Skiing at a higher level

Disabilities don't keep skiers from mastering mountains

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David Hanson waxes his ski before the first day of the four-day adaptive ski camp that began Saturday at the Steamboat Ski Area.

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Bob Emerson, former U.S. Disabled Ski Team member and volunteer Adaptive Adventures instructor, carves a turn down Vagabond on Saturday morning.

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Stan Roberson skis down to the Christie II lift Saturday at the Steamboat Ski Area. Roberson is an adaptive ski instructor for Wintergreen Ski Resort in Virginia.

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Participants and volunteers for the Vectra Bank All Mountain Ski Camp pose for a photo Saturday at the top of the Steamboat Ski Area gondola.

— Edward "Ted" Wade and his fellow soldiers in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were returning from guard duties at the Mahmudiyah Power Plant south of Baghdad three years ago when Sgt. Wade's vehicle triggered a roadside bomb.

Sarah Wade first was told her husband wouldn't survive the emergency brain surgery. Then she was told by doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. that Ted, 29, would never emerge from his coma, let alone function at higher levels.

But there Ted was Saturday - high atop Thunderhead Peak at the Steamboat Ski Area. He's missing most of his right arm, and his memory isn't so good, but he had no problem telling his wife and volunteer instructor Rodney Herman where he wanted to ski after a quick warm-up run down Preview.

"I started skiing in middle school," Ted said. "I like the experience of skiing and exploring the land."

Ted was one of 24 adaptive athletes kicking off the four-day Vectra Bank All Mountain Ski Camp at the Steamboat Ski Area.

Philadelphia resident Lucian Smith spent the winter of '83 working at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and was ecstatic to return to the mountain he had not skied since suffering a paralyzing motorcycle accident.

New Hampshire's David Hanson was just as eager to explore a new mountain. He pointed out one of the common themes among the camp's participants.

"People that are injured by trauma - it comes down to how they deal with it," Hanson said. "It gets you to focus and look at things differently. I had one or two choices - I could have failed, or I could pick myself up and become a professional."

Ed Salau believes in skiing's ability to return self-reliance to the wounded. He works for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that partners with Disabled Sports USA, Adaptive Adventures, Access Anything, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and Steamboat Powdercats to put on this weekend's camp.

As a lieutenant in the 30th Infantry Brigade of the North Carolina National Guard, Salau had his left leg blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade when his infantry patrol was ambushed in November 2004 near Tikrit, Iraq.

The Wounded Warrior Project helped Salau get on the mountain even before he had his prosthetic leg.

"Military medicine is wonderful and great, but there's got to be that next step, that next thing that gets us plugged back into society," Salau said. "They can teach me how to walk, but how do they get me to still get that first date again or win a job interview? You find that in skiing."

Salau spent the morning carving turns on Vagabond with Bob Emerson, a volunteer Adaptive Adventures coach and another leg amputee who discovered a passion in skiing after his injury - one that landed him a spot on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team.

"Skiing gives you such a freedom of motion and speed you don't get in everyday life," Emerson said.

With various adaptive ski groups covering the mountain Saturday - from the monoskiers led by Adaptive Adventures co-founder Matt Feeney to Emerson and Salau to blind skier Luanne Burke, the camp's volunteer support enabled a broad range of skiers to maximize their abilities on the fresh snow.

"This is the next step," said 12-time Paralympic gold medalist Sarah Will, a guest coach preparing to compete in the first-ever monocross event at the upcoming X Games. "With enough personnel where you can group people into different ability levels, you can learn at an accelerated rate."

Acceleration was not a problem for camp participants as they easily found ways to learn new skills while experiencing the mountain.

"A lot people say life slows down after an injury like (mine)," Salau said. "That's not the case. We've just slowed down, and this is an opportunity to speed up and catch up again."

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