This post was written by Alek Jadkowski, a Bolton Valley backcountry program guide. Backcountry skiing in Vermont gave his life some much-needed direction after he got out of the Army, inspiring him to share that with other veterans. GMC was happy to sponsor his proposed backcountry veterans ski tour with a night at Bryant Camp.
I could not have ordered better weather for a day of backcountry touring; the sun was bright, the temperature was mild, and the snow was soft. Having picked this day for the Bolton Valley veterans ski tour months in advance, luck was on our side. My only question was how this group of seven vets, including myself and my fellow guide, Alex, would work together during a full day in the backcountry. But with nothing but smiles and good attitudes as we started our climb up to Bryant Camp, I knew we were in for a good day.
We dropped our overnight gear at the camp, continued up the Catamount Trail, and were quickly dropping in on our first line of the day. Most of the group had never toured in the Bolton Valley backcountry before, and as I watched them make their first turns, I knew our day was going to get even better. These vets not only had good attitudes, but they also had skills. This was a group that we could take deep into Cottonbrook to get the goods the Bolton Valley backcountry is known for: wide open, untracked powder. Another transition, another climb, and we were at the top of the line of the day, a long, untracked run through the hardwoods back to the bottom of the Cottonbrook basin. Turns were slashed, poles were clicked, and there were more smiles as we started the long climb out.
Skiing back to Bryant Camp for the night gave us the chance to disconnect with the outside world, unwind, and connect with each other. As soon as we sat down together at the table the stories began to flow. This is the magic of getting a group of veterans together; we all have had experiences that people outside the veteran community will never understand, and being able to hear and tell those tales is my favorite part of these trips. It is a chance to think back on the best times I had in the Army, and to hear what those years were like for others who did different jobs in different places. Those stories all had common threads that tied us together. I think those threads are the foundation of the immediate bond that forms when you put a group of vets together.
Previous generations and even the newest generation of veterans have found that sort of camaraderie at the VFW or the American Legion, but there are some of us who want to make connections on our own terms. For me, that is out on the snow and in a cabin. For others, it is on a hiking trail, or floating whitewater, or casting a fly. These kinds of trips help us to support each other, and when times are hard and our thoughts are dark, they remind us that we are not alone. The value of that is far more than a simple cabin rental or backcountry gear rental, and I want to extend a sincere thank you to Bolton Valley and the Green Mountain Club for their support. Organizations like yours are what make these trips happen, and it is important that they continue to happen. The opportunity to find ourselves, and to find each other, in the backcountry is priceless.