Family and friends celebrate the life of Lily Connelly in Vail
Connelly, 26, died in a skiing accident Jan. 16 in the East Vail backcountry
VAIL — Lily Connelly loved all growing things. She filled her apartment in Vail with flowers and plants, and pondered every wildflower during the summer while biking and hiking around the valley.
She was an untamed spirit who cared deeply for everyone who came into her life, and tended to each relationship just like the flowers that she cultivated and nourished.
“How can we commemorate Lily’s life?” her mother, Debbie, asked a crowd of around 200 on Saturday night at a celebration of Connelly’s life at the Vail Nordic Center. “We can tend to her garden. We can take care of Lily’s flowers with love … Lily’s flowers will come up every year in every kindness you show, in the comfort you share, in the love you give. These are the seeds that Lily planted in each of us. So let us tend to her garden and keep her flowers blooming.”
Connelly, a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail coach and a burgeoning artist who loved to paint and make pottery, died in a skiing accident Monday, Jan. 16, in the East Vail backcountry. She was 26.
‘Lily wasn’t afraid of just being’
A Florida native who grew up surfing on the Atlantic Coast, Connelly’s passion for the mountain lifestyle took root during a family ski vacation. She moved to Vail with her twin sister, Erin, in 2015, opting to chase powder and adventure over attending Vassar College in upstate New York.
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In 2018, she began coaching for SSCV’s Freeski Rookie Team. Nick Courtens, the curator of plant collections at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens who is also an SSCV coach, said Connelly’s adventurous spirit was infectious. She was in perpetual motion.
When she wasn’t dropping cliffs or sending backflips on her skis during the winter, she was charging on her mountain bike during the summer before jumping into Gore Creek to cool off.
But she always made time to check in with friends. She had so many questions about the flowers growing at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Courtens said. And there were always jokes — the cornier, the better.
“Her light-hearted humor and her smile is something I’ll always cherish,” said Courtens, before asking the crowd who, among them, had the privilege of getting a Lily joke of the day.
A wave of hands went up, and laughter filled the room.
“There are so many things that I look back on today that Lily made me smile about,” Courtens said. “She embodied the true spirit of mountain living and all that came with it. There is no doubt that the next time I plant a lily or see one bloom, the memory of Lily and the way she lived life with love, passion, and fun, will make me smile.”
Matias Doherty, another coach who worked with Connelly, said she “was and is one of the freest souls I’ve ever met.”
“Through that freeness, that wild spirit of hers, she was able to connect and share unforgettable moments and experiences with each one of us,” Doherty said. “Making us laugh on a bad day on the mountain with her dad jokes and unexpected giggles, or incentivizing us to get a little loose and out of our comfort zone to better ourselves. Lily wasn’t afraid of just being. She approached life by living in the moment and being kind. Sometimes too kind, no matter the circumstance.”
Eduardo Clave met Connelly through his two children, Ana and Eduardo. Connelly was the pair’s first coach at SSCV. Like Connelly, Clave said he and his family chose Vail, relocating from Mexico to live in a place that he called “magical” and that “has made us humble and grateful.”
More than just teaching his children how to carve, jump and be confident on their skis, Clave said Connelly taught Eduardo and Ana how to have fun and to laugh and appreciate life.
“Today, thanks to her, they have become better humans,” he said. “She may not be here this evening, but we can feel her presence and enthusiasm. She will live through us and through many others in this place that she loved so much.”
Ryan Huck, a friend, recounted a Gore Range skiing expedition the two had in November when Connelly picked him up in the retro van she’d restored.
“I hop in the passenger side, and I was really confused because she was on the right side,” Huck said amid laughs. “I asked her, ‘Is this illegal?’”
“Anytime I’d hang out with Lily, the adventures we’d share were amazing,” Huck said. “I’ll never forget that. Lily, I’m going to miss the laughs we shared on the chairlift after a fun lap. I’m going to miss our crazy adventures. But most importantly, I’m going to miss you and the amazing impact you had on me.”
‘She was so full of creative ideas’
Connelly was also a talented painter and potter, which is how she came to know Beverly Rasmussen, who has her own ceramics studio in Eagle.
Connelly was looking for someone who could fire her pottery, and Rasmussen’s daughter made the introduction. The two formed an immediate bond, then a business partnership that had started to flourish within the last year.
“Lily and I spent a lot of time together this last year, cooking and gardening and drinking wine on the deck,” Rasmussen said. “But mostly we spent the year making and selling our ceramics.”
Rasmussen called herself a “functional potter for the most part. I make things that you can use.”
But Connelly’s pottery was pure art, Rasmussen said.
“It didn’t take us long to figure out that together, using our strengths, we could make amazing things,” she said. “Her excitement was contagious. She changed the way I looked at art, and now, at life.”
Rasmussen also said that in the time she’d known Connelly, she saw her grow into the woman she wanted to be.
“She started becoming more grounded, more independent, more sure of herself and what she wanted to do in her life,” Rasmussen said. “Lily wanted to make a living as an artist. She wanted us to open a little shop where we could sell our ceramics and you could eat snacks, drink wine or coffee, all out of the pottery that we made. She hoped it would be a place for people to just hang out and chill. She was so full of creative ideas and so excited about ceramics.”
While Rasmussen said everyone who came into contact with Connelly was blessed to have been a part of her life, she fought back tears as she talked about Connelly’s bond with her mother and her twin sister.
“Lily’s passionate about a lot of things. She loved to ski, mountain bike and hike in the Gore Range. She absolutely loved surfing and traveling. She loved her dog, Vincent, and the new van she just remodeled herself,” Rasmussen said. “She loved making all kinds of art. She loved flowers and little plants. She loved the mountains and the ocean. She loved all of her friends and she loved life. But most of all she loved her mother and her sister. They were the center of her universe.”
Connelly’s mother, in her remarks, thanked everyone who came to Saturday’s event, some from as far as Alaska, Florida and New York, to celebrate her daughter’s life. She also thanked Courtens for providing lilies and Rasmussen for providing ceramic keepsakes that guests were allowed to keep, as well as thanking Pazzo’s in Vail for providing free pizza for everyone.