Wounded Warriors Take to the Slopes in Whitefish

By MOLLY PRIDDY, for the Flathead Beacon Newspaper

The skiing and snowboarding hadn’t yet started, but already Scott Schroeder was working hard as he finagled with his snowboard boots at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Extra work and prep time are nothing new for Schroeder, a warrant officer with the U.S. Army who, after becoming a double amputee in active duty in 2010, has had to adapt to the challenge of life without legs.

But, other than quietly uttering “shoot” a few times or a little extra sweat, the joy behind Schroeder’s constant smile appeared genuine. He was going snowboarding after all, and hadn’t hit the ski hill since growing up in the Midwest.

And snowboarding wasn’t even an option back then, he said.

“This will be the first time ever,” Schroeder said, smiling as he adjusted the angle of his prosthetic leg.

Scott Schroeder gets the feel of balancing for the first time on a snowboard with a little help from Whitefish Mountain Resort employee Brett Urbach during the Wounded Warrior Project’s first day of skiing. Schroeder has been deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan with the 5th Special Forces (Airborne). In Dec. 2010, the vehicle he and his team were conducting operations in struck a pressure plate detonating a mine. Schroeder lost both his legs above the knee and injured his right arm in the blast. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

On Jan. 31, eight wounded warriors and their caretakers and family got their first taste of the snow on Big Mountain during their visit to Whitefish. Skiing and boarding at Whitefish Mountain Resort is one of the main activities the warriors will enjoy while in town, along with Winter Carnival festivities and meals at area restaurants. The trip is organized by Whitefish Supports the Wounded Warrior Project.

Schroeder and his wife, Laura, were on the mountain that morning to relax. This is their third trip with the Wounded Warrior Project, but the first that involves snow. And having lived in Tennessee since 1992 and otherwise going scuba diving with Wounded Warriors, skiing is a definite break from their normal lives.

“I’ve never been up here,” Laura said. “I’ve always wanted to come.”

And, since both Scott and Laura recently celebrated their birthdays – 47th and 46th, respectively – wandering up to Montana for a ski break was a gift they gave themselves as well.

It’s been a challenge since her husband lost his legs, Laura said. There have been good days and bad days, but recently the good have begun to outnumber the bad. It wasn’t that way in the beginning, she offers, but organizations such as the Wounded Warriors have helped with the transition.

Lt. Jason “Jay” Redman, center, heads up chair six for another run during the Wounded Warrior Project’s first day of skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Redman, a Navy Seal, was the Thursday night guest speaker. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The balance is to help veterans transition back to normal life while also acknowledging their services and sacrifices, she said. Coming to Big Mountain is a mix of physical therapy and recreational therapy, allowing the warriors and their families to integrate with nature while working on skills such as balance, Laura said.

These experiences are an assurance of humanity’s positive attributes, Laura said, noting that if everyone could have this level of respect and goodwill toward one another then the wars that precede them wouldn’t occur.Wounded Warrior trips are also an emotional balm, Laura noted, because of the welcome they receive from the communities they visit. The welcome at Glacier Park International Airport, which included the Patriot Guard from Polson in full regalia, was “amazing,” Laura said.

“It’s the human spirit,” she said.

After a while of working with foam and duct tape to fill the space in his boots around his prostheses, Scott was almost comfortable enough with his balance and ready to get to the slopes.

He was looking forward to adding another activity to his repertoire, Scott said, and after scuba diving and snowboarding, his next adventure is likely sky diving.

“I’m trying to do everything I did before I was injured,” he said.