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Skiing without Sight: Class Helps Visually Impaired Hit the Slopes

ALPINE MEADOWS -- Learning to ski can be a challenging task. But for those who are visually impaired, it can be even harder.

"I didn't think that skiing would be something that I would do," said Tony Levy, a student at the Society for the Blind in Sacramento.

Before he began going blind more than a decade ago, Tony was a self-described thrill-junkie who enjoyed racing mountain bikes and motorcycles. But without sight, these activities became impossible.

"I haven't done anything really big sport-wise since I started losing my sight, so this is the first real big adventure," Tony told FOX40.

On this day, Tony is one of the students learning how to ski at Achieve Tahoe, in Alpine Meadows. The organization exposes and offers lessons to people with disabilities. Loren Rupp, an instructor with the nonprofit, says teaching blind skiers is a challenge.

"There's sort of a mental leap," Loren explained. "You have to change the way you think. You can't just say 'look at this,' or 'watch me do this.' You have to change the idea of how you talk, how to think."

Tony, who lives with macular degeneration, has some sight. But he can't see his skis or the slope in front of him. He relies on the vocal directions from his guide and the feel of the snow below his skis to move.

"It kind of feels like you're floating on the ground," said Tony. "It's really kind of a neat, freeing feeling."

Jill Guilbeau is the braille instructor at the Society for the Blind. She is completely blind and has never gone skiing before. At Achieve Tahoe, she works with two guides, who gently hold her wrists to help guide her down the hill.

"I'm loving it, I'm definitely loving it," said Jill. "The wind in the trees, hearing the ski lift."​

Jill says she frequently reminds her students that life doesn't have to end if your sight is gone.

"I tell my students all the time, there's this you can do, there's that," said Jill. "And some of them are amazed at what I can do."

This trip to Achieve Tahoe is sponsored by Dr. Chris Serdahl and his family. Dr. Serdahl, an ophthalmologist, says he wanted to share his passion for skiing, a passion he wants to share with patients he can't always help medically.

"Even if you don't have perfect vision, you can still enjoy things. Go out and be a part of the world and have a great time," said Dr. Serdahl.

For Tony and Jill, this trip is a reminder there are so many possibilities in life.

"I always say, we can do anything anyone else can. Most everything," said Jill. "But maybe just a little different."