The Big Blind

Interview by Sam Baldwin
Published April 2006


The heli-drop is the pinnacle of the snowboarding experience. The steep, deep, challenging terrain is far from the safety of cosy alpine cafes, groomed runs and ski patrol. Avalanches, crevasses and cliffs make this the territory of pros and experts only; if you mess up here, it’s game over. That’s what makes Adil Latif’s quest to descend a peak in the Italian Alps for the Asian Earthquake Appeal charity all the more remarkable. Adil is not only a novice snowboarder, he’s also blind.

There are many ways to raise money for charity, what made you choose a snowboard helidrop? 

I thought it would be easier than doing a sponsored silence! Also I thought it would challenge me a little and attract some attention for the charity I am fundraising for.

Could you tell us a little about your eye condition?

The technical name for it is Retinitis Pigmentosa, however you can refer to it with the more funky title ‘RP’. It results in the cells on my retina slowly dying as I get older which means I see less and less. My eyesight was near perfect before the age of 14 after which it began to decline. Now 10 years on, I have only 5% of my sight left.

You’ve been in training for your helidrop attempt – can you describe the sensation of snowboarding blind?

I guess the closest sensation for people with full vision would be akin to experiencing a whiteout. When I am in motion all I really see is white, but I can feel the vibration beneath my board. It’s quite exciting as most of the time I can’t anticipate undulations, so I only realise that a dip or a small rise is there after going over it! It is also quite difficult at times to judge the speed at which I am travelling as I don’t have any points of reference such as passing trees or rocks.

How are you enjoying snowboarding? Will you be going on snowboarding holidays after you’ve completed your challenge?

I found it fun at the beginning, but it became quite frustrating when I began learning the turns especially as I found it very difficult to carve and continuously slid down the fall line like a brick. The funny side is that when I thought I was carving, I was in fact sliding! I am getting better and can just about feel the difference beneath my board. I am just waiting for the time when I become comfortable, and am able to actually have smooth flowing turns and really start enjoying it again, then I will go on lots of holidays.

We often hear that blind people’s other senses are heightened – how do you use sound and touch to navigate your way?

Sorry can you repeat that I didn’t hear you. Smile
My other senses such as hearing, aren’t as super human as people might imagine, especially as 90% of my time during my day job I have a set of earphones in my ears which I’m sure are effecting my hearing. However it’s true if you are lacking in one sense you tend to use your others more so I may have slightly better senses such as touch and memory (though my instructor may not think that at times - I can be really useless!). However I don’t have special senses that allow me to smell the difference in snow or anything like that!

Could you tell us a little about what motivated you to carry out this challenge for this particular charity?

A lot of natural disasters have taken place recently. I want to bring attention to the Asian earthquake as it was the most destructive with 80 thousand people dying as a result, many of them children. It’s obvious we can’t help the people who have already died, but we can however help save the lives of the survivors who will die in their thousands if help isn’t got to them urgently in the form of blankets, tents and basic food. The issue is made more serious due to the harsh mountainous region as it’s very difficult and expensive getting help to the effected regions.

What are people’s most common reaction when you tell them about the challenge?

Shock and awe. The majority of people say “I’m not even blind and I don’t think I could do that”- this includes my best mate who is Mr 10 stones over weight and hasn’t exercised in the last 15 years!

This interview was conducted by email. How do blind people deal with the internet?

People who are registered blind have different levels of vision. Some people who have some usable sight use screen magnification software which enlarges everything on the screen. My sight is quite bad so I can’t read anything from my screen, so I have to resort to a sexy blond who sits next to me and reads out the information for me.  However when my non-existent blond isn’t present, I resort to using screen reading software which reads out the information to me in a synthesised voice sounding similar to Stephen Hawking.


How popular is skiing/snowboarding amongst the blind community?

Snowboarding is quite new to the blind community I think. Skiing on the other hand is well established as seen in the Paralympics.

Where have you been training, and how has it been going so far?

I had a brief session in Lake Placid, New York, but most of my current and future training will take place in Chamonix, France, under the guidance of Keith McIntosh who works with Neil McNab ( I’ve had my first five days of training with Keith and have a couple more long weekends planned. I think I know the theory of the basics ok; I just need to practice it more and then get in some off-piste experience.

How exactly does the learning to snowboard process work for a blind person?

It will differ from person to person. I began my sessions with Keith by him taking me over how the board is designed and the different ways in which the board can be bent.  I then learnt where the pressure points were on the board, and we created a name for each of them and a name for the different positions in which I can be on a board. So when we ride, Keith provides two pieces of information:

1. Riding behind me and shouting out the directions in which I should be turning using a clock face as a measure, for example “1 o’clock to go right and 11 o’clock for left.” He also provides me with a general overview of the shape of the slope before we ride.

2. Shouting out the different pressure points I need to activate. However, I need this less and less as I get more comfortable on the board.

What made you choose a snowboard over skis?

Good question, and I’m not too sure. I have tried both and seem to enjoy snowboarding more, though I’m not sure if this was because I didn’t really stick around to become any good at skiing. I do plan to improve my skiing in the future.

Where and when will your heli-drop challenge take place?

All going well, it will take place next winter season (Jan 2007). The exact location is yet to be decided, but the most likely route would be to take the chopper from Courmayuer in Italy, fly up Val Veni and then descend down the Col Du Pyramid.

What other sports or hobbies do you do?

I enjoy travelling and learning about new cultures. I also practice Brazilian Jujitsu and indoor rock climbing.

Good luck with your challenge Adil, you’re a brave man. You have Snow Sphere Magazine’s full support and we’ll be speaking to you again after you’ve completed it.

Thank you for the interview. I would also like to say that I’ve received a lot of kind words of support from so many people, and this is helping me a lot, thanks.

Please support Adil and help the victims of the Asian Earthquake, by donating at this site: - all donations are very gratefully accepted.