Melissa Perrine

Combating the Fear of Alpine Skiing Blind

Melissa Perrine
Combating the Fear of Alpine Skiing Blind

Alpine skiing is everything to me. I love the competition, the challenge and I LOVE skiing fast.

I got into Para-alpine skiing by accident. I was invited to a recreational camp by a friend of mine who ran a disabled sporting organisation when I was about 13, and decided after high school that I wanted to spend more time in the snow.

I found a development program that was run for disabled athletes in British Columbia, Canada in a town called Kimberly. I went over for a season, fell in love with racing, went back again the next season to learn how to race and by 2009 I was picked up by the Australian team.

Combating the fear

  Photo courtesy of the Australian Paralympic Committee

Photo courtesy of the Australian Paralympic Committee

I can’t really see a great deal at all when I ski.

I have zero depth perception, so nothing looks 3D to me and I can’t identify different surfaces, which is the easiest way to portray what I’m going through when on the slopes. So when I launch off a ramp and look down below at the snow, everything seems white, there’s no colour differences meaning I can’t really decipher any detail.

I still get scared with such limited sight. The fear is never going to go away, because if you’re not scared at the speeds that we go at, then you’re slightly stupid. It’s kind of something you have to deal with if you want to put in a good performance.

It’s normal to be scared of what we are doing, you aren’t the only one out there. We have the knowledge, we train for it and you do what you need to do to keep yourself safe.

How I deal with being a blind skier

Being vision impaired, having a guide is a way in which I navigate courses during an event.

My guide is basically my eyes. Everything a normal sighted person would see or have to react to, a guide needs to see that, recognise for what it is and feed that information back to me fast enough so I can react to it.

  Photo courtesy of the Australian Paralympic Committee

Photo courtesy of the Australian Paralympic Committee

Guides communicate to you via a headset, which is connected to Bluetooth in our helmets. Every single turn, they call out direction changes, terrain changes, jumps, landing zones, degree of the turns, changes of rhythm and pretty much everything else you can think of.

My guide, Christian Geiger, is really effective because he tells me what I need to know, he gives me information quickly and directly. He’s good at recognising things in the course and communicates that to me well. He’s also a great skier which makes things really easy.

The trust relationship between me and my guide must be strong. I’ve got to be able to trust everything that comes out of his mouth and he’s got to be able to do the same thing for me. Not only is he my guide, but he’s also my coach as well. It means that open communication has to be a massive part of our relationship.

He comes and directs me through the courses which help a lot. I use a lot of visualisation techniques and memorisation so I can recall courses with a great deal of depth after inspecting. Anything I can’t remember; my guide fills in for me.

It’s taken a while to be able to memorise and visualise a course. Sometimes, I just have to adapt to the course. I try and use the things I do in everyday life to help me adapt to courses and help memorise my moves. It’s all about learning your environment and remembering it.

Being a pioneer

I never really thought about being the first Australian female to medal in the downhill vision impaired at a World Championships. It was awesome to be honest, it made me really happy.

I think we are in with a good shot at the Paralympic Games.

We are skiing really well together and we are training quite well. I think if we can perform like we can, we’ve got a really strong chance. One thing about ski racing and sport in general is how something can be flipped on its head in the span of a split second.

We are in a strong competitive field where there’s more than a handful of girls that can win on the day, but we’ll be in it for sure.

Our goals are a podium finish, culminating in a gold medal. The motivation for me is that there is a high chance these Paralympic Games will be my last, so we both want to put together a great performance. We are going to do everything we possibly can do to go out on a high.

Even though this might be my last Games, I’m excited by the prospect that my best skiing is yet to come. Although I don’t have another four years in me, I think my next two seasons can produce my best results yet. I love ski racing and I plan on doing it until I don’t love it anymore.

I didn’t perform well at Sochi, so in comparison to then, I’m skiing a lot better now.

I’m stronger, I’m fitter, I’m healthier and I’m skiing better. I’m in a really good place this season. I’m hoping everything goes according to plan.

  Photo courtesy of the Australian Paralympic Committee

Photo courtesy of the Australian Paralympic Committee

Aussie Paralympian . Visually impaired ski racer 🎿. Recent Physiotherapy grad . MMA enthusiast . Book addict 📖 . Coffee snob ☕