Veteran Catherine Schofield receives instruction during the 10th annual National Veterans’ Ski Week Feb. 1-5 at Mount Washington Alpine Resort.

Skiing inspires veterans to soldier on

Ski week: Ill and injured armed forces members have fun on the slopes

Last year, Yann Carpentier was a ski student during the National Veterans’ Ski Week at Mount Washington Alpine Resort, which is sponsored by Soldier On. He got so much out of the week that he came back this year to be an instructor.

Carpentier, who is from Quebec City, had heard of Solider On, a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) program that supports currently serving members and veterans to overcome physical or mental health illness or injury through physical activity and sport, through friends and decided to apply for the ski week.

“It was a challenge for me because at that time, I had just got off surgery; half my left leg is paralyzed and I wanted to test and see if I could ski again,” he said. “I thought Soldier On was a great place.

“What I liked the most about it was the fraternity of the people here,” he added. “It was the first time I was put in a group of 40 person that they were all dealing with injuries. It was very, very beneficial, just to talk to each other and happen to know somebody was injured as well. Soldier On emphasizes instead of staying in the dark and alone behind curtains, go out there, become active and meet somebody and you see that you’re not alone with your problems.”

Carpentier joined the military in 1993 and served in Bosnia, Alert and Kabul, as well as two times in Kandahar. He was injured in Kandahar, and since then, he has been accommodated by Soldier On and has been able to continue serving with 5 RALC (5e Régiment d’artillerie légère du Canada).

Carpentier returned to Mount Washington Feb. 1-5 as a Soldier On instructor for the 10th annual National Veterans’ Ski Week, sponsored by Soldier On and hosted by the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports (VISAS) and Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Carpentier is now the Quebec representative at Soldier On.

Carpentier has loved coming back this year as an instructor.

“It was great to see all the last year faces and the wonderful people at VISAS,” he said. “I didn’t see that very often in my life, so many volunteers helping us and always available for us. It’s a great thing to see that what we did in the service is still well recognized.”

During National Veterans’ Ski Week, 40 ill and injured serving and retired CAF members from all across Canada were introduced or re-introduced to alpine downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as Nordic skiing.

Karina Drury of Barrie, Ont., tried snowboarding for the first time during the week.

After four days on the hill, she said she thought she’d finally found the sport that fits her best.

“The instructors have been great, and I’m just having a blast,” she said on Feb. 4. “If I could spend every day out on the hills, I would totally do it … It was a rough start. I was very fearful my first day and now I’m like ripping it down the hill like everyone else is. I’ve been to other sports and done other things where I feel different than other people, but when I’m on my board and I’m going down the hill, I feel the same as everyone else – and that’s a huge thing.”

Drury served at CFB Borden. About four weeks into basic training, they had just finished a rucksack march when they had to practise their fireman carry after the march. During the fireman carry, the woman who was carrying Drury dropped her. Drury fell very awkwardly on her feet and broke her ankles. She then got attached to the CAF’s Joint Personnel Support Unit and worked at the post office on base.

“I didn’t get to finish basic training, and it hurts,” she said. “I was planning 25 years.”

Drury was very grateful for the chance to receive a week of one-on-one instruction.

“Between Adaptive Snowsports here at Mount Washington and the Soldier On program, it’s giving a lot of us a way to relieve the stress, get out of our comfort zone, get back to being active – because a lot of us, without these events, we couldn’t do it – and [you’re with] people that understand what you’re going through,” she added. “You don’t get that a lot. When you’re at home with your family, they don’t understand what you may have went through when you were in the military, but our brothers and sisters here, they get it.”

VISAS president and instructor Tom Clarke of Campbell River says this week is “definitely a highlight on the calendar” for them every year. Over the course of the week, he noticed a lot of smiles as the veterans came into the lodge after their runs and a lot of camaraderie being built.

“I think the veterans coming in, a lot of them, they don’t all know each other, and I think they’ve all developed some friendships during the course of the week – and so have we; we’ve all gotten to know them a lot better this week,” he said.

Mike Stubbs of Campbell River and his wife Laura have been volunteering with VISAS for 11 years and have been instructing during National Veterans’ Ski Week since it started.

“It’s very rewarding,” said Stubbs. “The student that I just had, he had never skied in his life. He had a compression injury in his left leg in Afghanistan where he had to have reconstructive surgery. We’ve got him now, in three days, another instructor and myself, skiing in a chair and making turns – and he’s so excited.”

Stubbs says the instructors enjoy this week just as much as the students.

“This event is one of our prime ones,” he said. “We look forward to it, and we meet some great people.”