Wounded soldiers ski the Summit | SummitDaily.com

Wounded soldiers ski the Summit

by Kathryn Corazzelli
Summit Daily News
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

For Joe Kusumoto, program manager at the Keystone Adaptive Center, initializing a ski and ride program for wounded soldiers came naturally. Growing up, his father worked for Veteran’s Affairs in New York, so he was introduced to wartime injuries and adaptive skiing at a young age.

“It was the environment I grew up in,” he said.

The Adaptive Ski and Ride Camp is one of the Wounded Warriors Programs hosted by the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) and the Keystone Adaptive Center: a private, nonprofit educational center operated by the BOEC that provides alpine, skiing and snowboarding lessons to people with disabilities and other special needs. The camp is for recently disabled active service military personal or veterans and their families. It is run in conjunction with Snofest at Keystone, the annual ski weekend hosted by all divisions of the military for active service military personnel. Snofest draws over 1,000 participants.

Kusumoto said they are the only adaptive program in the country integrated with active military.

This is the fifth year the camp has been held. It is a three-day event that provides injured soldiers with individual lessons in all disciplines of adaptive skiing: four-track, visually impaired, three-track, mono-skiing and bi-skiing. Up to 16 soldiers and eight guests are accepted into the program, which provides all of the meals, lodging, transportation and lesson fees. Kusumoto said Vail Resorts plays a huge role in providing instruction, equipment and lift tickets.

The cost to fund one soldier is approximately $2,000. Funding is provided through U.S. Paralympics, the Scotty Mcfadden Foundation, Knights of Columbus, TriWest and private donations. An annual summer golf tournament held at Keystone Ranch also provides significant funding.

All of the participating soldiers were recently injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. Kusumoto said many suffer from traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other traumas resulting from explosions. Most come from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He said that for many soldiers, this is their first time on the snow.

“(The program provides) positive options coming out of a significant injury,” he said. “It shows them they can move on.”

Kusumoto said active military involved in Snofest honor the wounded soldiers at an annual dinner, where they always receive a standing ovation. He said many injured soldiers feel like they disappear from the military world once they get hurt, and the support from active military “means a lot to these guys.”

“It’s a powerful experience,” he said.

Andy Butterworth lost his right leg in Iraq in 2004 after a rocket-propelled grenade hit the armored cavalry he was riding in. It went through his right leg, and the left leg of his lieutenant. Since his injury, he has been attending adaptive programs all over the country.

“This program’s awesome,” he said of the Keystone center. “One of the best in the country.”

Butterworth said adaptive programs provide a great platform for injured soldiers to get back into their lives.

“It gets you motivated to work through your injury,” he said.

Butterworth said his experiences in adaptive programs have given him confidence and encouraged him to try new experiences. Besides skiing, he enjoys water-skiing and skydiving.

This particular adaptive event is special to Butterworth because his father is also attending. It is the first time his father will see him ski since his accident.

Butterworth said he hopes to be a positive example for more recently-injured soldiers. He said the slopes are the perfect place for people – no matter what their injury – to “get back into it.”

“The mountain is a level playing field,” he said.

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