As a new ski season descends upon us, some new faces will be greeting you on the phone or in person at the Breckenridge Adaptive Ski & Snowboard School. While Katie O’Donnell and Emma Gilroy may be recent additions to the ski office, they aren’t new to the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) as Katie just recently graduated from BOEC’s Summer Internship Program while Emma was an intern at the Keystone Adaptive Center (KAC) last winter. In keeping with a theme over the years, these two standouts are just the latest interns-turned-staff-members to join the BOEC administrative team. Katie and Emma both replace former interns and now full-time AND promoted team members, Jillian Palacio and Steve Rubin, as Ski Office Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator, respectively. We’re excited to have them both as part of the team!
While the two have their new roles and past internships in common, their journeys to get to the BOEC were a bit different. Katie moved to Summit County in 2019 and lived and worked at Copper Mountain for a year and a half before joining the BOEC in the summer of 2021. It wasn’t until a good friend of hers was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and subsequently found the BOEC, that the Fort Wayne, Indiana native started looking into the BOEC and its Internship Program as a possible career move. Her friend, John, was a fantastic snowboarder before his diagnosis and found a way to continue his passion with BOEC’s Adaptive Ski and Snowboard Program. Katie witnessed John’s amazing progress first-hand and immediately wanted to be involved in the program that was able to change lives so dramatically.
“John found a way to get back on the ski hill last winter by participating in a bi-ski lesson,” remembers O’Donnell. “I heard about his time there and started looking into what the BOEC had to offer. An organization that can provide the opportunity for anyone of any ability to experience skiing was something I was highly interested in and decided to go for it.”
Emma’s route to Breckenridge happened a bit differently as the 22-year-old looked to follow in the footsteps of an older cousin who moved to Colorado to be a ski patroller when Emma was a kid. Ever since then, her dream was to move out West and do the ski bum thing, but things changed a bit when she met former BOEC Intern and current ski instructor Lindsay Riggs while in college at SUNY Cortland.
“Lindsay and I were in the same program at school and when she said she was doing an adaptive ski internship in Colorado, I knew right away that I wanted to do the same thing,” says Gilroy. “Instead of doing the ski bum thing, the BOEC allowed me to ski bum with a purpose.”
So the two applied, were accepted, and ultimately graduated from their respective internships. While both found their time as interns extremely challenging, they both agree that the rewards outweigh the challenges that both faced.
“Someone recently described the BOEC internship as the type of experience that when your grandkids ask you to tell stories about your life, you’ll talk about your time at the BOEC,” Emma says. “And that’s what I’m going to do. I learned so much from our participants and the other interns and staff around me, things that could only be learned from an experience like the internship. Interning at the BOEC allowed me to do what I love most every day, share it with others, and be surrounded by some of the kindest and most passionate people I have ever met.”
Katie found her internship experience to be some of the hardest work she had ever done, but she came out of it with many new relationships, friendships and a general love for the work she’s doing with the BOEC.
“Initially I was intrigued with the BOEC internship because it incorporates most of my favorite things into one job,” says Katie. “I love that we’re able to help people experience outdoor activities/adventures that they more than likely would not have been able to experience before. Being able to provide these experiences, and the opportunity to get to know so many different participants, is really special to me.”
With their internships now over, and both young women displaying a passion for the BOEC and its participants, new full-time jobs were in the cards for Katie and Emma. Katie has now traded in her Chaco’s for Sorel’s and Emma has broken out her winter gear from storage as both get ready to tackle another Summit County winter, albeit in new roles. As the Ski Office Coordinator, Katie is responsible for scheduling participant lessons and running the general day-to-day operations of the office while Emma manages BOEC’s robust Volunteer Program that is over 400 individuals strong. In addition to being part of one of the largest adaptive ski programs in the country, each has their own unique reasons for wanting to continue their BOEC journeys.
Katie loves that she has the opportunity to talk to participants and their families to get them scheduled on a daily basis. The 26-year old says, “It’s incredibly rewarding when someone calls the office unsure if they’ll be able to participate due to their disability and I’m able to tell them that it is in fact possible. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the participants I’ve had the pleasure of booking lessons for and I’m just grateful that I’m able to contribute to the operations of the BOEC.”
Emma, on the other hand, is simply amazed at how many people are willing to volunteer their time to help this program run and is just happy to be a part of it. “It’s shown me how many people care deeply about our participants and the work we do,” she says. “I think our extensive volunteer program is part of what makes the ski and snowboard program so unique. People return year after year to give their time and experience and that’s a big part of what makes this place so special.”
When asked about their expected contributions to the program this winter, Ski Program Director Jeff Inouye says, “Katie and Emma will be a great asset to the Adaptive Ski & Snowboard Program this year. Their experience and knowledge of BOEC programming will enable them to contribute right away to the success of our program.”
After a season as a KAC intern and now onto her new role, Emma seems to be in her element. While in college, the Rome, NY native studied outdoor recreation and joins a multitude of family members that have all worked in the ski industry at one time or another. Her mom, one of her cousins, one of her aunts, and two of her uncles have all been ski patrollers while her sister and another cousin were ski instructors. And to top it all off, her brother works as a ski rental technician. I guess you could say it truly is a family business. But what’s unique about Emma’s journey thus far is her foray into the adaptive world of skiing, something she does not take lightly.
“In school we learned that access to recreation should be a right and not a privilege,” she states. “Adaptive ski programs such as the BOEC help break down some of the barriers that some people face when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, and help make it more accessible which is what drew me to the field in the first place.”
Katie, who says she would label her hypothetical book about the BOEC Anything’s Possible, is all about people changing their narrative. “Everyone goes through hard times,” she says. “But if you try to change your perspective you can potentially change a hard time into a good time. The BOEC does just that by providing lessons to anyone of any ability to experience the joy of skiing.”
Yes, both Emma and Katie are changing hard times into good times for BOEC’s participants, but they are doing the same for themselves as well. Going from possibly one of the most challenging experiences of their young lives in the BOEC internship to full time jobs within the organization, good times certainly lie ahead. And they are as happy to be working for the BOEC as the BOEC is having them. It’s definitely a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Whether or not their careers continue here at the BOEC, or elsewhere after this season, is yet to be determined but one thing for sure is that the two would like to continue working in the field that sparked their passion.
“I believe I will still be out here in Colorado,” says Katie when thinking 10 years ahead into the future. “And I will hopefully still be in the field of adaptive sports in one way or another.”
“I hope to be skiing whenever I have the chance in 10 years,” says Emma. “And hopefully I’ll be putting to use all of the skills I learned at the BOEC.”
Wherever they land someone will be lucky to have them. In the meantime, however, the BOEC will relish the opportunity to be a part of their lives, even if it’s just for a year. Welcome to the team Katie and Emma … enjoy the season like never before!
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