It has been another incredible weekend at Wintergreen in southwest Virginia. The warriors are recuperating from their serious wounds, both physical and mental. They are conquering their lives after their wounds suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan. They approach the mountain with the same gusto they show in life. They are skiing, snowboarding or using sit skis. The double diamond slopes are nothing to them!
Nature has been good to the 23 warriors, and many guests, on this trip. There were 48 participants all together, and 140 people at the community banquet Saturday night. All non-snow events took place at the Mountain Inn, where we stayed.
All 25 trails, five fun parks and five lifts were open, as were the tubing parks (famous for its "Plunge"), zip line and ice skating. The snow was fluffy and abundant, the sun was shining, and the temperatures in the mid twenties. Wintergreen has one of the most sophisticated and expensive snow-making systems in the nation, and it works. This weekend, the machine snow augmented some natural snow from the previous night. The combination worked. I admit I was nervous the night before -- we drove up in bitter cold, wind, and falling snow. But it all cleared up beautifully the next morning.
We have been blessed to attend nearly all of Wintergreen's Warrior weekends since 2004. They are some of the best in the nation. The volunteer adaptive instructors are among the best. The sheer beauty of Wintergreen is overwhelming, with incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and sunrises and sunsets that take your breath away! The scene is captured by a sign in our rented condo. It reads: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away." Sorry, we do not know who wrote it.
By the way, this year our condo was one of the most convenient, if not the fanciest. We asked to stay in a hotel room in the main lodge. It made it much easier to walk back and forth to the slopes and to the Warrior events. The condo has a small kitchen and other necessities, and we could see the wonderful sunsets. Wintergreen has 1200 condos, in separate buildings, and there are other developments nearby. They are larger, and house more people. Their views from the ridges are outstanding. But you have to take a shuttle bus or drive back and forth, and that is not always fun in adverse conditions.
When we arrived Friday night, we were first greeted by General Manager Hank Thiess. He has an extensive background in the East and West, as well as in New Zealand and Australia, and has done much to improve Wintergreen. He has been a ski instructor, science teacher, and is still a businessman.
After coffee with Hank, we went onto a reception for the warriors and families who had made their way up the mountain in the snow squalls. Chief among our good friends were Sam Shaver and his wife Katherine. Sam headed the programs of Wintergreen Adaptive Sports (WAS) and is now the treasurer as well as a dedicated instructor. The new executive director is Darren Ball, who is also efficient and energetic. We met many of the warriors, most have survived horrific wounds. Their injuries may endure forever, but you would never know it when they are on the snow slopes. The sports have done much to help with their recovery.
After our reunions, we had an incredible dinner at The Copper Mine Bistro. From our seats, we could watch people getting off one lift in the dark , and then descending down. (Wintergreen, like Snowshoe, has the facilities on the top of the mountains, affording more dramatic views.) It was outstanding to take in the views, including the full moon and the snow blowing in the distance. It was especially nice to look at it while we were warm and cozy inside. Three of us enjoyed onion soup, shrimp cocktail, pulled short ribs (exquisite), chicken and artichoke, and salmon. The other meals we enjoyed the rest of the weekend were hardy and fabulous, but not as fancy. They were served buffet-style in the ballroom, with generous portions for the warriors and their families.
Saturday was a day for the slopes. Charles tried most of them and found them to be in good condition. I stayed on some of the easier slopes and watched the warriors receive lessons, some for the first time. Most are such great athletes, they picked up the sports immediately, despite their injuries. By the end of the day, a few hardy souls were taking race lessons!
Saturday night was the banquet; Sunday morning there were religious services with the chaplain, breakfast, and another beautiful, sunny, but crowded day on the slopes. The temperature hovered in the twenties. The snow season is so short in the mid-Atlantic, you can't blame everyone for flocking to the slopes on a great day. But you must envy those who can come mid week.
Sunday brought another surprise -- Kirk Bauer showed up among the warriors. He is the heroic veteran who founded and directs Disabled Sports USA. He inspired most of the warrior sports programs around the world. He also helped give grants to the Wintergreen program, so it can expand its reach. Because of DSUSA.org, Wintergreen can advertise, "Every Day is Warrior Day." It says, "Wintergreen Adaptive Sports invites all military personnel injured during their military service to register for free adaptive snowsports lessons, any day of the week. Lodging is included." With programs like this, the warriors are able to live up to the mottos: "to be known for their abilities, and not their disabilities," and "From the top of the mountain, all you see are possibilities."