On a canoe trip more than 30 years ago, Ron Walsh, heard about the Saskaloppet kupesewin overnight ski, part of the Don Allen Saskaloppet. This year marked the 39th Saskaloppet, which was held on March 3 and 4.
Walsh, the host of the TV show Blind Adventures with Ron Walsh and Friends was their, doing what he’s always done: staying in shape and having fun.
“Actually, I’m way more physically fit after I was diagnosed and went blind than before,” Walsh said in an interview with the Northern Advocate. “Before, I drove motorcycles and that, but, afterwards I got a canoe and mountain bike and cross country skis. I got way more physically fit.”
While there are Loppet ski events in many areas, the overnight kupesewin, Cree for stop-over, is fairly unique. There are several parts to it: the kupesewin lite, where all participants ski 26 km on Day 1 before reaching the overnight camp at the Summit checkpoint. Beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Day 2, they ski home 24 kms.
The kupesewin Sasquatch and Marathon involve skiing 35 km on Day 1 before reaching the Summit. The kupesewin began Friday, March 3 and ended on March 5.
The Sasquatch skiers “carry or tow all of their survival and camping gear,” reads the Don Allen Saskaloppet 2023 newsletter.
All kupesewin skiers need to carry water and food enough to be self-reliant.
Walsh, 63, is completely blind, and has been since 2016.
At 27 he was told, he was going blind, but when was an unknown.
“I registered the information,” he remembered. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, so, I just tried to do whatever I as doing before that.
“I drove. When I quite driving, I rode mountain bike for about eight years in Saskatoon, summer and winter and then I peddled from Calgary to Victoria on my mountain bike. That got a little hairy after a while, so I quit that.”
Deciding to do the kupesewin took “lots of preparation,” Walsh said.
Along with the physical preparation, “there’s working with other people to get the communication down between guides.”
It’s important, he said, to have people who you feel confident to work with.
“If you walk into fences and stuff, you don’t want to work with them … Working with people that you are confident to work with is very important.”
John McClean works with Walsh as a guide. He skis behind and, using technology, they communicate.
Two years ago Walsh connected with Ashlyn George, former Saskatchewanderer, and she joined his team. She skied ahead of Walsh and watches for challenging terrain, for example, a steep hill with a curve, she skis first and can worn Walsh of what’s coming.
So, technology is also important. They have headphones and “then a little mic in the front of you and with contact back and forth, there’s no delay when they say, ‘turn left’, I get exactly what’s supposed to be and it gives you a whole lot of confidence.”
And the kapesewin, was it worth waiting 31 years?
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was tough, and it was amazing being around the other skiers … their speed. It’s just absolutely inspiring to see some of the times people do, like how they an possible go that fast, but they do.”
There were “no shortage of challenges. The elevation is this huge elevation change. The tracks were really in good shape. Thanks to the volunteers that did all that. But, still there’s lot s of hills. It was all challenging right from the beginning. That’s a long ways … I’ve never skied that far. The farthest I’ve done is 1 2 km race over 10 years ago.”
Walsh has done much winter camping so that was no problem. He was excited, so sleep was illusive.
Walsh was also accompanied by a film crew, part of his Blind Adventures television, with which he completed one series, is filming a second and working toward a third.
The camping overnight inspired Walsh to come to La Ronge to participate in the Saskaloppet kupesewin.
“I thought, I’m not getting any younger, I go do this while I can. One of these days I’m going to be old.”
His television show, Blind Adventures with Ron Walsh and Friends, features outdoor activities and is meant to inspire blind people “to get our and door more things.”
Walsh has his own crew and “they follow me around and try to keep up. They keep huffing and puffing and it’s working out really good so far.”
Walsh holds a producer’s role with the company, which means he does much arranging in the background.”
Many crew members don’t have the experience so he does much arranging for the crew.
With the kupesewin, there were four crew, including three camera and sound people and the director working on filming.
They have two producers, a field producer assistant, not on site, and a writer in Saskatoon. “We are also working with AMI (Access Media Incorporated) and they have a huge crew kinda working with us.”
AMI is a blind channel, set up for people blind, or visually impaired. “It’s the only one in the world, said Director Glen Kerby.
Although the show is mostly focused on people who are blind, or visually impaired, it also involves people in wheelchairs and those with other disabilities.
Walsh’s next challenge – maybe the Canadian Challenge Dog Race!