After four days on Mount Washington as part of the National Veterans’ Ski Week, Karina Drury of Barrie, Ont. thinks she’s finally found the sport that is the best fit for her: snowboarding.
Drury is one of 40 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veterans who came to Mount Washington Alpine Resort from all across Canada to take part in the 10th annual National Veterans’ Ski Week, which is sponsored by the CAF Soldier On program and hosted by the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports (VISAS) and Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
From Feb. 1-5, ill and injured serving and retired CAF members had a chance to try alpine downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as Nordic skiing.
This was Drury’s first time trying snowboarding.
“The cool thing with Soldier On is, at least for me, I’ve been looking for a sport,” she said. “Since I got out of the military, I’ve got injuries in my feet, so I used to be really active and now it’s hard to do so, so these events are great. It gives us the opportunity to try different sports out without putting all the money into new equipment that we may or may not be able to use.”
Drury, who broke both her ankles in basic training while she was serving at CFB Borden and needs extra stability and support to do an activity like snowboarding, says she wanted to try something that would get her out of her comfort zone, and this week has certainly done that.
“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, but unfortunately in a couple days, I have to go back home to reality. But the instructors have been great and really supportive and just trying to help me figure out what’s going to work best for me, and that’s what it’s all about.
“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.”
VISAS volunteer Glen Hooge, assistant co-ordinator for this year’s event, served more than 30 years in the CAF. He was an airborne electronic sensor operator on the Auroras. He has been involved with VISAS for 21 years and when the VISAS board first decided to do a veterans’ ski week in 2007, one year before the Soldier On program came into effect, Hooge volunteered to head up the event.
That first year, one veteran from Ontario came to Mount Washington. The following year, Soldier On came on board, and participation has grown since then. Three years ago, VISAS was asked to be the national ski camp for the Soldier On program, and they’ve hosted about 40 veterans each year since then.
Mike Spooner, who has volunteered with VISAS for 12 years, has taken over the role of co-ordinating National Veterans’ Ski Week this year.
Spooner is a retired fighter pilot, and he served more than 30 years in the military as well.
Hooge says there are probably eight or nine retired military members in the VISAS organization.
“So 90 per cent of the people have no association with the military whatsoever; however, they support this and they find this is the event they most look forward to every year,” he said.
Many organizations and groups come together to ensure National Veterans’ Ski Week is a success each year, and VISAS is grateful for their support.
“Mount Washington has really bent over backwards for us once again and really been accommodating,” said VISAS president Tom Clarke. “All the lift operators and other staff, they look forward to the week as well.”
The Comox Valley Curling Club was also a big supporter for the second year in a row, opening its doors Feb. 5 when a planned ski and snowboard day became a curling day due to the weather.
Funding for this week comes from local Legions, associations and community support groups, the Whistle Stop and other local groups. As well, 19 Wing Comox provides transportation and medical support, as well as provides a physiotherapist. There was also an OSISS (Operational Stress Injury Social Support) rep there every day for peer support.