Jacob Smith, legally blind teen skiing on a casual run through the pines in Big Sky, Montana. Image credit cbsnews.com
Voices of Experience

Legally Blind FreeRider Competes With Sighted Skiers

Apr 28, 2022

Legally Blind FreeRider Competes With Sighted Skiers

The 60 Minutes profile on Freeride skier, Jacob Smith, totally consumes your attention. Freeriding means he skis jagged cliffs, deep chutes, and rough rock walls. That would be impressive enough for anyone, but Jacob is 15 years old, legally blind and skiing against sighted competitors. Once you meet him, you will not forget him.

The story includes Video of Jacob, a few years earlier at the age of 12, dropping into the Big Couloir, a rocky 1400-foot line that descends on a 50-degree pitch. He became the only legally blind skier to successfully conquer this legendary slope at the Big Sky Resort in Montana. It felt so satisfying, he repeated the risky run four more times that day and has not stopped taking on these types of challenges since.

Watching Jacob ski provides little indication that he has severe and blurry tunnel vision, no depth perception, and a visual acuity of 20/800. He proves you can compensate for what you cannot see, with what you can feel. But that’s not all, he also has a trusted and experienced voice guiding him through every turn, it’s the voice of his dad, Nathan, on a two-way radio. It’s not an always perfect scenario and mistakes are made, “But his adaptation is pretty amazing,” says Dad.

Competitive skiing is a family affair, and the Smiths were not about to leave Jacob behind following years of treatment and multiple surgeries, beginning at age 8, to eradicate the brain tumor that took his sight.  His siblings Andrew, Preston and Julia say most people who see him ski do not believe he’s legally blind. He does not request or receive any special accommodations at Freeride tournaments and wants to be treated normal, that’s why he competes with sighted skiers. The only real fear he has is “not succeeding.” He says, “No matter what comes at you, there is always a way to adapt, to make it happen and still do what you want to do.”

Watch Jacob Smith: The legally blind 15-year-old freeride skier on 60 Minutes.

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About the Author: Dorrie Rush

Dorrie Rush is the Chief Content Officer and Visual Accessibility Expert at Ophthalmic Edge Patients (OE Patients), an online resource, presented by the Association for Macular Diseases, providing practical information and empowering advice for living a full and successful life with vision loss.

She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.

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