Visually impaired skier carving a future for para-athletes in Nova Scotia

12-year-old visually impaired ski-racer, Hayden Denouden can be spotted in the winter zooming down the slopes of Martok Ski Hill following behind his guide, Zianne Khalifa. The pair in their matching orange vests often catch the interest of onlookers, and in hopes to grow the sport locally, Hayden and his family welcome the curiosity with enthusiasm. “I want people to know paraskiing exists, para-racing exists,” says Hayden. “Right now, there are only fully sighted people, I have no para competition here in all the Maritime provinces.”   

Hayden’s paraskiing story began at five years old when his mother, Cheyanne Denouden enrolled him in regular lessons on Martok Ski Hill. “Because I skied when I was little, I wanted my kids to have the same experience,” says Cheyanne. “It was actually that instructor from his very first lesson that directed us to CADS, and the rest was history.” CADS, also known as Canadian Adaptive Snowsports removes barriers preventing people with visual, physical, and mental impairments from experiencing the joys of Snowsports.    

Hayden began skiing with CADS regularly, and as his love for the sport grew so did his motivation. On the slopes, the Denouden’s stumbled upon Hayden’s next paraskiing challenge. “We were skiing and there she was, Brenda MacDonald a blind skier who happened to be on the race team. We didn’t know that racing as a blind athlete was a thing and in fact, it was,” said Cheyanne.   

The Denoudens reached out to CADS to enquire about racing and discovered that they hold an annual festival that provides race training. It’s been four years since Hayden’s para-racing journey kicked off at his first CADS ski and snowboard festival. “I did a little race and got into it, and the rest is history,” said Hayden.    

Following his first race experience with CADS, Hayden continued to train at home. The more time he needed on the hill, the more it became clear that he was missing one vital tool, a committed guide. “Over the past few years, we’ve kind of been doing a piecemeal guide. It wasn’t funded, it wasn’t paid for so it was difficult- well impossible to get someone to commit their time 100 per cent to Hayden” says Cheyanne. “With guiding it’s all about that communication and it takes a while to get into a rhythm.”   

In 2021, circumstances took a positive turn. Sport Nova Scotia, and Ski Nova Scotia among other organizations provided Hayden with funding towards his now full-time guide, Zianne. “Alpine skiing is not cheap on a normal day and when you add a second person to have to pay for, it’s practically impossible unless you have fundraising or grants. Sport Nova Scotia helped out; Ski Nova Scotia helped out” says Cheyanne. “The Martok Race Cub was paramount in finding Zianne. Last year was her final race year and they approached her about a paid position.”    

Thanks to this support, Hayden was able to hit Martok hill three times a week this past season. More time on the hill gave Hayden a chance to bond with his new guide and work on his skills.

“I like those days where I feel in control and improving,” says Hayden. “This season I could feel I got faster so I really proud of that.” When asked about his para-racing goals, Hayden said he’s shooting for the Canada Games for the opportunity to race other para-athletes.  

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