Shredder: a term used by skiers and snowboarders to describe that person you see at a high-speed weaving in and out of others on the mountainside with what appears to be ease. Typically, you see a plume of white dust behind this individual as they carve through the snow faster than the rest.
Colton Carlson grew up in Colorado, listening to stories of his Great Grandfather who fought during WWII in Okinawa, his grandfather and uncles also shared memories of their own service, sacrifice and honor. As high school graduation approached, he knew he wanted a future in service and to have those selfless experiences his family always spoke of.
“Ultimately, I saw my future in serving as an opportunity to experience my own humanity in ways that many people never do.” Explains Carlson. “This is why I became a United States Marine.”
In 2009, Carlson began basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot (MCRD) in San Diego, CA where he learned just how far he could push himself. Upon graduating basic and infantry training, his first assignment was with 2nd Battalion 5th Marines.
“I first was deployed to Southeast Asia for a stint of six-month stint.” Carlson recalls, “In 2012 I was deployed again but this time it was a combat tour to Afghanistan as a team leader in charge of a fire team.”
Three months into the tour Carlson and his squad were tasked to provide overwatch during a three-day clearance operation when they encountered a trench line that was rigged with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Carlson suffered horrific injuries that led to the loss of both his legs, a left above the knee and a right below the knee amputations.
While in Walter Reed, Carlson was determined to not let his injuries define what he can or cannot do. He vowed to achieve three goals: walk independently on prosthetics without any other assistive devices, resume hiking and rock climbing, and the last goal was to snowboard or ski again.
In 2014, Carlson met a group of hikers training to summit Aconcagua in Argentina. “Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in the Americas.” Carlson explains. “I needed to push my limits and so I began training. In order to qualify to summit this mountain, you must be prepared to carry 50lbs on the hike and be acclimated to high altitudes which I was able to do in Colorado.”
Carlson not only trained alongside those with all limbs intact, but he showed them just how mentally fit he was. In 2015, he summited Aconcagua. Now what?
Carlson was invited to Stowe, Vermont to present his Aconcagua summit experience to a group of donors. While in Vermont he saw the mountains and already knew he needed a change. When he returned home, he applied to Dartmouth College and was accepted into their applied mathematics program.
“My wife, children and I moved to the Upper Valley so I could begin classes.” Carlson recalls, “I took a hiatus from snowboarding which I had already relearned to do using prosthetic legs and I stopped most of my physical activities as life was too busy between classes and having two small children at home.”
As Carlson’s boys grew up, he and his wife enrolled them in skiing and snowboarding lessons which triggered Carlson to take a step back to analyze what he was missing.
“When I went back to school, it was difficult to balance academics with my family life.” Carlson recalls. “My boys were very young, and I felt as though I was missing out on their childhood. I found myself in a situation where if I wasn’t studying or attending classes, I was spending time with my family leaving very little time for recreation.”
Carlson had been through many struggles throughout his life, but he says the most difficult time was trying to find a way to juggle everything important to him. He felt as though he lost his way during this time and forgot to continue to achieve his three life goals, he set for himself while at Walter Reed Hospital.
“I was introduced to Jen Stark at the White River Junction VA [Veterans Affairs] Recreation Therapy office and she convinced me to try sit-skiing.” Carlson explains. “This was around the same time I enrolled my boys into lessons, so I decided to give it a shot.”
Carlson and his family learned new winter sports together and in 2023, they visited family in Colorado where they were able to, together, enjoy skiing, snowboarding and everything in between.
“It was great showing my boys what it was like for me growing up in Colorado, snowboarding with my dad and siblings!” Carlson explains. “We all went out on the mountains together like old times.”
Every January, VA New England Adaptive Sports program hosts the second largest winter adaptive sports clinic for Veterans in the nation. This clinic is held at Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire where Carlson first learned to sit-ski with Jen Stark. Carlson first attended the New England Winter Sports Clinic (NEWSC) in 2022 and has attended each year since.
“I continue to return because NEHSA [New England Healing Sports Association] is where I first learned how to sit-ski, and it is a lot of fun getting to see familiar faces year after year!” Carlson explains. “Now I am in a position to encourage new sit- skiers and demonstrate how much fun sit-skiing can be once you make it past the initial learning curve!”
“I had the privilege to have met and witness this crazy man shred it on the sit-ski this year.” A fellow Veteran participant in the 2024’s 36th Annual NEWSC eagerly shares. “He’s insane, he was weaving in and out of civilians who were there enjoying their day on the slopes. He was leaving them in his literal dust!”
At the closing ceremony for the 36th Annual NEWSC, Carlson was awarded the Top Gun award which is given to the Veteran carving the mountain side at a rate others don’t.
Colton Carlson can officially say he has not only shredded the mountainside this past winter, but he can boast that he has shredded his life goals!
So what’s next for Carlson?
“I am currently putting together a project to ski on all seven continents!” Carlson (also known by his followers as @adapt_dad on Instagram) explains. “I have achieved my initial goals, but you can’t stop there. You have to keep striving and pushing yourself!”