This might sound crazy coming from someone that lives in the south, but each January I look forward to spending four days in Deadwood, South Dakota. It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year because I get to hit the slopes with some amazing people from across the country!
Black Hills Ski for Light
is an organization that offers downhill and cross-country skiing events for blind, visually impaired or mobility impaired individuals every year in late January. Each year, over 200 volunteers and 100 participants meet up in Deadwood, where all the fun begins!
This is an empowering and uplifting experience for everyone who attends. It’s common to come across both volunteers and participants who have been attending this event for ten, twenty, even thirty years without missing a year.
A huge part of what makes this event magical is the people. As soon as you arrive at Black Hills Ski for Light, you’ll be greeted with a kind, smiling face, and most likely a nice big hug!
Volunteers and participants fly in from all over the country and there are several that even come from Canada and Australia. It’s a great opportunity for me to spend time with other participants who also have some type of disability. Every year I make new friends from all over!
For this four-day experience, all participants and volunteers stay on Main Street in Deadwood. Main Street in Deadwood looks like it came straight out of a western movie from the 1950s! It’s the perfect home base for all the winter activities, meals and events.
First off, let me say that the amount of planning that it takes to feed, lodge, and transport people with visual and mobility impairments to three different winter venues is nothing short of a miracle! The volunteers go above and beyond to make this experience unforgettable and enjoyable. Most of the volunteers work full-time jobs and take a week of vacation to assist with Black Hills Ski for Light, which just goes to show how passionate they are about the event.
All participants have two guides with them at all times. Not only are the guides good skiers, but they all kept me laughing while riding the ski lift between each run. It seems that the volunteers have as much fun as the participants!
Like I mentioned above, we were able to visit different venues to experience different winter activities during our stay. Here’s a sneak peak of my experience!
Cross Country Skiing at The Meadow
The Meadow is located on land owned by Wharf Resources which is a mine reclamation area. The volunteers set up both a 1K and a 5K course for shoe shoeing and sledding. When you cross-country ski you use a bucket type sled similar to the type used in downhill skiing. Poles are used to propel the sled forward at a more leisurely pace than downhill. If you was to pick up the pace cross-country skiing is an excellent cardiovascular workout and can build great upper body strength. Cross-country skiing also called Nordic skiing is ideal for people who enjoy more peace and solitude while exploring the beautiful trails in the meadow. You can expect to have some sore muscles after a day of cross-country skiing. It’s a great way to get in shape and enjoy the beautiful winter scenery South Dakota has to offer.
The cross-country area is where they set up a large tent so people can warm up, enjoy a beverage or an amazing home-cooked meal. Volunteers cooked delicious food each day.
The Meadow is also the location for the annual Wednesday evening bonfire. You definitely don’t want to miss the bonfire – it’s one of the highlights of the week!
Downhill Skiing at Terry Peak
Sitting at over 7,000 feet, Terry Peak has multiple lifts and runs to keep things interesting. I have to admit, downhill skiing is my favorite event, so Terry Peak was perfect for me and where I spent a majority of my time. There was lots of fresh snow and the views are spectacular!
Ski for Light can accommodate beginning level skiers to experts. I fall into the beginner category and I improved a little more each day. The guides allowed me to become more independent as my confidence grew.
For people with mobility impairment, you have the option of using a sit-ski mono-ski
or a bi-ski
. The bi-ski is easier to use for beginners and people that have less core strength. The Mono-ski only has one ski underneath the bucket that you sit in and requires more balance. You can use out-riggers that help you balance and make turns using your arms.
When you need a break, the lodge is large and has lots of windows so you can watch all of the action while you are warming up or having lunch.
Snowmobiling was another option available for attendees. The venue for snowmobiling is called Recreational Springs Resort
. The resort offers cabins, campgrounds, snowmobile and ATV rentals. Depending on your disability you have the option to sit with the driver of the snowmobile or ride in an enclosed sled to view the beautiful trails of the Black Hills. The reason I enjoyed the snowmobile ride so much is that normally a person in a wheelchair can't get through the woods. It’s not often I am able to feel like I took a “walk” through a winter wonderland.
I think one of the things that I miss to most about being able to walk is getting close to nature. I love to feel the wind in my face and seeing the untouched snow!
When we aren’t all hitting the slopes, there was plenty of other activities and places to visit during our time in Deadwood.
- Saloon #10 was a popular place to go to at night
- Karaoke night
- Chair Dance sessions a few nights of the week
- Unofficial tradition of the power wheelchair users in the group racing down Main Street late at night.
- Lots of delicious meals!
I can say from experience that it takes a lot of stamina to dance all night and ski all day. Everyone is exhausted from too much fun at the end of this four-day adventure!
Black Hills Ski for Light
The Black Hills Ski organization is forty-one years old this year and Ski for Light is an international non-profit organization with programs Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Pennsylvania, Canada, and Japan, just to name a few.
I have only attended the Black Hills event and I can say it is an event that I would love to attend every year. The fees they charge for the week include hotel, transportation and all of the skiing events. There is a separate charge for your food for the week and the prices are very reasonable.
I love the town of Deadwood and the scenery at each venue is beautiful. The best part of the experience is the lifetime friendships that you make. I attended the last two years and the people who attend each year feel like a second family to me. If you ever have the chance you should check out Ski for Light in your area!