Making the Grade
One never knows what will happen in Susie Nothnagel’s Spanish class at Colorado Mountain College. Students may find themselves playing a Spanish-language version of the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” board game. Native speakers from Argentina may show up to chat about their country and share South American slang.Nothnagel, 36, keeps the “conversation” going in her beginning level conversational Spanish classes. “Some of the best teaching comes from sitting around talking,” she said. A native of Colorado Springs, Nothnagel studied anthropology and Spanish at Santa Clara University in California. She perfected her language skills after graduation by teaching English to adult learners in central Ecuador and made an unexpected discovery.
“I had never even considered teaching,” she said. “That year I realized how much I loved it.” In 1996, Nothnagel moved to Breckenridge to learn how to ski while she applied to graduate school. She worked as a cocktail waitress at night and skied every day. Eventually, her love of skiing trumped her graduate school plans. After two years of practice, she took her skiing to a professional level and became a ski patroller at Breckenridge Ski Resort.She arrived at CMC the same year she started patrolling.”I applied to teach English as a second language because of my experience in Ecuador,” she said. “It had never occurred to me to teach Spanish.”For the past eight years, Nothnagel has worked on the mountain during the ski season and taught Spanish at CMC. During the spring semester she limits her teaching to one class to allow her to put more energy into her job on the hill.
“I’m passionate about ski patrolling,” she said. “It’s a very physical job, which is good for me. No two days are alike.”One of the advantages of patrolling, Nothnagel added, is its seasonal nature. She and her husband Bob take advantage of the nature of academic and ski season employment to make extended trips around the world.”Nepal is my favorite place,” she said. She and Bob visited the Himalayan kingdom twice in recent years, both times for a couple of months.Next October, Nothnagel plans to combine her love of travel with her knowledge of Spanish and what she describes as her “desire to give back to the world.”
“Bob and I are going on the Summit County trip to Honduras,” she said. “We’ll give vaccinations and maybe do some construction. We’re very excited about it.”Nothnagel is characteristically modest about what she does in what little spare time she has. She doesn’t mention her athletic achievements unless asked. As it turns out, she’s a consistent top finisher in the grueling Imperial Challenge bike and ski race in Breckenridge and she’s ridden in the 24 Hours of Moab endurance bike race.For the past several years on April 1, she and Bob have competed as a team in the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse overnight ski race. The endurance race starts at midnight and runs 45 miles from Crested Butte to Aspen. It takes the couple about 10 hours. The Nothnagel’s team name for the race in 2004 says something about the power beneath Susie’s soft-spoken demeanor: she and Bob competed as the “My wife made me do it” team.Nothnagel’s tremendous energy and zest for life are apparent to everyone, both in the classroom and on the hill. From teaching Spanish at CMC to treating a badly injured skier on Peak 10 to giving vaccinations in Central America, Nothnagel is a force to be reckoned with. And there is a purpose to her enthusiasm. When it comes right down to it, she wants her life to be one of generosity and helping. “I want to make the world a better place,” she said.
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