‘It is a humbling honor’: Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s Jeff Inouye earns hall-of-fame spot after 30 years in the adaptive ski industry
It is no secret that adaptive sports is a major part of the DNA of Summit County. Quickly making adaptive sports a vital part of the Summit snowsports community, the county houses several Paralympians, professional athletes, adaptive groups and nonprofits.
One nonprofit organization that has played a huge role in the development of adaptive athletes in Summit County is the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center. Over the last 30 years, Jeff Inouye has used compassion and a desire to improve the lives of others to leave his mark on the center.
In December, Inouye was inducted into the National Adaptive Sports Hall of Fame in the winter contributor category among three other inductees. The induction took place on Dec. 9 at the end of this year’s The Hartford Ski Spectacular at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Before Inouye took over as the center’s Ski Program Director in 2017, his career in adaptive sports began in the winter of 1993.
Originally from California, Inouye moved to Breckenridge in 1993 for the same reason many people decide to live in a mountain town community: skiing. However upon arriving in Breckenridge, Inouye was immediately drawn to the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.
“I heard about the program through some friends of mine when I first got here,” Inouye said. “So I started volunteering.”
Inouye started as an adaptive ski and snowboard program volunteer the same winter he moved to Breckenridge and quickly moved up in the center’s ranks. In a span of two years, Inouye officially joined the staff as a paid ski instructor in 1995 before being promoted to assistant ski program director under Gene Gamber in 1998.
“What it came down to is that I basically fell in love with the industry and found something that I sort of had a knack for,” Inouye said of his rise through the center’s ranks. “I love the organization and what it did for people. I made a career out of it basically.”
Under Gamber, Inouye continued to flourish, thriving off the skiing community and his love to teach people how to ski. In 2017, Inouye took over the reins of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center to become the ski program director.
Over the last 30 years, Inouye has had an impact not only the Summit community — but also on the field of adaptive sports. Some of Inouye’s biggest accolades include being a staff member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team alongside being a foundational part of the Learn to Ski staff at The Hartford Ski Spectacular.
Although being a staff member with the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and the Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team are highlights of Inouye’s career, Inouye says the day-to-day aspect of his job is one of his favorite memories over the last 30 winters.
Last winter, specifically, Inouye helped a Colorado family have an opportunity of a lifetime with their daughter and showed Paralympic gold medalist Kendall Gretsch how to ski downhill for the first time.
“It’s the students and the families that the BOEC impacts on a daily basis,” Inouye said. “I have been fortunate enough to teach a lot of lessons — but also be a part of training our staff and giving them the tools to create these life-changing experiences for our participants.”
Over the last few years as the ski program director, Inouye says he has received countless emails from families saying how much the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center has changed and impacted their lives. Those words of thanks is what encourages Inouye to continue to take to the hill on an every-day basis in order to share his love of teaching and skiing.
Inouye has also enjoyed seeing Summit become a hot spot for adaptive athletes to visit and live.
“We are fortunate,” Inouye said. “The majority of our participants are returning students who have been skiing with us for years. The experience they have had here is what brings them back. We have folks that have actually purchased houses or condos in Breck so they can come back here on a yearly basis.”
Despite saying he doesn’t particularly enjoy the personal recognition, being inducted into the National Adaptive Sports Hall of Fame was a huge honor for Inouye.
“It is a humbling honor as there are so many great people that are in the hall of fame that have done a lot of really great things for the adaptive industry,” Inouye said. “It is incredible to be included with some of these folks that have done so much for adaptive skiing and adaptive sports.”
Inouye hopes to continue to grow the center over his next few decades with the nonprofit.
“I want to continue to provide life-changing experiences and also help to improve the quality of our lessons,” Inouye said. “I would also like to see the industry grow to provide great experiences to people with all types of disabilities.”
Inouye thanked Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Ski Resort, the town of Breckenridge and The Summit Foundation for supporting the center over the years.
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