04/04/2011 01:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2011

Aspen and Snowmass -- Wheelchairs and Snowcats

By Connie Lawn with Charles Sneiderman

It is absolutely impossible to describe the heart-stopping beauty of these two areas. In addition to the drama, the weather has been nearly perfect -- sunny, warm, and fresh powder snow. It is a pity I cannot ski now, due to my emergency hip surgery last week. But I have gained an interesting perspective from sitting around in a wheelchair or attempting to use a walker. I give special thanks to my husband Charles. It is a tremendous burden for the caregiver to push around a patient and help them in the most basic of functions. Snowmass is well-ramped, and equipped for the disabled. It houses one of the best disabled sports facilities in the country.

We are attending the 25th annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, which is a marvelous, well-run, and inspiring clinic. There are many people in wheelchairs or on walkers, so I feel as though I am surrounded by a large support system. Of course, these veterans also go out on the mountain and fly down on sit skis, snowboards, or single skis with outriggers on their poles. I am not ready for this yet.

We did have one experience with them which I will attempt to describe. Each day, there are a variety of activities for the one thousand people attending the Clinic. One of the best is the Elks Club luncheon and outing, held each day. We went to one on Thursday. It takes several people to load us up the automatic ramp and onto the school bus. Then we are strapped into seats and driven from Snowmass to Aspen, about 20 minutes away. More volunteers help to unload us and take us to an exquisite meatloaf and vegetable lunch at the Elks Club. Their dining room has a breathtaking view of some of the Aspen slopes, and the quaint, downtown section of Aspen.

After lunch we are again loaded onto buses, and off loaded a short distance away to the Aspen Gondola. We are raised up to it in a tiny elevator -- I felt like a Chilean coal miner being freed from underground. Then the amazing ride up on the Silver Queen Gondola. Wow! I have been on numerous gondola rides in my ski career -- this has to be one of the longest, steepest, and most dramatic I remember. I was really nervous on the way up and down. The moderate winds did not help. I also felt so helpless, knowing I did not have skis with me but was confined to a wheelchair. But, thankfully, we made it with no drama both ways.

On the top of Aspen Mountain, we enjoyed sweeping views from the 11,200 foot high sundeck. In the distance, we could see Pyramid Peak (which looks like the Matterhorn), Aspen Highlands at 12, 392 feet, and Snowmass at 11,835 feet.

Soon, we were uploaded again onto huge snowcats, which is another big job for the volunteers. We were put onto smaller chairs, and ramped or carried up. The cat then took us through virgin back country with tons of fresh snow. It provided the sensation of back country skiing, without the hard work. The snowcat excursions are available to rent. We had a great group of people on the snowcat, and we really bonded.

In fact, bonding, brotherhood, and respect are some of the main aspects of this week. It lives up to its name of "Miracles on a Mountainside." The veterans and their families display humor, courage, and patriotism. Founder and Director Sandy Trombetta tells them, "Don't take no for an answer," and they do not. They are treated with respect and politeness by the staff and volunteers. Charles and I are proud to be an honorary part of their group for a few days and to be able to tell their story. But we are really just outsiders, and they are the real thing. At least for this brief period of time, we are able to "thank them for their service."