SCOTTSBLUFF — When Scottsbluff resident Steven Senteney lost his vision and hearing 10 years ago, he went through a period of discouragement, thinking his life was over.

“I’d learned to ski in the 1980s and was an avid skier,” Senteney said. “Now I wasn’t able to do a lot of the activities I used to do in the past.”

Senteney spent the first year of his “new normal” in school, learning how to function in everyday life in spite of two senses that were no longer there.

During that time, he also heard about a program called Black Hills Ski for Light, a winter program at Deer Mountain in South Dakota.

Since it was organized in 1979, the Black Hills Regional Ski for Light program offers downhill and cross country skiing, along with snowshoeing for blind/visually impaired and mobility impaired individuals

“I started attending about eight years ago and realized I could still keep on skiing despite my deafness and blindness,” Senteney said. “I realized my life wasn’t over with and with alternative solutions I could do just about everything I did before — except for maybe driving a car.”

Senteney said he is the only person he knows from the Scottsbluff area that attends the Ski for Light event. However, an Omaha area based tour bus service travels across the state to transport participants to the Black Hills. This winter’s event is scheduled for the third week in January 2019.

Downhill skiing takes place at Terry Peak, just outside Deadwood. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing happens at nearby Deer Mountain. The event is attended by about 200 participants from across the country. About as many volunteers also help out.

“The volunteers act as guides, providing verbal commands to the skiers on where to make turns and stop and go,” Senteney said. “I ski a bit differently than most other blind skiers.”

Because Senteney has about a 70 percent loss of hearing, a Ski for Light board member came up with a solution for when he’s on the downhill slope.

A cord runs from under his helmet to a battery pack on his back. Through a wireless connection with the volunteer guide, vibration signals are sent as commands, similar to a cell phone in vibration mode.

Senteney said about half of the participants are dealing with physical challenges, so special sleds are used to push them down the slopes.

He also likes the social aspect of the Ski for Light event. Nighttime activities include dances and live bands at the No. 10 Saloon (where Wild Bill Hickok was killed), karaoke nights, a slot tournament and plenty of opportunity for participants to visit and share stories.

“I get to meet people from around the country who are also dealing with vision and hearing disabilities,” Senteney said. “It’s encouraging for me to be around other people who face the same challenges. I realize I can accomplish a lot more things than I thought I could.”

The Black Hills Winter Light organization also sponsors Summer Light, a two-day camping trip to Custer State Park in August. Participants take part in canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding and bicycling, along with a nightly bonfire.

The local organization is accepting donations to help with the Bus Across Nebraska to bring participants to the Black Hills. Contact Karen Lemmon at 308-667-2054 for more information.

To learn more about the Ski for Light program, visit its website at bhsfl.org.

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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