Military vets carve up Keystone with special equipment |

Military vets carve up Keystone with special equipment

Robert Allen
Keystone, CO Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit Daily NewsA volunteer with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center helps an adaptive skier to the lift at Keystone's Mountain House Base Area Saturday

KEYSTONE, Colorado ” As U.S. Army veteran Scott Winkler boarded Keystone Resort’s Montezuma Express lift on Saturday, the chair stopped and a bell rang.

“It wasn’t me,” he yelled, grinning.

At 237 pounds, the disabled veteran is a hulking monoskier. But the professional athlete was already in position for take-off by the time the cautious lift operator halted the chair.

Winkler and 16 recently wounded military veterans were wrapping up a four-day adaptive ski and ride camp at the resort as part of Snofest. The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and Adaptive Adventures partnered to provide lessons to the veterans and their guests.

Winkler, 36, lost the use of his legs after a spinal-cord injury in Tikrit, Iraq ” Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

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The American soldier was serving in the first advance of Operation Iraqi Freedom in May 2003.

“It was a hot zone,” Winkler said. “We had to get in, drop off the ammo and get out of there as fast as we could ” so we were in a hurry.”

The metal strap for securing the ammunition was caught on his boot as he lifted a 65-pound box of fragmented grenade-launcher rounds.

“If the box hit the ground, everybody would have been in trouble,” he said, adding that it likely would have exploded.

He fell backward “and when I hit the ground with the ammo on my chest, my lower body was twisted all the way around,” Winkler said. “It happened quick, and didn’t hurt at first.”

Scott Barker, with Adaptive Adventures, helps get the soldiers making turns on the slopes. He said veterans, in particular, are positive and “a pleasure to teach.”

“They’re young and they have good core strength,” he said. “They don’t have much of a morale issue ” as opposed to a drunk driver victim or a victim of a disease.

“They signed up to go to combat. They knew something could happen, they’re aware of that.”

Barker said getting on the chairlift is often tougher than riding for the disabled soldiers.

Matt Feeney, also of Adaptive Adventures, is a monoskier who’s been instructing others for 18 years.

“I’ve seen people pick it up in two or three days,” he said of monoskiing. “I’ve seen other people that it takes years and years.”

The Snofest is in its 19th consecutive year. It’s offered by regional military installations to all active military and their families. The participants enjoy a weekend of skiing, and other off-mountain events, and more than 4,000 attended last year, according to a BOEC press release.

This is the second year for the adaptive ski and ride component. It provides lodging, transportation, meals, equipment and more for the disabled veterans.

Funding for the adaptive camp comes mostly through the Wounded Warriors Disabled Sports Project, the Scotty McFadden Foundation and Boeing.

Saturday was Winkler’s 10th on the slopes since his injury. When he’s not competing in world-class events, the veteran from Augusta, Ga., is vice chair of a nonprofit dedicated to activities for people with disabilities.

Champions Made From Adversity brings people who have disabilities ” and their families ” water skiing, hand cycling and even scuba diving.

Following his injury, the Winkler said he didn’t do much. He spent some time fishing before getting into wheelchair basketball. Then he went to a military sports camp in Colorado Springs “and it just kicked off from there.”

He went on to become the first Iraqi War veteran to join the U.S. Paralympic Team.

Winkler also competes in shot put and discus, and has broken both American and world records. Last year he competed in the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, ranking fifth of 17 in his field events.

“Just because you’re disabled, it’s not the end of the world,” he said, adding that he’s preparing for the 2012 Paralympics in London.

The soldier-turned-athlete, who has even appeared on a box of Cheerios, uses his story to encourage others.

“Everything that I do ” like the medals that I win, the records that I break ” that’s not for me. That’s for the U.S.,” he said. “If I can inspire somebody out there to try something new, that’s all I care about.”

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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