This week’s winter storm came at the perfect time for a group that has been skiing and riding in mid-March at Stowe Mountain Resort for over a quarter-century. This week is the annual winter summit for insurance giant AIG and some special guests.
In January AIG made public its intention to sell the mountain operations at Stowe to Vail Resorts. And that had locals wondering if it would mark the end of AIG’s annual winter summit, when hundreds of insurance executives from around the country descend on the mountain for a mix of business meetings and snow sports.
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Rob Shimek is CEO of AIG’s commercial insurance business. He says they are planning to be back next year.
"We have a great relationship with the people here, with the community, with Stowe just more broadly," says Shimek. "And we have no intention of really having that go away. In the end, are we the best operators of a ski operation? Maybe not. But we’re the best insurers of a ski operation."
Shimek noted that AIG is selling the mountain operations, but holding onto other properties, such as Stowe Mountain Lodge.
"We have a continuing interest in the real estate," he says. "We have a great partnership with Stowe and, in the end, this is actually a part of our DNA too. And so we’re proud of it and there’s no intention for us to do anything other than keep coming back year after year. And if everything works out the way we would want it, it would be with our partners from DSUSA."
DSUSA stands for Disabled Sports USA. And for over a decade, DSUSA has been an integral part of AIG’s winter summit. Through ski races at the summit, the executives raise money for DSUSA programs such as Warfighter Sports, a program for disabled veterans. This year they contributed $750,000.
Kirk Bauer is DSUSA’s executive director. "One of the things that’s happening this week, besides a lot of business meetings, is that they are hosting a ski and snowboard camp for severely wounded warfighters from Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of the youth program participants from Disabled Sports USA," he says.
Bauer says all the athletes – both veterans and kids – are Paralympic hopefuls for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team.
So while AIG summit attendees compete in some light-hearted ski racing, they’re sharing the course with some top competitors, like Matthew Melancon.
"Warfighter Sports was there for me, in definitely my darkest hour," says Melancon. "And offered me what initially annoyed me beyond belief, when they offered me a chance to go snowboarding. And I was just filled with anger at their ignorance of not noticing that I was an amputee."
But once Melancon decided to strap on a snowboard, he found a new lease on life.
"They just gave me an environment that just – it completely eroded that belief," he says. "And it actually gave me the strength and courage to go and have my second leg amputated one year later. And we threw a going away party for it. And I haven’t looked back since."
Today Melancon is on the Paralympic development team for boardercross and ranked among the top 10 in the world.
In addition to training in Stowe this week, Melancon and other Warfighter Sports athletes are mentoring younger athletes in DSUSA’s youth program.
Richard Dyer is a Warfighter Sports snowboarder from Manchester, NH. He says the mentoring relationship goes both ways.
"They’re learning from us. We’re learning a lot of stuff from them, because they’re a lot more reckless than we are," he explains. "They’re not really worried about getting as hurt. So we’re seeing different runs getting lined up that we’re like, 'Wow. I would have never done that, but now I’m going to give it a try because I’m going to keep up with them.'"
And that’s coming from a paratrooper.
This is Dyer’s third year attending the winter summit training camp. This time last year, he remembers it was 65 degrees and there was more water than snow.
"The fact that we’re getting a three-foot dump of snow in March is the thing dreams are made out of," he says.
Melancon – who trains fulltime in Utah – agrees, saying, "This is the best powder I’ve ever ridden."
And if all goes according to AIG plans, they’ll be back for more next year.