Vail woman celebrates amazing 200-day ski season
59-year-old Vail woman recovers from 2004 stroke, skis bicentennial season in 2022
As skier’s ascend the season’s final ‘last chair’ at Arapahoe Basin Sunday, the June 5 closing serves as a reminder of how blessed Coloradans are to enjoy long winter sports seasons. One Vail resident probably savored it more than the rest of us.
This year, Genevieve Ormond, 59, skied 200 days, sandwiching the lionshare of days out of Lionshead with early and late-season efforts at A-Basin.
“She was just determined that she was going to do 200 days this year,” said close friend Bonnie La Motta, who described Ormond as “a wonderful, heartwarming person that knows everyone — and everyone knows her.” The 74-year-old joined Ormond for 80 days this year.
“We were just so excited for her because this woman has the determination and the stamina of no one that I know. And she’s a pleasant woman.”
“She’s amazing. She’s an amazing person,” added Mark Morgenstern, a Vail ski school instructor who is now Ormond’s boyfriend.
While the vaunted double-century accomplishment isn’t unheard of in Colorado, Ormond’s story probably is. The feat is emblematic of the uncommonly dedicated former CareerExperience.com vice president’s drive and stubborn will. It’s a story of relishing the joys of our mountain community today and every day — no matter what has transpired in the ones that came before.
An unlikely story
La Motta and Ormond’s friendship is story-worthy in itself. Chapter one: The two unknowingly grew up in next-door New Jersey towns.
“I got my first skis from the town she’s from. Can you believe it?” Ormond proclaimed from her mom’s phone in Florida — where her plane landed the evening of her final day on snow. “And even my prom dresses — I got from her town.”
Ormond left Oakland, New Jersey, graduating from Wharton Business School and rising to become the vice president of a career skill advancement company in Manhattan.
“She was a pretty high-flier,” Morgenstern described of Ormond, whom he accurately labels a “type-A, very motivated individual.”
“She works out every day. She’ll be doing leg lifts and stuff in the middle of the night,” he laughed. The notorious exercise routine is legendary. She religiously does her stretching and floor exercises before biking to the hill to ski all day. When she returns, it’s 20-40 minutes on the elliptical — 7-days a week.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Mark.
When she was in Manhattan, she ran a 5-mile loop twice a day. A member of the New York Road Runners Association, organizers of the world’s largest marathon, she never raced.
“I never liked to compete because I think I’m my worst enemy,” Ormond explained.
“I would have to top whatever I did. I just have that kind of personality. I would have just made myself crazy for sure.”
The lifelong skier — she skied for Rutgers during her undergraduate — came to Vail one ski season and wound up staying the summer. She worked at the now-defunct Wildflower and, “just couldn’t really see myself living in Manhattan anymore.”
She moved to Vail on Nov. 7, 1992 — remembering exact dates is of course not an issue for a person whom La Motta describes as “the sharpest person she knows.” She is the type who remembers names of random lifties and mountain hosts as well as La Motta’s personal friends after just one introduction.
Loyal to her company, she moved back to Manhattan for three years, just as the internet was booming.
“I asked the CEO of my company what I needed to do to keep that job and still live in Colorado and he said I could telecommute,” explained Ormond.
“So I literallly was on the plane the next day.”
On Jan. 10, 2004, Ormond was riding up chair 7 to Game Creek Bowl when she felt a stiff burn in her neck. “It was really hot, like when you turn your neck too fast,” she described.
Knowing a ski patrol was at the top, she got off the lift and told him, “I know you’re going to ask me three questions. George Bush is the president, it’s Saturday, and it’s just about noon. Can I go to sleep now?”
Her brain was hemorrhaging. She was rushed to Vail Medical Center and put on a life flight to Denver. She arrived at Swedish Medical Center that Saturday in a coma. On Monday, she woke up and asked, “what happened to Sunday?”
“I just remember opening my eyes and seeing my friend Phil walk through really quick,” Ormond recalled, detailing various facts about the now-deceased friend’s life, further evidence of her clear, meticulous mind.
For the next three months, she worked to relearn how to walk and talk.
“I could do nothing,” she stated.
Her post-brain surgery rehab gained steam as she flew to be with her brother in New Jersey. There, roughly 10 months after her stroke, she went out to ski — because she just had to — with a harness wrapped around both individuals. “It was like what you see with little kids,” Ormond now fondly remembered.
“I had to learn to ski all over.
That was in November. In April, she returned to Vail’s slopes.
“I don’t know how she did it”
Morgenstern, who is in his third year as an instructor — he spent a year at Heavenly in Lake Tahoe and another at Steamboat Resort before coming to the Valley — calls the local mountain the “university of skiing.”
