Explore Tahoe: Wounded veterans take South Lake Tahoe snowmobile tour as part of Military Winter Sports Camp
Veterans participate in snowmobiling in South Lake Tahoe along with skiing, snowboarding, and other outdoor activities
Achieve Tahoe is a nonprofit providing specialized instruction for people with physical, sensory and intellectual challenges.
Founded in 1967, and known formerly as Disabled Sports USA Far West since 1998, the organization has become well known throughout the country for its groundbreaking work and has been instrumental in establishing Disabled Sports USA, which is now a thriving national organization with more than 120 active chapters.
The nonprofit, which changed its name in 2015 to Achieve Tahoe, is staffed by a corps of more 150 trained instructors (90 percent of whom are volunteers). Visit achievetahoe.org to learn more.
Lake Tahoe Snowmobiling Tours has been expertly guiding tours since 1984 as North Lake Tahoe’s premier snowmobiling operation.
Tours are designed for all ages and ability levels and travel on groomed and powder trails through the pristine National Forest offering incredible views of the entire Lake Tahoe. Visit laketahoesnowmobiling.com to learn more.
TRUCKEE, Calif. — David Christopher broke into a wide grin as he gazed down at Lake Tahoe — a sparkling blue slab encircled by the snow-clad Sierra Nevada — on a sun-splashed Wednesday.
Christopher, a wounded war veteran who served in the Army for 26 years, was cherishing the opportunity to not only explore the wilderness, but also witness some of the best views Mother Nature has to offer.
And, not to mention, experience it all while roving through the mountains on a snowmobile.
Christopher was one of roughly 40 Wounded Warrior Project veterans who participated in a South Lake Tahoe snowmobile tour Wednesday donated by Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours.
The event helped kick off the four-day Achieve Tahoe Military Winter Sports Camp at various locations throughout North Lake Tahoe.
“It’s amazing just to get out and experience the outdoors and the snow with several veterans,” said Christopher, 44, who served in Desert Storm, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. “There are things that you could probably never do as a guy that has a disability, so to have people around that have worked with these people that have disabilities that are willing to help you and make this experience a great time for you is amazing.”
For two hours and 20 miles, wounded military service men and women traversed the pristine Tahoe National Forest alongside members of Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours, Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Placer County Fire Department and Northstar California Resort.
The first stop on the tour — arguably the highlight — was a stop accessing a striking panoramic view of Lake Tahoe, from one of the lookouts near Brockway Summit.
‘IT’S JUST GREAT FUN’
Christopher, who hails from Santa Clara, said he’s participated in similar events for wounded veterans, and Wednesday’s snowmobile Lake Tahoe tour was one his most memorable.
“I’ve participated in the VA (Veterans Association) Sports Clinic in Aspen, Colorado, and I did skiing and snowmobiling there, but it wasn’t the same experience,” said Christopher as he surveyed Lake Tahoe, the sunlight dancing off its waters. “This is much better.”
Meanwhile, for Jim Kempner, getting the opportunity to share unique experiences with fellow veterans is what brings him the most satisfaction.
“The snowmobile ride itself, and the skiing that we’re going to be doing, that’s a perk to me,” said Kempner, 55, who served in the Air Force for 20 years. “I meet a lot of great people here, a lot of other vets, and when you get a network going you learn a whole lot about how to do things and how to make your life a whole lot easier just by socializing with people that are in the same predicament you are in.”
Kempner also felt right at home riding a snowmobile.
“I used to ride a motorcycle,” he said, “so it’s kind of close to getting back to riding on a motorcycle again. It’s just great fun.”
The snowmobile event, which also included stops at Watson Lake and Watson Peak, was steered by Jon Wilson of Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours.
“It’s great to give back to the community and these veterans who sacrificed a lot for us,” Wilson said. “So it’s a nice opportunity for our staff to give back to them. It’s a great opportunity for people to get out there and enjoy the wilderness where they can access areas they normally wouldn’t be able to.
“Hopping on a snowmobile is a great way for them to do that.”
Other Achieve Tahoe events on tap
Along with the South Lake Tahoe snowmobile tour, veterans will receive specialized instruction in Lake Tahoe skiing, snowboarding, sled hockey and yoga during the Achieve Tahoe Military Winter Sports Camp, from Wednesday through Saturday.
According to Achieve Tahoe, participants receive private lessons specifically designed to support their physical therapy, boost their emotional well-being, build their confidence and ultimately help with the re-integration into their communities.
“Each year we get the privilege of sharing the beauty of North Lake Tahoe with these deserving individuals who have sacrificed so much for our freedom,” said Haakon Lang-Ree, executive director of Achieve Tahoe, in a statement. “However, this year, thanks to the El Niño we get to treat them to the pleasure of enjoying phenomenal skiing and riding conditions.”
On Thursday, veterans participated in skiing and snowboarding at Alpine Meadows. On Friday and Saturday, they’ll hit the slopes at Squaw Valley and Northstar Resort, respectively.
The four-day sports camp will be punctuated Saturday with the 22nd Annual Ability Bash at Alpine Meadows Lodge. The evening — emceed by Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows CEO Andy Wirth — includes dinner, dancing, fine wines, craft beer, raffles and a silent auction in celebration and tribute to the brave military service men and women.
The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Tickets are available at achievetahoe.webconnex.com/2016AbilityBash.
Originally published in the September 26, 2016, issue of the Tahoe Daily Tribune and regularly vetted for accuracy.