By Scott Prater
Senior Airman Janina Watson had never ridden a snowmobile prior to Thursday, but following a short tutorial session, she was bounding through chest-deep snow at more than 40 miles an hour.
She admits, snowmobiling is not something she would have tried on her own, but with the support and camaraderie of nine of her single Schriever teammates, Watson overcame her fear and anxiety to experience one of the most thrilling events of her life.
“I get cold easily so I was a little apprehensive about doing it,” she said. “I was excited for the opportunity, however, and once we started riding, the beautiful scenery and the wide open landscape took over.”
That’s one of the major tenets behind the Single Airmen Initiative, an Air Force Services program that started last year to provide activities and experiences for single Airmen throughout the Air Force.
As soon as Seth Cannello, Schriever Sports and Fitness Director, learned about the program, he applied for funding and began planning activities.
As a result, Schriever Airmen went on river rafting, skydiving, zip lining and hunting trips. They also rode a hot-air balloon, took a helicopter ride and fly fished in some of Colorado’s most scenic places.
On this trip, Cannello took 10 Schriever Airmen on a two-hour van ride to a spot near the Continental Divide, west of Salida, Colo.
“When we left Colorado Springs, it was negative 15 degrees, but when we stopped near Salida, the temperature crept above 20 degrees,” he said. “I’m not alone when I say it felt like a heat wave.”
Though the temperature was higher, snowmobilers prepared to ride in a winter wonderland. Snow fell, heavy at times, during the entire ride. They took off under cloudy skies and were surrounded by a thick, pine forest.
“I was hoping that it was going to be sunny and warm up there,” he said. “As it turned out, we got the opposite of that, but I think it only added to the experience.”
Much like her fellow snowmobilers, Watson soaked up the breath-taking scenery while getting a feel for her snowmobile.
“I was surprised at how much harder it is to control a snowmobile versus an all-terrain vehicle,” she said. “You couldn’t just turn the handle bars, you had to use your whole body.”
It didn’t take participants long to improve their riding skills and soon their snowmobile guides led them to a large clearing. The guide carved a large track in the shape of a circle and told the Airmen they could ride as fast as they liked inside the circle as long they made only left turns.
“That was my favorite part,” Watson said. “We were able to take sharp turns and skid all over the place, with very little risk of wrecking.”
In all, the trip lasted 2.5 hours. Counting the two-hour drive both ways and a stop for lunch, the snowmobilers had put in a full day.
“I have done many of the SAI trips offered at Schriever and I plan to do many more,” Watson said. “It’s a great way to meet people and try new things.”
Cannello plans as many activities as he can think of and continues to survey the base’s single Airmen for more ideas. He recently garnered another round of funding from SAI program and he’s expanding the number of trips for the remainder of this year.
“A lot of Airmen have asked if we could attend a concert or a sporting event, but SAI program leaders have stipulated that the activities they sponsor must allow Airmen to actively participate in an activity, as opposed to them just being a spectator. So that’s why we’re doing things like snowmobiling and go-carting.”
Coming up during the next few months, single Airmen will get the chance to ride in a glider and raft on one of Colorado’s famous rivers among other activities. Cannello has also planned more indoor go-carting trips and recently added a Segueway tour through the Garden of the Gods.
Some of the trips are already full, but he said many people can still register for trips and are likely to get in because some Airmen who sign up end up dropping out before the trip.
“I think perhaps the best advantage of this program is that it allows people to do fun activities they normally wouldn’t be able to afford on their own,” he said.
For more information on upcoming SAI activities or to sign up for an activity, contact Cannello on the Air Force global email network or call 567-6658.