Class Notes Profile: Nina Pritikin Zale

Mountain Mover, Nina Pritikin Zale, helps disabled Israeli veterans learn to ski

Nina Pritikin Zale with Israeli veteran Liel Cohen. (Image courtesy of Nina Zale)
Mountain Mover, Nina Pritikin Zale, helps disabled Israeli veterans learn to ski

The winter of 2008 was a bleak one for Nina Pritikin Zale ’73 FAA. Having been diag-nosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, she would escape between rounds of chemo and radiation in Chicago by traveling to Aspen, Colo., where she and her husband hit the slopes. That’s when she met Mendel Mintz, a local rabbi who had brought together a group of Israeli veterans with disabilities for a week in the mountains. They, too, were there to ski.

“I felt camaraderie,” Zale says. “Because when you go through a trauma, it changes your soul.” She rapidly became involved with the program, known as Golshim L’Chaim-Ski to Live. Each year, through the efforts of Mintz, Zale and others, a dozen Israeli veterans with disabilities ranging from shrapnel wounds to paraplegia are flown to Aspen for a week of skiing. They’re housed, fed, paired with instructors and supplied with equipment as needed, such as sit skis, which allow those without use of their legs to sit atop a large ski and negotiate the slopes using special poles.

“They all seem to learn to ski or snowboard within the week, which is amazing,” says Zale, who also helps fund the nonprofit program.

Two years ago, she enlisted Israeli director Yonatan Nir to document the experiences of four vets in the program, including a double amputee and a paraplegic. The resultant film, Beyond the Boundaries, premiered in Aspen in August 2011, and has since been screened at film festivals in the U.S. and Canada.

Zale (whose cancer treatment proved successful) says that all the veterans have “wounds to the psyche” when they come to Aspen. She believes that learning to hurtle down mountains inspires many of them to move forward when they return to Israel.

“They write and tell me it was the best experience of their lives,” Zale says.