Stepping forward |

Stepping forward

Cindy Ramunno
Volunteer Jeanne Cunningham

For the next two weeks, the valley will be consumed with the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

The valley has hosted the event twice before, but 16 years have passed since the championships came to the valley. The international event always leaves a lasting legacy throughout the community, and 2015 will be no different.

The 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek will showcase more than 700 athletes from more than 70 nations. These championships represent the largest and most impressive collection of ski racing talent in the world, second only to the Olympics.

For locals, one of the best parts about the championships is the stadium seating at all races is free and open to the public. Spectators with a valid Vail/Beaver Creek lift ticket or pass may also ski to the race course barriers. Additionally, there will be plenty of all-mountain excitement during the two week period and the event calendar can be accessed at

But before a single racer hits the course or a single spectator finds a seat, a lot of work goes into the event — from the organizing committee all the way down to the various volunteers.

“We could not pull off this event without our volunteers. We are overwhelmingly grateful to them for all of the hard work they have already put in before the championships have even begun,” said Vail Valley Foundation marketing manager Kate Peters. “Many of our volunteers were with us in ’99 or ’89, or have volunteered countless hours for other Vail Valley Foundation events. We are overwhelmed by the hours of time that these individuals commit to pulling off world-class events here in the valley, and we thank them for all that they do for us and for this community.”

There are many volunteers who will be putting in countless hours in the next few weeks. Here is a snapshot of a few of those local, hard-working individuals.

Jeanne Cunningham

Lives in: Avon for 16 years

Volunteer duties: Spectator services

Family: Three adult children and six grandchildren. Her adult children live in New York City, Denver and Chicago.

Cunningham has been a skier for 45 years.

“When our children were growing up, we would come to Colorado for family ski vacations,” she said.

When Cunningham moved to the valley, she skied regularly, however the last couple of years, she has cut back.

“I love to what I call ‘snow hike’ and go out three or four times a week,” she said.

Cunningham has volunteered for many Birds of Prey competitions, and enjoys being part of the local racing scene where she can meet new people.

“As you get older, it is important to keep active and be involved in what is happening in the community,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham believes the event will be huge for the community.

“It will boost the economy, bring new people into the Vail Valley, give a feeling of camaraderie amongst those who are volunteering, and will give those of us who live here a chance to show the whole world what wonderful places Vail and Beaver Creek are to live.”

Dave Willemssen

Lives in: Edwards for 12 years

Volunteer duties: Talons Crew Chief for the Downhill Start

Family: Wife, daughters and granddaughters. One daughter is in Orlando, FL, one in Avon, CO.

Willemssen has skied for 60 years and is an original Vail pioneer. He came to the valley in 1963 and worked on the first ski patrol under Don Almond, and ski school under Morrie Shepard. He currently works for Beaver Creek Ski School, stationed out of the Ritz Carlton.

“I have seen Vail grow from Pete Seibert’s dream to the vast ski area it has become,” he said.

Willemssen has been a volunteer on the Talons Crew for many years, and is enjoying being part of the championships effort.

“There is a sense of pride in hosting a world-class event and showing the world what a wonderful valley we live in,” said Willemssen.

He believes the championship is a great chance to showcase Vail and Beaver Creek to the entire world.

“This event will bring in foreign visitors and enhance our economy and ski school, where I work teaching skiing,” said Willemssen “I am proud to have been here from the start working Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts) and having been part of its beginning.”

Bill O’Brien

Lives in: Berthod for 22 years

Volunteer duties: Transportation team – Picking up and delivering donuts and lunches for five to six volunteer groups. He also picks up/drops off race officials at the Denver International Airport, which produces some great conversations.

Family: Wife, three grown daughters and six grandkids. “They are my other volunteer career,” said O’Brien. He is making sure all the grandkids get on those skis early and often.

“My first skiing experience was in 1963 at a 120 foot vertical hill with 3 rope tows in the Chicago area,” said O’Brien. A friend’s brother, who spent a few months as a ski bum in Aspen, took O’Brien along with other friends.

“I was hooked. I immediately bought a ski package of equipment with 205cm skis and lace boots for $109. Over the next 50 some years I might have skied for a weekend or maybe not for many, many years.”

O’Brien first came to Vail on a very inexpensive college trip in 1968. Things have changed since then.

“If only I had bought a couple of acres,” O’Brien said.

His specialty these days are green runs at Beaver Creek, very rarely taking on a blue or black run. “I really love the grooming at BC,” he said.

O’Brien also volunteered for the 2013 and 2014 World Cup races, and he attended his first World Cup race at Beaver Creek in 2012.

He volunteers for many of the same reasons as the other volunteers. “The local volunteers are a very special group. They are very friendly and welcoming.”

O’Brien said the chemistry of so many people working together toward a common goal is amazing. “Everyone really pulls together.”

O’Brien said that as an outsider, he gets a glimpse of people in this community.

“I’m very impressed by the many different backgrounds and histories of the people I come in contact with – from the shop clerks to the resort people,” said O’Brien. “This friendliness and genuine caring about others is what most impresses me about the valley.”

Cynthia Aguilar

Lives in: Eagle for 10 years

Volunteer duties: Transportation team (same as O’Brien)

Family: Husband, and a freshman and senior at EVHS.

Aguilar used to ski but stopped a few years ago. Now she hikes in the surrounding trails of Eagle.

Aguilar loves to volunteer and getting the opportunity to be involved in the championships was a great opportunity.

“It gives me pleasure to be able to give back to our community and I feel pretty lucky to have been chosen by the Vail Valley Foundation,” she said.

Aguilar said the experience of contributing to an event of this magnitude is an honor.

Being a part of the 15’ers team is going to be amazing and unforgettable,” she said.

Aguilar agree with the other volunteers that the Vail community will benefit financially.

“I also believe that the exposure will bring visitors from all over the world in the years to come.”

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