This winter marked another successful season of Aspen Snowmass’ collaboration with Challenge Aspen, an organization based in Snowmass Village that provides adaptive recreation programs to men and women with disabilities. Their military division, CAMO — short for Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities — is specifically designed to offer these wellness experiences to individuals with military service-related injuries. Challenge Aspen offers a wide variety of programs year-round, including winter ski programs for blind high school students and summer retreats for women diagnosed with PTSD as a result of sexual trauma.

The Impact of CAMO

Established in 2005 to serve the increasing number of injured soldiers returning from the Middle East, CAMO focuses on the physical and mental wellbeing of retired military veterans at Aspen Snowmass’ four mountains. This is achieved through professional instruction in skiing and snowboarding that is adapted specifically to each soldiers’ physical and/or cognitive disabilities. Since its inception, the CAMO program has hosted over a thousand servicemen and women with disabilities.

This past winter season, CAMO hosted thirteen retreats, serving 140 veterans with disabilities, their caregivers and spouses in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

“Having the opportunity to come out here, it makes me feel whole again,” says Colby Bowers, U.S. Air Force veteran and CAMO participant. Bowers was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD as a result of his time in combat. Bowers attended CAMO’s Couples Retreat last winter with his wife, Kerrie.

This year, the participants in one of the winter’s Couples Retreats skied with the 6th grade class from the Aspen Country Day School (pictured above). As part of the of the students’ curriculum, they learned about World War I veterans with PTSD and were inspired to delve deeper into their own local veteran community and associated organizations. The children discovered CAMO and wanted to spend time with the disabled veterans who were involved. This resulted in a day at Buttermilk where both disabled vets and young students had the opportunity to ski together and learn more about each other in the process.

Other CAMO Programs

CAMO offers a wide variety of retreats and activities that are tailored to veterans’ experiences and service to their country. CAMO partners with the Chabad Jewish Community Center to put on the Golshim L’Chaim (Ski to Live) retreat in February, an adaptive week-long ski and snowboard program for disabled Israeli Defense Force (IDF) veterans.

Another hugely successful program is the Sarah Williams Memorial Women’s Mountain Retreat. This retreat is an opportunity for active-duty or retired female veterans with a physical and/or cognitive disability to grow through winter sports, connect with one another, and build community. A participant in the 2018 retreat noted, “The week I spent on the mountain this year will carry me through the inevitable dark days ahead…Our [wounded warrior women] experiences and challenges are unique and we heal best when we are able to heal together.”
CAMO and Challenge Aspen
CAMO and Challenge Aspen

In addition, CAMO hosted Operation Rollcall Retreat this winter, in which 14 Marines, who served together in Iraq over the course of three deployments, reunited in Aspen to share experiences in skiing and snowboarding. Five of the men were injured in an IED blast that demolished their Humvee, and the rest were all injured in other situations. This private retreat was the first time they were reunited in 10 years.

Aspen Skiing Company believes Challenge Aspen truly embodies our company’s mission statement to “live passionately” by bringing veterans and active-duty from all walks of life to share the experience of skiing and snowboarding together. By donating approximately $1 million every year to this organization, we can help ensure a legacy of healing for our veterans who benefit from this program.

Published April 2018; updated December 2018

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