Rekindling a passion for the slopes

Canada’s first blind instructor shares her knowledge

Out for a hike: Lisa Bentz (second from right) uses the sense of touch to know the gradient of the hiking trail. - Photo Submitted
Out for a hike: Lisa Bentz (second from right) uses the sense of touch to know the gradient of the hiking trail. – Photo Submitted

Lisa Bentz retired early at age 48 due to complications with vision loss and moved to Sun Peaks nearly four years ago from Vancouver for a lifestyle change.
She left a frustrating situation in a big city and discovered a community where she is encouraged to pursue all the outdoor activities she loves to do.

“I moved up here because the community’s so magic and everyone who lives here, it’s like living in the bubble zone, everyone’s just totally out-of-the-box thinkers and can-do people,” Bentz said.

There’s just so many things
you can’t learn about being blind
and you can’t pass on until
you live it

Sports have been an important part of life for Bentz, who was diagnosed with an incurable disease and as a result has experienced gradual vision loss since age nine. She was a nationally competitive skier and a silver medallist swimmer at the 1980 Paralympic Games in Arnhem, Netherlands.

Bentz returned to skiing upon her move after a 10-year hiatus and was nervous she wouldn’t enjoy it because of her increased loss of vision.

However, increased technology has improved guiding for visually impaired skiing and Bentz reclaimed her passion for the sport.

“It was complete freedom to me,” she said.

The can-do attitude of the community encouraged Bentz to take a teaching course and she became the first blind person to earn a Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing level 1 instructor in the nation.

“I think it’s a sense of pride and also a sense of humbleness in that hopefully other people will know that it’s possible and go try it themselves,” she said.

Bentz has begun sharing her experiences on her website, www.accessability411.ca. The site was a place where she shared the information she gained working as a medical social worker. Last year she also began writing a blog, sharing how she adapts activities such as hiking, golf and paddle boarding.

“There’s just so many things you can’t learn about being blind and you can’t pass on until you live it,” Bentz said. “Twenty years ago I never would’ve thought I was living this life (today).”

It was complete freedom to me

Bentz said the best way for her to learn a new activity is through touch. For example, to learn to paddle or to swing a club she places her hands on a hip and shoulder to feel the instructor’s motions. While hiking a steep face, she knows how big a step or drop is by feeling how much her guide’s hip flexor moves.

“You don’t have to support her or anything like that,” said Jim Alix, who is often Bentz’s guide. “This is such a social place. People are here because they want to be here. You don’t have to put yourself out to enjoy being with other people.”

Bentz is continuing to expand her horizons. Waterskiing is on the agenda for the summer, and powder skiing will be the challenge next ski season.

“You never know why you’re on this earth or why you’re given these challenges, but hopefully my experience will help somebody,” she said. “I think that people don’t know what they can do until they’re in that situation.”

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