Every year, as a sort of rite of passage, young adults move to the ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado to live the coveted “ski bum” lifestyle. However, whether the money runs dry or the sense of adventure finally escapes them, few of them last more than a couple of seasons before moving on to so-called “normal” life. Claire DiCola, BOEC’s current Associate Program Director of Admissions, defied the odds when she moved to Breckenridge in 2004 with a more defined sense of purpose.
In her spare time, Claire enjoys mountain biking
The Illinois native began her career journey after graduating from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon with a degree in English. But it wasn’t the English language that captured her attention as she started her vocation as a Paraprofessional in a special education classroom. It was then that she realized that working with unique populations was her passion and ultimately led her down the path to the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC).
Because of the trend of the aforementioned individuals that only last a few years in a ski town, Claire was naturally a bit hesitant about the move. “I kept looking at the BOEC application online and asking myself could I actually pull this off,” she recalls. “Move to a ski town? Tell my parents I am moving to Colorado to teach skiing? Well, I applied, was accepted, left Portland and since then Breckenridge has been my home.”
And not only has Claire called Breckenridge home ever since, but the BOEC as well. She started her journey as a winter intern for the 2004-05 winter season and remembers that experience being so transformative that she decided to stay for the following summer internship program. She moved to Colorado to teach skiing but ultimately fell in love with the summer offerings. After spending another summer working as a part-time instructor for the Wilderness Program, the writing was on the wall of what was to become of Claire DiCola. Just two short years after taking the chance on a move to Breckenridge, she accepted the full-time position as the Wilderness Program Coordinator, starting the journey to where she is today 15 years later.
Claire guides a BOEC rafting trip
While the early days were filled mostly with periods out in the field on adventures with BOEC participants, as the organization started to grow Claire began spending more and more time in the office managing the logistics and planning of the year-round Wilderness Program. But, as is her nature, Claire has remained dedicated to staying true to her roots and to the core function of the job.
“Over the years I have made it a priority to still get out in the field and spend time with our students,” she says. “What I enjoy most about my job now is the same as it was in the beginning … the people I get to work with. The fact that I can still get out in the field and work directly with our staff and students is a bonus.”
So working with people and just the right amount of organized chaos is what makes up her job, but to want to do it day in and day out for 15 years there has to be a catch, right? Claire is quick to point out the sense of community that surrounds the BOEC.
In the winter, Claire enjoys all types of skiing, including Cross Country
“I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, but when you look around you find layers and layers of community at the BOEC,” she says. “It is like the founders of the BOEC envisioned the hard working, fun and loving culture they wanted to build at the start and I’d say they were successful. It’s an amazing thing to know that you are always surrounded by good people who are here for the right reasons.”
And, in her mind, what makes the BOEC so special? It’s a place that believes in people.
“It starts with our interns and continues up through our core staff members and thus reflects on the experiences that our students receive,” she says. “It’s a team effort. It’s our job to train and empower our staff to do the best they can. When we do that well, our staff are so invested to give the best of themselves to the participants.”
This belief and investment in providing a sense of community and uniqueness to everyone involved is at the very core of Claire’s job and the BOEC. In fact, when asked what her favorite BOEC memory to date has been, she points to a story that illustrates just that.
Claire poses with the CO Chapter of the National Hemophiliac Foundation
“It was a backpacking trip run in partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation, a program that we’ve been partnering with for over 20 years” she reminisces. “We woke everyone up in the dark to leave real early for the summit, but before we could leave camp, unbeknownst to us, the medical provider with us decided it was in everyone’s best interest to go ahead and give themselves an extra blood factor infusion first. So, instead of leaving early as planned, we took advantage of the situation and made hot drinks for hydration and watched the sun come up. It was one of those moments where I felt so special and honored to be sharing this experience.”
Joy, challenge and beauty. These three words encapsulate this memory, and not by coincidence, are also the three words Claire uses to describe the BOEC. No wonder she has made the BOEC home for the majority of her adult life and no surprise that many longstanding groups come back year after year. They come for that joy, challenge, beauty and for something that Claire points to as uniquely BOEC.
“I think we offer something unique,” she states. “It’s a high quality, high touch, custom tailored experience. We work hard to build relationships with both the students and with the agencies we partner with. For that reason we have staff that stick around longer than the industry standards.”
And you, Claire, are the perfect example of defying the odds. All she hopes for the next 10 years is that the BOEC simply “continues on.” Well, if you have anything to say about it, I think we can safely assume that will happen. Continue on Claire DiCola and keep making a difference in the lives of so many.