SNOWMASS VILLAGE - Nearly 400 U.S. military veterans - ranging from an 87-year-old former soldier in the Korean war to a 21-year-old recently wounded in Afghanistan - have converged at Snowmass Village for the 27th annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
An estimated 108 veterans are participating in this type of clinic for the first time, said Jordan Schupbach, a spokesman for the Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events.
That's perfect because a goal of the program is to get disabled veterans interested in new opportunities for therapeutic recovery from injuries and illnesses, Schupbach said. Veterans who attend the Snowmass clinic are encouraged to remain physically active when they return to their hometowns. The program helps them find adaptive sports clubs in their communities.
"We facilitate that better than just saying, 'Good luck when you get home,'" Schupbach said.
The winter sports clinic has been in Snowmass Village since 2001. More than 200 ski instructors for the disabled, as well as current and former members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, teach lessons on the slopes. The disabled veterans also participate in scuba diving, rock climbing, kayaking, sled hockey, curling and snowshoeing.
The event is co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Disabled American Veterans. Opening ceremonies were March 31, and the event ends April 5.
The first winters sports clinic attracted 90 disabled veterans in 1987. It was originally held at Powderhorn resort near Grand Junction then moved to Crested Butte before settling at Snowmass. Veterans have to sign up in June, so numbers fluctuate. There have been as few as 305 participants, to as many as this year's 400, since 2001.
The event is open to male and female U.S. military veterans. Some participants have been wounded so recently that they are still on active duty, Schupbach said. Participants have suffered everything from traumatic brain injuries, spinal-cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments and other disabilities.
Schupbach said 93 of the 400 participating veterans were injured while fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. There are 54 women among the ranks of the 400.
Some participants have excelled at winter sports, advancing to the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team.
"That's not our goal, to create a Paralympian here," Schupbach said.
Instead the broader goal is to help the veterans realize their disabilities don't have to be obstacles to an active, fulfilling life.