Skico CEO earns pats, a degree in boarding |

Skico CEO earns pats, a degree in boarding

If the Aspen Skiing Co. needs more snowboarding instructors after lifting the riding ban on Ajax, it needs only to look to the top – the top of the company, that is.

Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell received his Level I snowboard teaching certification Wednesday, Feb. 14. He successfully completed three days of on-slope and written tests in a program offered through the Professional Ski Instructors of America.

“It was sort of like boot camp, to some degree,” said O’Donnell.

He decided to go for certification after riding one day with Rich Burkley, director of the Ski and Snowboard Schools of Aspen. Burkley invited O’Donnell to join several top ski school administrators in their attempt to add snowboarding certification.

O’Donnell, 62, a rider for three years, agreed to go for it despite some doubts he couldn’t cut muster on short notice and without study. Although he had no burning desire to teach, he felt he could gain a new perspective from the experience.

“It’s pretty hard to understand what your front line is going through if you don’t share some of their experiences,” said O’Donnell. “My certification went over pretty well within the company, but it was no publicity stunt.”

The certification training and testing occurred Feb. 12-14 at Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood Springs. It was led by instructors – who serve as examiners in this capacity – from Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Aspen/Snowmass. Participants couldn’t be judged by examiners from their own resorts to avoid the appearence of special treatment.

O’Donnell said the on-snow instruction and testing definitely improved his skills.

“They weren’t real concerned about how fast you could go or how high you could jump,” he said. But there were plenty of challenges in skill tests on double-diamond trails, in bumps and when participants were required to link turns down the mountain while pulling fakeys or switches – spinning 180 degrees to alternate the foot used to lead.

Participants didn’t learn until the end of the third day whether they received certification. “We were sitting around on pins and needles,” O’Donnell said of the Aspen group. They all passed, so they celebrated with champagne.

O’Donnell said the group of about 75 participants figured out during the course of the program that he was the big cheese at the Skico and acknowledged it at the conclusion. He received a special award at certification time – a dog collar with chrome spikes protruding from it.

“I have no idea to this day the symbolism of that,” O’Donnell said.

So, will O’Donnell be leading the first class of snowboarding students down Aspen Mountain when the riding ban is lifted April 1? Don’t count on it, although he now can teach students in skill levels one through four.

Burkley informed O’Donnell he has been measured for a ski school uniform and placed on the reserve list for when the Skico needs every available snowboard instructor. “They will give me a class of 6-year-olds,” he chuckled.

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