‘Time to give back’: Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center volunteers talk about rewarding work, ‘courageous’ students
BRECKENRIDGE — Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, which provides adaptive lessons to skiers and snowboarders with disabilities, partners with Breckenridge Ski Resort to make the sports accessible to anyone.
The nonprofit couldn’t succeed without its army of volunteers, many of whom work for area resorts as instructors and spend their free time volunteering for the Outdoor Education Center.
Jeff Inouye, director of the center’s adaptive ski program, said he is happy to bring on part-time workers or volunteers from ski and snowboard lesson programs at Summit County resorts because he knows those volunteers are already properly trained to teach.
“The thing for me, especially with ski school, is I know if they’re coming from ski school that they have a certain skill set,” Inouye said. “There’s certain things I don’t have to worry about. They know how to teach a lesson. All I need to do is get them up to speed on working with people with disabilities, and then they’re good to go.”
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Here’s a look at three of the nonprofit’s volunteers who also teach lessons at ski resorts in Summit County:
Neil Rubinstein: A retiree giving back
Neil Rubinstein is in his ninth year as a kid’s snowboard instructor for the resort. He began his teaching career at Sunday River Resort in Maine, where he began occasionally working with kids with disabilities. Rubinstein said he was inspired to work with children with disabilities in part because of an experience with his son. When his son was 12, he was getting ready for a snowboard competition and was in an accident that confined him to a wheelchair for months. Although he made a full recovery, Rubinstein said his eyes were opened to the different world a child experiences when they have a disability, even temporarily.
“Between that and my experience working with folks at Sunday River, it piqued my interest to the special-needs world,” Rubinstein said.
When Rubinstein and his wife moved to Breckenridge, he started teaching at Breckenridge Ski and Snowboard School. He soon learned about the Outdoor Education Center and began volunteering.
“As I continued, eventually Jeff asked me to join the staff, so I was spending more time at (Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center) and less on the mountain,” Rubinstein said.
Rubinstein said his volunteer work began after a successful career in sales, from which he retired at age 58.
“It was time to give back,” Rubinstein said. “My wife spent her career as a social worker, and we’ve been very fortunate. It was time in my world to see what I could do to make the world a better place. I love teaching kids out of the resort, and it’s very special to help kids that come here from all over the world. But some of the best days I’ve had, I never got off the magic carpet.”
He said that after retiring, working with children gave him a sense of purpose.
“You don’t go from having a Type A personality and having a successful career to turning it off and being happy,” Rubinstein said. “There’s got to be goals. There has to be a structure. I found that working for the mountain.”
Rubinstein shared some of his most rewarding moments with long-time students, including a 30-year-old who was injured and walks with a limp but moves fluidly on the mountain.
“When we’re on the mountain together, he has freedom,” Rubinstein said.
Another man who has been blind since birth has taken lessons with Rubinstein for years. The man saves money every year to come to Breckenridge for about 10 days with his wife. Rubinstein said he is now riding intermediate and advanced runs.
“He’s doing something that is, in my mind, one of the most courageous things,” Rubinstein said. “(The Outdoor Education Center) is an organization that can give you a level of good feelings above and beyond, and Vail Resorts is tremendously supportive of us.”
Anju Singal: A passion for working with kids
Anju Singal lives in Colorado Springs and works with kids with special needs at a Front Range school district. Singal spends her free time doing similar work as a part-time ski instructor for kids at Keystone Resort and a volunteer at the Outdoor Education Center. Singal, who moved to the U.S. from India in 1997, said it was difficult for her to learn to ski as an adult but that she was determined. Now, she wants to help others learn, as well. Singal and her husband, who also teaches skiing, started their work in the High Country by teaching at Loveland Ski Area.
“I have only two rules for skiing: to ski and have fun,” Singal said.
Singal said she makes the drive from Colorado Springs to volunteer in Summit County one to two times per month.
She said she makes the trip up the mountain to give back to kids because she just loves skiing and teaching skiing.
“I enjoy working over there at Keystone,” Singal said. “I get all kinds of opportunities working with different levels. I just like teaching skiing.”
Mike Miller: A rewarding opportunity
Mike Miller, who lives part-time in Denver and part-time in Summit County, started volunteering for the Outdoor Education Center in 2014. At the time, Miller was working in environmental and safety engineering and came up on the weekends to volunteer his time. He got certified to teach at the end of his first season and continued to work in Denver and volunteer on the weekends for six years. During summer 2019, Miller retired from his job and took a part-time gig as an instructor at Keystone. Miller said he decided to get involved with the Outdoor Education Center when he saw an adaptive skier on the mountain.
“I was skiing here at Keystone the year before and watching a visually impaired student being guided down … and I thought that was pretty cool,” Miller said. “I started investigating (Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center) and really liked what I saw and then started volunteering the next year.”
Miller now teaches adults at Keystone as well as children and adults at the Outdoor Education Center. He splits his time between the organizations and drives to Denver in between to be with his wife, who still works in the city.
He said he enjoys his work.
“To me, it’s all about communicating, and ultimately skiing is skiing and people are people,” Miller said. “I’ve been skiing for 50 years, and it’s kind of a way to give back to a sport that I love myself, and I’m very passionate about. And some of the individuals to work with at both places are just tremendous.”
As for memorable lessons, Miller said he had the opportunity to work with a visually impaired, 5-year-old skier, who was skiing for the first time four years ago. This year, he was able to teach the now 9-year-old and said it was one of his favorite lessons of the year.
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