Feb. 23, 2012
by Mary Sincell McEwen
Inspired by what they saw at a faraway ski slope more than three decades ago, two area men launched a program in 1976 that has grown into a much-anticipated, traditional event at the Wisp Resort. Bill Thoman, former mountain manager of Wisp, and Jay Kamineck, a former ski instructor, were skiing out West when they saw sighted volunteers assisting young people with vision challenges in skiing down a mountainside. They came back home and went to the Deep Creek Lions Club to make a pitch for a new service project. The Lions latched onto the idea immediately, and the local Blind Skier Program was born.
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Each year, students from the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB) in Baltimore work hard to earn the right to come to Garrett County. The adventure on the ski slopes is a reward for good behavior and excellent grades at the school, where about 124 students live full-time. If they perform well, they know they have the chance to travel to Garrett County and Wisp Resort for three days of fun.
While they are working toward that goal, members of the Deep Creek Lions Club and extended volunteers are also hard at it, too, planning for the year’s excursions. Each winter, the Lions bring three groups of students to Wisp for two full days of skiing. Many area people get involved in the process, including high school students who are good skiers and who like to pitch in as guides.
Barbara Law, a teacher at both Northern and Southern high schools, coordinates the students each year. She taught chiefly at Northern for more than 20 years before moving to Southern, so the student “bold guides” have chiefly come from NHS in the past. She has worked hard to involve more students from Southern, and did get a few more this year. She hopes to continue that trend and have groups of volunteers from both county high schools.
Linda Buchanon, another local resident, has volunteered her time for 16 years to organize the adults who take part in the program.
Tom Wenzel, a Lion and a volunteer with the program since 1991, said Wisp Resort has always provided free lift tickets to the students as well as the volunteers who may not have their own passes.
“A lot of people don’t know that Wisp does that each year,” said Wenzel. “It’s a huge help to the Lions to have that covered.”
Buchanon added that Wisp also provides all the rental ski equipment free of charge.
“And the lift operators go out of their way to assist our children,” Buchanon said. “Their cooperation is greatly appreciated.”
While the folks in Garrett County are organizing and planning, the same is going on at the school. Scheduling begins in September, when the MSB staff sets the dates for the three excursions.
“The kids will come to me at the beginning of the school year, already asking about the trips,” said Pam Schirmer, a recreation specialist at MSB. She has been with the program nearly from its inception. “The kids want this trip. They look forward to it all year, and work hard to be selected for it.”
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