Connie Lawn is currently in Breckenridge, Colorado, attending the Wounded Warriors and Disabled Skiers Conference. Connie provides the following notes direct from Breckenridge.
December 2, 2007:
The magnificent, snow-covered slopes of Colorado’s Breckenridge, and clear, cold skies cannot erase the pain of war, or bring back the limbs lost in battles and accidents. But they can go a long way towards helping to rehabilitate the wounded, both physically and mentally.
My husband Charles and I joined 800 participants in the 20th Anniversary of the Hartford Spectacular. It is called “the nation’s largest winter sports event for the physically disabled.” But there are a number of participants who also face mental challenges, and many are here training for the Paralympics. Most of the program is organized by Disabled Sports USA, a remarkable organization headquartered in Rockville, Maryland. Several of the patients and their families have been receiving therapy at Walter Reed. Many of the assistants are instructors at Liberty, Wintergreen, Whitetail, and other local areas. There are also hundreds of volunteers who have given their time, money, and skill to help the disabled athletes. In addition to this conference, they work with the disabled throughout the year with summer and winter sports.
Despite the serious nature of the event, people have come here to do what visitors to a ski resort always try to do - have fun! Breckenridge is certainly a place to do it. It is one of the resorts owned by Vail Resorts, and they have done a terrific job building up this series of mountains. Vail Resorts also owns Vail, of course, and Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Heavenly, in addition to Breckenridge. I could easily spend a lifetime at each of them!
When we arrived, Colorado was getting dumped on, and the biggest blizzards were to the South. Those resorts are delighted. Breckenridge also received 11 inches of new snow, as did their sister areas. While the snow was great, there was severe weather flying in, which I hate. Fortunately, my seat mate on United looked and sounded like Santa, and he entertained us royally with a constant string of jokes.
We flew out in the morning from BWI, and arrived in Denver on time, despite the bad weather. We were lucky - it was much worse for those who flew out the next day, as violent storms raged in the Midwest and East. They faced long delays, but arrived safely.
At Denver, we made an important decision. We took one of the excellent shuttle services and cancelled our rental car. That could have saved our lives. The interstates were snowy, icy, and slippery. There were thousands of cars clogging the highway, and several had skidded off the roads. It was so good to be at the hands of an experienced driver, and it was a fine time to make new friends. A shared van may be slightly more expensive than a car, but it is more convenient, and better for the environment. With AARP or other discounts, the rates can be brought down. Once in Breckenridge there is an excellent system of free shuttle buses, and private cars are not needed.
I will report more about the mountain and the Hartford Ski Spectacular in coming days. More lifts will open and we will explore more of this huge resort. But, we will not be taking the double diamond lift to the top, even if it does open. It is called the highest chairlift in North America, and it looks pretty cold, windy, and steep up there. (The locals sometimes call Breckenridge “Brecken Fridge.”) There are thousands of others fit and brave enough to take it; I will enjoy cruising with my new friends who have survived horrendous experiences, and have not lost their will to live!
December 3, 2007:
Monday was a splendid day. The sun was shining, and there was fresh snow everywhere, even though only a small percentage of the mountains are open. The open chair lifts were pretty tough - cold and windy. But, that is part of skiing. Charles, Doug Russell, and I first took the “Beaver Run Super Chair” which goes up Peak 9, but stops short of the bowls. We then whizzed down “Cashier,” a good blue cruising trail. It was fast and hard packed. The next adventure was The Mercury Super Chair, and we made some wonderful fast runs down “Bonanza.” The slopes were filled with disabled skiers, including some who were blind. Most were very fast and skilled, and the sit skiers sped down untethered, on their own. A number of the athletes are using snowboards, usually with the help of their prosthetic leg.
At one point, I fell on the ice and hit my head, causing a big bump which was quite evident. I was so moved by the concern of the disabled athletes. Even hours later, some of the British participants came up to me and said, “we were so worried about you.” What amazing people!
At night, there was a buffet dinner for about 500 of the 800 disabled skiers. Most of them reported amazing progress on the first day. Several are training for races later in the week, or for the Paralympics. They braved a lot of cold and wind to train for those events. But, it was nothing, compared to all they have been through in their lives! There is great anticipation for more snow and more skiers in the days ahead.
December 4, 2007:
On Tuesday, December 4th, the day was also bright and sunny. Again, the Breckenridge lifts were cold and windy at the top, but not as severe as the previous days. The fast, hard packed runs in the sun made it worth the trip.
The slopes were crowded, and dominated by the disabled skiers and snowboarders. There are about 850 in the Convention of the Hartford Ski Spectacular. Most of our extended group were doing very well; the sit skiers were especially fast and smooth. Some will do well in upcoming race competitions, and have already proven their merit in international competitions.
It is amazing to watch them load themselves onto the lifts, and then unload at the top. Some are so strong, skilled, and proficient, they can do so without help. That is no easy feat - the chairlifts at Breck are of the “race track” variety. If you don’t break from the gates quickly and hustle onto the chair, you can be trapped. I had several misadventures, where I ended up sitting on another skier’s lap! It is hard for the disabled, unless the chair operator can slow down the lift.
Breck will be fabulous, especially when more snow arrives and all the peaks and lifts are open. Another big snowfall is anticipated. Until then, a few points to make. Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center, where the Convention is held, is a terrific place, right on the slopes. Try to get into it if you can, especially through a package deal.
Food is really good in Breck, and there are lots of fine restaurants in the town. But most people head for the City Market on arrival and stock up on food they can prepare in their rooms. Sign up for a discount card, and save some money.
On the mountain, we ate most of our meals in the TenMile Station, which is one of the ones owned by Vail Resorts. Great food - especially the chili - and wonderful 60’s and 70’s music.
Another point - the altitude can really get you. My husband Charles assisted a man who had chest pains, and the emergency room put him on oxygen. At over 10,000 feet above sea level, the height can be deadly - especially if you have heart problems.
Finally, try to rent equipment if you can. The rental shop at Beaver Run had top of the line, up to date equipment, and the whole week cost $228. It is so much easier to be able to store the skis and retrieve them in the morning. Charles and I both had issues with blisters, because we are used to soft, comfortable boots. But, there is no doubt; I did ski better with the modern rental equipment.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.