The 2020-21 ski season has been one for the ages. As the world continued to find its way through a global pandemic, here in Breckenridge, Colorado, the BOEC Adaptive Ski & Snowboard Program was busy doing its part by adjusting to meet state and local health guidelines to ensure that our program would be able to open and operate safely for participants, staff, and volunteers. While this meant about a 50 percent decrease in lessons offered, the uniqueness of the season has been so memorable that we decided to talk to the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) and Keystone Adaptive Center (KAC) staff to bring you an idea of what stood out for each of them.

BOEC Volunteers on an adaptive ski lessonBy the time you read this, the BOEC will have provided just over 1,500 adaptive lessons, or 50% of normal capacity, between its Breckenridge and Keystone locations. In addition, the team of nine winter interns, 33 instructors and staff, and over 70 volunteers, all brought their passion and commitment to the work we do every day while working within office settings that included the additions of plexiglass separators, 6-foot social distancing spaces, daily symptom checks and other COVID-19 precautions. Given all of this, BOEC Ski Program Director, Jeff Inouye, could not be more pleased with what his team overcame and accomplished this year.

Kyle Zych poses with BOEC adaptive ski instructors“It’s been an incredibly rewarding season. Although it has been very challenging, I could not be more happy about how things have worked out,” he says. “Thanks to our hard-working team of staff, instructors and volunteers, we were still able to provide life changing experiences for our participants. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the ski program this year!”

Breckenridge Ski Program Supervisor, Lydia North, was also pleasantly surprised by how well things ran despite the extra steps required to make sure everyone’s safety was a top priority. As BOEC instructors, volunteers and students arrived each morning, Lydia would present them with a series of questions to ensure they were not exhibiting any COVID-9 symptoms. In what started out as just “another thing to do” each morning, this routine actually turned into something she looked forward to each morning and may make a difference for Lydia for years to come.

BOEC adaptive ski lesson“It meant I got to personally have a conversation with every person I worked with,” she says. “I got to look them in the eye and ask them how they were doing each and every morning. These short, daily conversations helped me continue to feel the strong sense of the BOEC community despite not being able to gather during the evenings and enjoy each other’s presence at the holiday parties. I might just make this a priority in seasons to come, to check in with people in the morning, and hopefully someday soon we’ll get to see all those wonderful maskless smiles.”

While this was somewhat of a change for Lydia, the theme of change seemed to be the common denominator for all the staff. What stood out for Breckenridge Ski Office Coordinator, Jillian Palacio, was how well the team adapted to this change. They spent the month of October preparing for the many hypotheticals to make sure everyone in the BOEC community could have a safe and successful season. The long days preparing for the unknowns, however, was well worth the effort according to Jillian.

BOEC adaptive ski group poses“Watching the outcome of this season made it all worth it,” says Jillian, now into her second year as Ski Office Coordinator. “It’s pretty empowering to be able to create an environment that felt safe enough for our highest-risk students to participate in. I am so happy to see our program continue to prosper and continue to make lives better for our students, staff and volunteers.”

Ski Program Manager, Kyle Calbat, echoes Jillian’s sentiments. What stuck out to him this season was how much the instructors and interns stepped up to the plate and provided top-notch instruction for our participants.

“There was already a lot of uncertainty with the pandemic, but everyone took it in stride,” says Kyle. “It was really fun to watch them go with the flow, grow into leaders, and help wherever needed in such a strange season. This season simply wouldn’t have been possible without their passion and dedication.”

BOEC adaptive ski participant rides the chairliftAnd all this time planning for all of the uncertainty and theoreticals made a slightly different impression on Keystone Ski Program Coordinator, Sean Houston. It was the return to “normalcy” as individual and group lessons started with the opening of ski season that he finds the most memorable.

“We had spent so much time in the fall planning for all the variables, that when we were finally able to start lessons, everything just felt normal again,” says Houston, a former BOEC intern. “Providing these experiences is something we know how to do and do well, so it was a huge relief to begin again after a period of time where we weren’t sure it would even happen.”

Steven Rubin, BOEC’s Winter Volunteer Coordinator, shared that the entire volunteer force’s efforts of living selflessly and giving back to the community is precisely what makes this place feel home to all!

Steven says, “I have no doubt that it would be possible to measure the value of our volunteer program in dollars and cents, and the resulting figure would certainly be impressive. However, as the season comes to an end, I find myself thinking more in terms of the things that are less concrete: the number of smiles produced, the knowledge gained, the amount of self-confidence generated and autonomy developed. Put another way, what I have valued most out of this season has been the continuous reminder that there exists a currency far more valuable than money that doesn’t in fact exist at all unless it’s shared.”

BOEC adaptive ski participant Finnegan RudersdorfThese are very powerful words from the BOEC Adaptive Ski & Snowboard Program staff. By reading what they found to be valuable lessons from this season, one can see that hard work, dedication, adaptability to change, and the connection to all people seem to stand out. It definitely was a challenging season, to say the least, but one in which each of these individuals took it upon themselves to adapt and overcome. Isn’t that what the BOEC is all about anyway?

It is our hope that next year will be a much more “normal” season. But even if it isn’t, you can count on the professional staff at the BOEC to do everything they can to provide fun, safe and life-changing programs.