On Sunday (Jan. 25), Jerry Laughlin sat in the sun at the base of Taos Ski Valley, wearing circa-1960 leather, laced ski boots and a smile.
“I got a couple of runs in on the beginner hill on Thursday and another couple today,” said Laughlin, 88.
Not only was Laughlin, a Taos resident, the oldest veteran to participate in the Not Forgotten Outreach weekend (Jan. 24-25) at the ski valley, but he has long ties to Taos Ski Valley as an original lodge manager and ski patroller when the late Ernie Blake opened up the mountain in 1956.
“It was a great time,” said Laughlin, who started skiing more than 60 years ago. “I have been impressed with what this local organization (Not Forgotten Outreach) has done, so I’m doing all I can to help them out.”
Laughlin was one of some 750 vets and their families who showed up at Taos Ski Valley from as far as Florida and the state of Washington — and as close as Kirtland Air Base in Albuquerque — to enjoy a couple of days of winter sports and camaraderie with fellow vets.
The weekend was the second such event organized by Don Peters and Not Forgotten Outreach at Taos Ski Valley. The first, in 2014 at Taos Ski Valley, attracted hundreds of military active duty and veterans and convinced the organizers they had a good thing. The ski valley discounted its lift tickets and lessons for the event.
Not Forgotten Outreach works to motivate military veterans and members for families of injured vets to participate in therapeutic recreational activities to promote healing.
“We are pleased and tickled that we got so much response from military bases around the country,” said Peters, a Taos resident and founder of the organization.
Indeed, Peters said his organization publicized the event around the country, and vets, active duty personnel and their families responded in droves. They came to get some runs on the Northern New Mexico mountain, enjoy the ambiance of Taos, eat a big dinner with friends and cohorts, and listen to music with other vets.
A number of local organizations chipped in to help at the event, including the Taos Milagro Rotary which paid for Saturday night’s dinner, El Pueblo Lodge and other area lodges that discounted room rates, members of the local VFW Post 3259 who volunteered and the town of Taos Chile Line, which ran a late bus to bring participants back to town.
Many of the participants have disabilities as the result of their active-duty service — multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, amputation, traumatic brain injury — and they were “treated like kings” at the resort, said Peters.
The Grand Junction (Colorado) VA provided about 20 pieces of adaptive skiing equipment to get people up on the hill. The special devices included bi-ski and mono-ski sleds that could be maneuver either independently or with a helper. Six adaptive skiers hit the mountain during the weekend, Peters said, twice as many as did last year.
Local vet Patrick McCormick set up shop at the base and conducted tea ceremonies throughout the weekend. Some 125 people joined, Peters said.
Asked Monday (Jan. 26) how he was feeling after the weekend, Peters said he was “still smiling.”
“I expect to ride the high off this thing for a couple of weeks,” he said. “Everything increased from last year, and we still have Angel Fire to go.”
Not Forgotten Outreach moves to Angel Fire Resort on Feb. 20-22 for a similar event – with at least one exception. Double-ambutee Dana Bowman, of Dallas, will parachute into Angel Fire Resort to kick off the event.