Anchorage’s ski marathon to feature blind skier in his sixth race across the city

A man in ski gear and sunglasses holding ski poles.
Kevin Whitley, center, and guide Mike Stallings at a Ski For Light event in Colorado in 2023. (Photo courtesy Kevin Whitley)

The skiers in the Tour of Anchorage on Sunday will include a man who’s been training on the city’s trails wearing an orange bib that says “blind skier.”

That’s Kevin Whitley, a vision-impaired athlete competing in his sixth tour, and he’ll be guided by a fellow skier wearing a boom box playing music that Whitley follows. Whitley also teaches woodworking at the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

For the blind, Whitley says, learning to use power tools can instill the confidence needed for other, more routine tasks.

But he says getting out skiing, both downhill and cross country, has allowed him to enjoy the outdoors in a way he didn’t know was possible after he lost his vision.


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This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Kevin Whitley: We moved up to Anchorage in ’72, and I got into skiing then. I downhill skied for decades up at Alyeska. And of course, cross-country skiing, I was too lazy for that, I’d rather downhill ski and let gravity do all the work. But when I lost my sight, having had cross-country classes in school, I knew how to ski, and getting into the tracks was something that I could make possible to happen again. I got involved with an outfit called Ski for Light. They came up to Alaska in 2014, and I got on a pair of skis and have been cross-country skiing since.

Casey Grove: Yeah. So, you know, full disclosure, I saw you out skiing the other night, and that’s part of why we’re talking right now. And I wanted to describe what that’s like, because what I saw was you were coming down a pretty decent hill there near Goose Lake. And there, there was a guy skiing in front of you, Steve Matsuoka, and he had, like, a boombox thing kind of in a fanny pack playing some music. And then I saw you come down the hill, and you have a “blind skier” jersey on, and you’re, like, following him. Can you describe what the average training run is like for you?

KW: I think we did, That was just a 10K ski, we were just getting out. So when the Nordic Ski Association (of Anchorage) sets tracks on the trails — then, if you remember the old slot cars — I’m like a slot car once I get in those tracks. And then they just give me a descriptive audio of what the tracks are doing, you know, “We’ve got a slight right coming up here. We’ve got a left coming up here,” and they’ll kind of count it down in 3-2-1 and let me know when the turn starts. And then I can, you know, adjust my weight and balance to take the turn accordingly. And what he was wearing was a voice amplifier. It has two mic jacks on it. One is for the headset that he wears that gives me descriptive audio. And the other is where we plug in a little SanDisk or even the phone with whatever music or beat that they want to play. And it just gives me an audible landmark, something that I can continually follow.

CG: Kevin, tell me about your day job. What do you do for work?

KW: I work at the Alaska Center for the Blind (and Visually Impaired). I’m the manual skills instructor, and I’m the woodshop instructor. And I have a fully functioning craftsman shop. Band saw, table saw, radial arm saw, sander, belt sander, chop saws, drill press and all the hand tools that go along with that. And in the woodshop we built confidence. Wood is just a product we get to use to do that. So what that looks like is being able to learn how to use adaptive devices to measure and cut accurately. And, you know, what it does is it builds the confidence. If I can show them how to measure and cut something or build something with their hands without the use of vision, then there’s no reason they can’t learn how to fix themselves something to eat, they can’t learn the keyboard on the computer itself or even learn braille or do some of their daily living tasks that they might find impossible. You know, we want to turn the impossible into the possible there. It’s just real rewarding. You know, the client will come in, they’re a little timid, they’re a little fearful, a little unsure of what they’re getting into, and by the end of their training, their head’s up, shoulders back and they’re confident in what they’re doing, and they’re willing to get out into the workforce and be, you know, proud of what they can do once again, you know.

CG: So you’ve been training for the Tour 40K, you’re gonna ski that classic ski, but then after the Tour at some point you’re going overseas, right, to ski over there?

KW: Yeah, and actually, it turns out, this coming Sunday, I’ll do the Tour. The following Sunday, I will be catching a bus from Oslo up to Beitostølen in Norway, where I will ski with about 400 to 500 blind athletes from around the world, and we’ll compete for a week. We’ll compete in a 5K biathlon, we’ll compete at 10k race and then Saturday is the Ridderrennet, where it’s a 20k race.

CG: OK Kevin, last question, for folks that are, you know, heading out to ski in the Tour, whether it’s the 25 or the 40 the 50K, any advice that you would offer people heading out on the Tour?

KW: Have fun, be safe and ski fast. That’s the best advice. And, well, let’s just enjoy it. You know, I love starting up on the Hillside and skiing through the heart of Anchorage.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

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