Get to know Ben Donnelly: An Adaptive Snowsports Instructor

Mar. 25, 2015

The Vail Ski and Snowboard School is renowned for its excellence, and the cornerstone of that reputation is the instructors themselves. From ex-NFL players to former Olympians to long-time Vail locals, in this series we introduce you to just a sampling of this widely diverse group of expert skiers and riders.

Ben Donnelly is from Hollis, New Hampshire and teaches out of the Golden Peak Adaptive Ski School.

Q: How long have you been an instructor for?

A: This is my fifth season.

Q: What did you do before you were a ski instructor?

A: I worked construction and was an environmental educator, and I also sold dog outfits at a carnival.

Q: What do you do in the summer?

A: I take several months off. In the spring I go to Utah to mountain bike in Park City and Moab. In the summer I stay here to mountain bike. And in the fall I go to the Pacific Northwest to mountain bike.

Q: Why did you choose Vail as opposed to somewhere else?

A: I was living in Yosemite rock-climbing when I realized I wanted to devote my life to skiing instead. I told a friend I wanted to move out west and ski, and she suggested I get into adaptive teaching. I called Telluride, Winter Park, and Vail, and I chose Vail due to its flexible schedule and better access to other resources.

Q: What is the most inspiring moment you’ve had while teaching?

A: I skied with a client the day after she found out she might only have a month left to live. It was inspiring to watch her keep it together and enjoy herself so much. She had found out within 48 hours that she might have only a month to live, and yet she was still asking other people about their days, chatting people up during lunch, and loving every moment and soaking it up.

Another source of inspiration has been working with the Vail Veterans Program. It’s crazy to see people that are so devoted to what they believe in that they are willing to give up everything for it; to see kids younger than myself rebounding from serious trauma is very inspiring. It’s shocking how selfless they are and un-phased they seem by it all.

Q: What is the hardest part of teaching?

A: What is cool about teaching at Vail is that you become not only a part of people’s family vacations, but a part of their families too. You see them over and over again, and you develop an amazing relationship. On the one hand you are their ski instructor, but when people appreciate you so intensely you want them to know how much you reciprocate those feelings. It’s hard to have such intense experiences with people for just a week a year. It’s humbling to have people open up to you and so intensely. It takes a lot of effort to invest in a new family every week, but you care about each one of them as much as the last. A lot of it has to do with feeling like you’re a surrogate family member—it’s a beautiful, humbling thing. And sort of a lot of pressure!

Q: What is the best part of teaching?

A: The best part for me is surprising my students and especially surprising their family with what they’re capable of.

Q: What is the most interesting place a student has been from?

A: I had a student from Brazil once. Australia too.

Q: What is your most memorable lesson or day?

A: My most memorable lesson was skiing 36,000 vertical feet of bumps, trees, and pow with a 9 year-old boy and his 12 year-old sister who, at the end of the day, beat me down Prima, Pronto, and Log Chute on a pair of fat pow skis. She only beat me because I let her.

Q: What is one tip you would give to all skiers?

A: Enjoy yourself.

Q: Describe your perfect day at Vail.

A: Bluebird pow day with my friends. The ones that can keep up.

Q: What is your favorite run?

A: That’s secret. Heavy Metal.

Q: What is your favorite product to teach?

A: Adaptive privates. (Pretty much the only one I teach…)


More profiles in this series:
Get to know John Donovan: Vail resident, business owner, and ski instructor since 1963
Get to Know Ken Harper: A Kids Ski Instructor of 37 Years
Get to Know Gabe Del Rossi: Multi-Lingual Ski Instructor, University Professor, and Bike Tour GuideGet to Know Kevin Bentley: Snowboard Instructor and Former NFL Player


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