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Powerful. In a word, that's how I'd describe the Military to the Mountain program that just wrapped up year #5 in Squaw Valley.
I was fortunate to be invited by the High Fives Foundation to join in for the later half of the week and spend time with these incredible athletes who have battled to overcome physical and mental adversity that result from life altering injuries.
Not knowing what to expect, I boarded a plane early Wednesday morning bound for Reno. After checking in and changing into ski gear in a hotel room at the base of Squaw (not knowing who my roommates were), I hustled to nearby Alpine Meadows to look for participants, only knowing that I could look for Winter Camouflage SYNC Top Step Pants that were embroidered with the program logo earlier in the year.
The first participant I met was resting near the base of the mountain prepping for another lap. I introduced myself and ended up chatting for 20 minutes to George, who was back after joining last year's program sporting a shiny new set up from K2 Skis, another sponsor. After promising to catch up later over beers, I headed for a lift to explore a new mountain to me.
I met Q who was working on skiing with outriggers at the top of the lift, and asked if I could join for a lap. Over the next few days, I watched as he progressed amazingly quickly for a first time skier. I would later learn that Q (Phil), literally returned from climbing Kilimajaro only days earlier. Hiking up to over 19 thousand feet and then immediately traveling to Tahoe to learn to ski seemed exhausting, but apparently not to this athlete, who later showed me hilarious videos of him pranking his climbing partner with rubber snakes along the way.
Returning to my hotel room to figure out who I'd be spending the next few days in close quarters with, I was surprised to find my friend Trevor a.k.a. Colombian Wheels, fresh off a whirlwind couple of weeks that started with sending it during the Kings and Queens of Corbett's and hadn't really ended. He hadn't been home since, traveling and balancing racing witha serious freeskiing hobby. I hadn't skied with Trevor yet, and had no idea that I would spend the next few days literally chasing him and fellow badasses Bond, Trey, Landon, and Josh around Squaw and Alpine Meadows. Cliffs, jumps/rails, and high speed groomers, you name it, these guys ski it faster and more stylish than you do.
Working with the Adaptive Training Foundation and the City of Reno, this program brings veterans to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows for a week on the slopes as a conclusion to nine weeks of training.
Someone who I've followed from afar for years, Josh Dueck, 2010 Silver Medalist and 2012 back flip pioneer, led adaptive yoga sessions and stressed the importance of reflection and balance during these high energy sessions. More than a little star struck when I met him, watching him and his wife Lacey lead these sessions gave me an even deeper level of admiration for the positive impact on other's lives he creates.
Did I mention the skiing? It's refreshing to ski with people who aren't complaining about the lack of a famous Tahoe 3 foot dump, or bothered by constantly changing weather (SUN! COLD! WIND! RAIN! SNOW! SUN!). Everyone I met truly appreciates time spent in the mountains with each other. Talking to participant Keith one night at dinner, who was just over 200 days losing a leg in a motorcycle accident, summed it up. He expressed amazement at this group of people from all over the country, with all sorts of backgrounds, just enjoying time together and "acting like family".
Mountains seem to do that to people, bring them together with a mutual understanding of either learning a new sport, or enjoying a mutual activity that has given so much to all of us.
The week flew by and before I knew it, we were alternating laughs and tears at the annual graduation ceremony, where participants roast and toast each other sometimes within the same sentence. Reflecting on the week's experiences and awarding yearbook style awards (who gets to wear the smelly yard sale jacket next year??), complete with a recap video by Generikal (Chris Bartowski), it was the perfect end to the week.
Thank you so much to the High Fives Foundation for inviting me on behalf of SYNC to visit and experience the program. Thank you Roy, Steve, Jesse, and Trey for coordinating the visit, and to Camp and Trevor for taking on a couch surfer for the week.
We encourage you to check out the High Fives Foundation Custom line from SYNC and also to learn more about these organizations at the links below!
(Brian from SYNC attended the Military to the Mountains program as a guest of High Fives Foundation from March 19-22, 2019)
All Photos Copyright the High Fives Foundation and Chris Bartowski