Former Paralympian attempts to heli ski 25,000 vertical feet in fundraiser for Braille Mountain Initiative
KAYLA EMPEY | APRIL 6, 2022 Sun Peaks Independent News (SPIN)
Sun Peaks local Mark Bentz recently got to live out his dream of going heli skiing, while also raising money for the visually impared to go on backcountry adventures.
Bentz, who is blind, participated in the Paralympics in 1984 and the World Championships in 1986, winning two gold medals at each. However, he’d never had the opportunity to heli ski until meeting fellow blind skier and founder of the Braille Mountain Initiative, Tyson Rettie.
The Braille Mountain Initiative is a non-profit organization intended to give visually impared skiers the opportunity to backcountry ski. On March 30, Bentz and Rettie teamed up with Great Canadian Heli Skiing to attempt to ski 25,000 vertical feet as a fundraiser for the initiative.
“It was unbelievable. I’ve been wanting to heli ski for 40 years, ever since I started training with the Canadian Ski Team at Red Mountain,” Bentz said. “It was a dream. It still feels like a dream.”
Bentz and Rettie skied 15 runs, about one lap shy of their 25,000 vertical-foot goal. Due to the weather, they had to end their day over three hours earlier than intended.
The rotors on the helicopter were icing up in the windshield,” Bentz said. “You couldn’t see up on the glacier, you had to go into the trees. And well, blind skiing in the trees doesn’t really work out that well.”
Aside from heli skiing, Bentz has been out backcountry skiing with Rettie a few times since being connected with him through Adaptive Sports Sun Peaks. Bentz is also planning to get more involved with the initiative moving forward, including helping to lead trail trekking in the summer.
Bentz said he has been told by many organizations throughout his life he can’t participate in backcountry or heli skiing because he is blind. Now, after having the opportunity, Bentz said his heli ski adventure shows people with disabilities shouldn’t give up on their dreams.
“Regardless if it’s heli skiing or touring, you can do whatever your dream is,” Bentz said. “Whatever you want to set your goals on, dreams do come true. You’ve just got to work hard and believe in it.”
Bentz said he is especially thankful to Great Canadian Heli Skiing, which organized and paid for the trip.
“It really was exceptional what they gave us. Just the monetary value was insane, but the actual experience too,” Bentz said. “Really no questions asked. They just believed in us and said, ‘Of course, we’re going to get this done.’”
Although the heli skiing fundraiser has now ended, the Braille Mountain Initiative accepts donations anytime and has an online store at braillemountaininitiative.com.