a non-profit organization with the focus of getting blind and visually impaired skiers involved in mountain sports,” Rettie said.

The initiative was launched in May and aims to provide more opportunities for advanced skiers.

“We saw that there was a bit of a deficit in the adaptive sports world,” Rettie said. “There are a lot of programs that catered to blind, visually impaired people or people with disabilities that wanted to get into skiing or other mountain sports, and they would provide you the opportunity to learn and to begin getting involved.

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“But there weren’t any organizations providing this next challenge for them.”

Rettie said the group is designed for people with a strong skiing ability who are interested in challenging themselves to go further despite their disability.

He added that the group aims to take its first back country skiing trip next spring.

Anyone interested in being involved with the group can visit the Braille Mountain Initiative Facebook page.

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