On the right track: Kelley Schweissing lives life on the edge with help from his snowmobile
Kelley Schweissing lives life on the edge with help from his snowmobile
Kelley Schweissing’s training to become a member of Mesa County Search and Rescue Control’s snowmobile team began 14 years ago atop Grand Mesa.
That’s when the then-4-year-old Schweissing enjoyed his first snowmobile ride. Visits to the family cabin on the mesa, only reachable by snowmobile in winter, fueled his passion to keep riding. He gradually learned more riding techniques, got his own snowmobile in the family caravan of 10 snowmobiles and built his own collection of gear.
At 18, the Fruita Monument High School senior joined the county winter snowmobile rescue team, called the Snowskippers, and became the youngest of its approximately 40 members.
His first few months on the team have been relatively uneventful, with the exception of the team getting called up for one rescue mission in January. Schweissing was glad the woman lost on the mesa was found alive during the mission, but he was a little disappointed he missed the rescue. He was at a movie theater and had his phone turned off when the call came through to respond to the rescue effort. After he turned his phone back on and got the message, he immediately readied his gear in case the team needed more respondents, but the mission ended early.
Schweissing’s uncle, fellow SARC team member and the teen’s inspiration for joining the squad, Andy Kelley, said his nephew doesn’t want to miss two rescues in a row.
“He always carries his gear in the back of his car at school now ever since he missed that first one,” Kelley said.
Kelley said Snowskippers volunteers have to be expert snowmobilers. He has enjoyed watching his nephew hone his craft in trainings and earn that expert status with the team.
“I’m very proud,” he said.
Eighty-year-old Chuck Perkins, the oldest member of the Snowskippers, has known Schweissing, a Grand Junction native, since he was a tot. Perkins said Schweissing learns quickly, listens and “isn’t a smart-aleck kid.”
“If you want someone dependable, he’s it. He’s a great addition. I truly wish we had more younger people like him because there’s a great need for future members on the team,” Perkins said.
Schweissing takes the compliments in stride and is quick to note he isn’t old enough to effect much change on the team. He said he’s still learning from the group and enjoys perfecting turns and making trails on rides with the group and learning about new gear in trainings. That gear includes backpacks that expand in an avalanche to help people float closer to the surface before the snow settles and a tracker that emits a beacon to help find people stuck in an avalanche.
He has learned cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid as part of team training and he enjoys learning about aid techniques from emergency medical professionals who are on the team, although he’s not interested in following in their footsteps.
“I have a suture kit in my snowmobile but if I had to use it I might throw up,” he admitted.
Schweissing is considering majoring in environmental science or political science in college. He said there are few ways to incorporate snowmobiles into a career, but he wants to keep riding the rest of his life. That likely entails settling in Colorado after college. Where he’ll attend college is still to be determined; he has applied to 10 schools that range from as close as Colorado Springs to as far away as Switzerland.
“My plan is, no matter what, to come back here. I love Colorado. My family has a 500-acre cabin on Grand Mesa. That’s a big magnet to keep me here,” he said.