“It’s the best education he ever got,” Ormond said her boyfriend always claims. The pair met when the former Chicago-based attorney saw a Craigslist ad while searching for housing in Vail. Ormond was renting out her other bedroom, and Morgenstern moved in. While they started as roommates, their relationship blossomed into something much greater. Along the way, Morgenstern refined Ormond’s ski technique.
“She was in the backseat,” he said of his pupils’ aft weight position. “I don’t know how the heck she even did it.”
With his background, guidance came free of charge.
“You know, I’m a ski instructor so I coached her. Even when we’d be hiking in the summer, we’d go up and down hills and I’d also coach her then, too as to how she needed to get forward,” he said.
Her skiing improved immensely. Now, she can ride blues and even the occasional black, as long as it’s smooth or the snow is deep and slow.
“She was a big skier before the stroke,” Morgenstern lauded.
“She used to jump off Genghis Kahn — the cornice. She used to jump off that. She did telemark as well.”
After a brief pause, Morgenstern remembered something else. “She was an ice climber and a rock climber, too” he sighed in amazement.
The drive for 200
COVID limited 2020 to 125 days on snow. Last season, she did 171 and he got in 184.
They started on Oct. 17 at A-Basin with no particular goal in mind. Around January, Morgenstern started doing calculations. He had heard on a lift ride with Jason Schetrompf, head of the children’s section of the ski school, about the fantastical 200-day mark.
“That’s the first time I ever even knew there was something about 200 days,” Morgenstern claimed. He made a mental note, and remembers thinking, ”oh, that sounds impossible.”
Eventually, he brought up the goal to Ormond. Lo and behold, she had been thinking the same thing.
“I said to myself, I’m going to get her there,” Morgenstern said. “If she wants to do this, I’m going to get her there. That was my focus.”
Nothing stopped Ormond on her quest. She would hop on her yellow, three-wheeled bike and ride the 10-minute commute to the hill even on the coldest of days. When it stormed badly enough, she rode with Morgenstern or La Motta, who’s connection to Vail isn’t exactly simple, either.
“It was his dream.”
La Motta, who would visit Vail every year on vacations growing up in Wycoff, New Jersey, moved to Eagle Ranch with her daughter and her twin boys two years ago to both be in a place that celebrated biking, skiing and hiking, and to fulfill a promise.
“We lived in New Jersey and everyone stayed inside and no one did anything. We had to go to upstate New York to ski and do anything, and no one else did it,” La Motta said.
“And we just kept on saying that we are going to do this someday because it was my husband who passed away on the mountain eight years ago — that was his lifelong dream to come here.”
La Motta’s husband suffered a heart attack on Vail Mountain heading up to Honky Dory for lunch that fateful day. Two weeks later, her daughter gave birth to the twins.
”It was like, ‘Oh my god, the worst of your life that can happen and then the best of your life that can happen,’” she described.
”His dream was always to retire someday and move out here — and that was my dream.”
With both kids on ski and BMX teams and direct access to the whole family’s favorite outdoor activities, it’s safe to say it was a good dream.
“We just love it,” La Motta smiled.
A couple of late-May storms would have seemed to stand in the way, but they really only served as small tests to Morgenstern and Ormond’s dedication.
“I was so focused. If Vail Pass is closed, we’ll go through Leadville, we’re going to get there,” he recalled.
On May 24, they enjoyed a full day on A-Basin. They chatted through the usual topics on the way up: What to make for dinner. As 4 p.m. approached, they even caught a last chair final run before rushing to DIA for Ormond’s red-eye flight to Florida.
“She wanted to catch that very last lift,” said Morgenstern.
“She can make it down pretty quick when she wants to.”
“If it wasn’t for him, I never would have got there,” Ormond said of her partner’s assistance along the way. “The day I got 200, I couldn’t even believe it!”
“She can ski better than she can walk,” added La Motta. “I was so proud of myself that I got to 80 days; I couldn’t believe she got to 200.”
Considering all that Ormond has been through, one would assume her sense of gratitude has evolved. Morgenstern said she never dwells on what she can’t do. Rather, there is a strict, joyful focus on getting better, starting from where she is.
“She’s never expressed any frustration,” he said. “It’s more of an acceptance of the stroke and her limitations and just working from there.”
Part of the happiness is derived from the place those picking up today’s paper call home.
“All I can tell you is that after 30 years of living in Vail, I still appreciate Vail itself because I feel like it’s like living inside of a postcard,” she said.
“So, I feel very fortunate in that sense.”