The heart of Snowmass |

The heart of Snowmass

If we are just skin and bones, then it is the sensation of life pulsing from our core, the heart some say, that turns our skin and bones into something beautiful.

Just as I often take my own heart for granted, I hadn’t thought about Snowmass having a heart. So with Valentine’s Day approaching, I went looking for it, and I found something beautiful slopeside, radiating from the devoted members and inspirational participants of Challenge Aspen.

A human story is unfolding on our rocky, snow-covered mountain every day and within that organization at any given moment. Here participants learn to dig deep within, setting aside fear, frustration and past failures to overcome external, and ultimately internal, obstacles, discovering that we are so much more than our skin and bones. What lies within, we’ll call it our heart, our essence, is not confined by our physical body.

Having the opportunity to witness individuals as they go through this process and gain that insight is profound. And when we share in one another’s struggles, experiences and triumphs, the reward is mutual.

As I watched that genuine exchange of mutual gratitude between volunteer instructor and Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities participant, the moment was indescribable. My heart swelled with warmth despite the zero-degree temperatures on that crisp, bluebird day.

Look around next time you are on the mountain, and if you are fortunate enough to experience these moments that take place daily, you too will see it’s a sensation beyond words. There is so much more happening there than just a kind smile, an outstretched hand, the comfort of companionship or shared moments of triumph; it is that most powerful human connection happening in small moments of inspiration when one is fully willing to trust another, knowing they believe in you and your capabilities.

The teachers often become the students, and the students become the inspiration, and all the while these mountains provide the beautiful but formidable backdrop that seals the bond.

For many of the clients of Challenge Aspen, these mountains have beckoned them to come prove their worth. These peaks are so much more then the rocks and snow that form them; they are powerful and intimidating, cold yet alluring; they shake all of us to our core, for in a moment we can find ourselves plummeting down, unsure of how and where we might land.

A crash can offer us the opportunity to choose whether we give up or carry on reawakened. These mountains have vitality; they absorb us, providing us the perfect setting for the realization that fear is part of life and that living requires a willingness to accept it. Yes — our “challenges.” At their crux, the mountain provides the perfect location to come together and share in the drama of overcoming obstacles and accomplishing goals.

Emerson poetically explained, “When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.” Twenty-five years ago, our own “Cold Woman” — the name the Ute gave to Snowmass Mountain — lured Houston Cowan to her slopes, and what emerged was the fusion of passion, circumstance, opportunity and love. Cowan met the inspirational Amanda Boxtel and then connected with Ed Lucks, a pioneer in developing adaptive teaching techniques and equipment, and in 1994 Challenge Aspen was born. From there on, talented and passionate volunteers have been drawn to the challenge in an endless and serendipitous stream. And today, the surge is now beaming far beyond our mountain range as the pulse of Challenge Aspen radiates around the world.

I had the honor of watching instructor Jeff Krasnoff, who has spent nearly two decades volunteering for Challenge Aspen, and Jack Kennedy, president of the board of directors, in action this week. And I can tell you that it is clear, from the twinkle in their eyes as they support and interact with participants, that they have found their purpose, their heart.

And there have been so many, many more committed instructors and volunteers over the years, all of whom are worthy of more than a few thank-yous and each offering so much.

Yes, Challenge Aspen could easily be described as the heart of Snowmass Village, breathing life into our community and refocusing our attention away from our own active endeavors, devotion to the tourist industry and impulse to occasionally feel physically constrained.

And if you happen on the right moment, watch how the Challenge Aspen participants beam with enthusiasm when they finish a run. It’s a reminder of how we should all greet every track — hearts wide open.

Thank you, Challenge Aspen, for sharing your stories with me. I had set out to write a column about the heart of Snowmass and ended up finding something truly beautiful.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at

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