On a cold clear morning, sunlight glints off snowbanks as a line of snowmobiles zip through groves of aspens and towering firs. Pyramid Peak, sister of the famous Maroon Bells, towers ahead and a stunning panoramic view of Aspen lays behind.
Tucked in the scenic Maroon Creek Valley, the T-Lazy-7 Ranch has provided snowmobiling as an alternate activity for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic for more than three decades.
“It’s one of our favorite things to do. We love to give back to the Vets and everybody has such a good time,” said owner Rick Deane, “A lot of people come back year after year and you get to know them. Many tell me this is the most fun they have ever had.”
Adapting snowmobiles for disabilities is a constant work in progress for T-Lazy-7. About five years ago, the team developed a seat back that helps paraplegic Veterans ride comfortably. Leg straps assist Veterans with mobility limitations stay safely on the sled, and a buddy will ride with Veterans with spinal cord injuries or limited visibility to help steer.
The crew at the ranch love the Veterans’ sense of humor and laugh about pranks that Veterans have pulled throughout the years. Billy McEnteer has been volunteering to assist Veterans at the WSC event for about 30 years and travels to the T-Lazy-7 every year from Grand Junction, Co. to help during this week. McEnteer recalls riding with a Vietnam Veteran with a spinal cord injury to help him steer. Several minutes into the drive the Veteran shared with McEnteer that he was also blind.
“We had stopped to get resituated, and then I told him to hit the throttle,” said McEnteer. “He said ‘are you sure, you know I’m blind, right?’ He came back for about 10 years after that.”
Deane, and his two children, Jesse Deane and Besha Jervis, run the ranch with the help of 25 seasonal employees. During Winter Sports Clinic, additional volunteers come to the ranch to help serve the Veterans.
Winter Sports Clinic typically falls just a week or two before snowmobiling shuts down for the season. This year, Deane estimates that there is about 5 feet of snow on the ranch, but many years the snow is nearly melted by the end of March.
“When there are low snow years, they use the heavy equipment to stockpile snow around the ranch all winter,” said Jervis. “Then they create a ribbon of snow across the meadow. The volunteers and Rick are up all night through the week adding more snow to the trail – they’ll go to amazing lengths to make sure we can serve the Veterans.”