We are sitting in a wonderful condo at night, watching skiers, snowboarders, and sleigh riders whiz by our window. The night is crisp and clear, and snow blankets 15 trails of the beautiful resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At 7 a.m., the mountains were on fire. We awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. In the evening, nature repeated the same magic. Wintergreen earns its reputation as one of the most striking resorts in the mid-Atlantic region. The air is clear, the scenery breathtaking, and the mountains really are blue in the distance. The entire resort is 11,000 acres, and includes golf, horseback riding, and a spa. Communications Manager Sarah Lovejoy tells us it has been named “best ski resort” for two years in a row by Washington Post.com. Wintergreen hopes to remain open for snow sports until April, as they did last year.
We were lucky to find lodging in the Timbers condo - one of the closest of 300 units to the main lodge and slopes. In the morning, we could step into our equipment and ski out the back door. I have not been able to do that since we skied in Vail with Gerald Ford, a long time ago. It was convenient to ski from our lodge, and return for meals when we wanted.
When we arrived on Friday night, after a three hour drive from the Washington area, the night was windy, icy, and bitter cold. But the trees were frosted with snow, and snowmaking continued. Wintergreen is known for one of the most extensive snowmaking systems in the mid-Atlantic. In the morning, it had warmed up considerably. The trails were hard packed and crusted, as they often are at that time. My husband Charles and I took several runs down the Highlands runs - the Cliffhangers and Wild Turkeys. He was better than I; speed still makes me nervous. But, by mid-morning, the sun was shining, the snow had softened, and the conditions were glorious. All the runs - the Eagles Swoop, Dobies, and others, were fabulous. The Terrain Park was in full operation, as were the tubing runs. As we skied, we could hear shouts of joy coming from the tubers. On the terrain parks, the flips and acrobatics were amazing. Don’t ever let people knock Virginia skiing - I saw some incredibly daring and accomplished skiers and snowboarders. They proved the adage that it takes more skill to ski in the East. The West has better mountains and conditions, of course, and we love the West. But a skillful Eastern skier and boarder can excel anywhere!
On Sunday, Charles and I had another wonderful 3 hours of fast skiing. We were pleased to see so many of the adaptive skiers and wounded warriors skiing well, on special modified ski equipment. Sunday was cold and crisp, after weather in the mid-forties on Saturday. “Tyro” was in excellent condition, and we took several fast runs. It is wide, well groomed, and has the feel of the best runs in Deer Valley and Park City. There was also a snowboard competition, ski race, and ski patrol training underway on other parts of the mountain. A busy area!
By mid-morning, the lifts were getting crowded. It is always best to ski as early as possible in a popular area, and lodging slopeside helps. At Wintergreen, the lifts open for property owners and guests at 8 a.m. on weekends, which is an added incentive to be a part of the community. On weekends, the night skiing can be in full swing until 11 p.m., if conditions and demand make it feasible.
It is perhaps symbolic that the weather and conditions were so wonderful, because a group of very brave (and handsome) young men and their loved ones deserved it. They spent two days at Wintergreen, learning to ski or snowboard with new bodies, after suffering grievous wounds in Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, and Saudi Arabia. Some were missing parts of legs, feet, or arms; others were blind. The soldiers and their families joined the regular Adaptive Ski program, run by Michael Zuckerman and his team of dedicated volunteers.
The military families were guests of the resort, and received scholarships for the weekend. They were well received by the resort, which was festooned with signs and yellow bows celebrating them. Many on the mountain wore yellow bows. The Wounded Warrior and Disabled Sports Projects raise money from private donations, but many of the soldiers are still receiving therapy from the government. This weekend, there were 63 guests in the program. 21 are soldiers, 10 are therapists, and the rest are loved ones who joined them. The warriors came largely from Camp Lejeune, VA Medical Centers in Virginia, and Water Reed Army Medical Center.
Tom Brown is the Director of Development for Wintergreen Adaptive Skiing. In a moving tribute, he writes: “The weekend isn’t just about skiing and boarding, it’s about helping the soldiers to understand that their new and different bodies offer them new and different possibilities… Many of them arrive still in pain from their recent wounds. They may be depressed, or anxious, or confused… By the time they leave they will be armed with a new sense of purpose, self-confidence, and accomplishment.”
His words were matched by results. By the end of the sunny Saturday, the warriors and their helpers were whizzing down the mountains. They were fully integrated into the snow community - they belong here with the rest of us. People in all ski areas are now growing quite used to seeing disabled skiers and boarders, and often go out of their way to help them. The Wounded Warrior, Disabled Sports projects, as well as Special and Para Olympics are now becoming fixtures at most ski resorts. I urge all of us to get active and help out, if possible. It makes the sports of skiing and snowboarding so much more rewarding.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.
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