O’Donnell inducted into Ski Hall of Fame
ASPEN ” Less than one year after he retired from the helm of the Aspen Skiing Co., Pat O’Donnell has been honored with induction into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
Voters decided O’Donnell deserved a revered spot in the state’s ski history for his contributions as the Skico’s president and chief executive officer.
Elli Iselin was also inducted as a member of the class of 2007 for her role as a ski pioneer in Aspen. She died in 1991.
O’Donnell was singled out for his efforts to build environmentalism in the ski industry.
“At a time when the environmental concerns and ski area operations were on opposite ends of the spectrum, Pat blazed a trail to cross the divide, realizing that any ski area’s success depended on its relationship and protection of the natural environment,” said the ski museum’s newsletter announcing the inductees.
Many of the programs started by O’Donnell’s staff challenged the rest of the ski industry and “set a new standard of accountability,” according to the newsletter.
O’Donnell, 68, retired in November, a season before he initially intended. He said the company was in good hands with his then second- in- command, Mike Kaplan. O’Donnell and his wife Jennifer retired to the Grand Junction area. He said Monday they have spent the spring and summer on various raft and float trips throughout the West.
He said he was obviously honored to enter the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, which is dominated by athletes and men and women who cultivated the sport after World War II.
O’Donnell said he never claimed to be an environmental specialist. His role was creating the vision, then hiring people like Chris Lane and Auden Schendler who conceived and enacted the programs. “You just let them off the leash and away they go,” he said of the two men, whom he regards fondly.
O’Donnell said he is proud that the Skico became known as an environmental leader in the industry during his tenure. When Lane was hired as the Skico’s environmental director in the late 1990s, he was the first person in that type of position at a North American ski resort. Now an untold number of resorts have followed suit.
Lane’s only directives from O’Donnell were to start a wide-scale recycling program, appoint a committee from the community to advise the company on environmental issues so the Skico would receive honest feedback, and start an environmental foundation that could issue grants independent of the company.
Global warming wasn’t among the Skico’s targets because climate change wasn’t yet widely discussed, O’Donnell said. Now it is the company’s bull’s eye.
O’Donnell and Schendler, the Skico’s current director of environmental affairs, not only tried to reduce the Skico’s contribution to global warming through its business practices, they got involved in local, regional and national policy-making to try to build awareness of the issue and action.
“We realized if we were going to be activists we were going to make some enemies, but that was OK,” O’Donnell said. “It was the catalyst that was a sea change for the Aspen Skiing Co.”
O’Donnell originally was nominated for the ski hall of fame in 2005. He was eligible for election for three years on that nomination.
Just getting nominated is tough. There are roughly 25 to 30 people suggested each year as nominees, said Justin Henderson, a curator at the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum in Vail. No less than three and no more than five people are selected to go on the annual ballot.
Roughly 25 members of the organization’s board of directors and an advisory board get to vote, as do all living members of the Hall of Fame, about 74 people currently. Ballots were cast in May, votes were counted in June, and the organization spread the word in a newsletter this summer. O’Donnell’s nomination was promoted by Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen/Snowmass, a central reservations agency, and Georgia Taylor Hanson, director of the Aspen Historical Society.
Iselin helped put Aspen on the map of the ski world along with her husband Fred and many friends. She was one of the first women to teach skiing at the Aspen Ski School. In 1954, the emigrant from Austria opened “Elli’s of Aspen,” a legendary ski shop that brought fashions from Europe, according to her induction biography.
Other 2007 inductees are: John Atkins, a former head trainer and conditioning coach for the U.S. Ski Team; Renie Gorsuch, a former Olympic ski racer and co- founder of a ski store chain; and Loris Werner, a ski racer who later played an important role in the development of Steamboat Ski Area.
The class of 2007 will be honored at the ski museum’s 31st annual Hall of Fame Induction Gala on Saturday, Oct. 27 in Denver.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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