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Profile: Roman Kolodziej

Roman Kolodziej moved from East Coast life to Colorado for all the same reasons as most who found themselves enthralled with all the various aspects of its beauty.
But in less than three weeks, he and his wife, Betsy, will be straddling the Equator, with year-round temperatures ranging from 40 degrees to 80 degrees, as they relocate to Quito, Ecuador for a two-year stint.
“It’s cool at night, like early July in Crested Butte. It’s fairly consistent except the seasons are from rainy season to not rainy season,” explains Roman. Other than the rain, he says, it’s the same all year.
“The sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets 6 p.m. every day, all year, exactly 12 hours of sunlight,” Roman says, because Quito is smack dab on the Equator. There’s even a line painted across a street in the city depicting the Equator’s exact location.
Born an only child to working parents in Vienna, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., Roman was raised in the same 10-mile radius of neighborhoods. “I feel really fortunate to be away from the East Coast,” he laughs. “It just opened my eyes. I went to Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, taking the classic liberal arts courses, feeling my way through college.”
He transferred to Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins at the first chance he got in 1996. “I knew I wanted to be out west and applied to a bunch of schools and of all the places I got into I chose Colorado. The first time I saw the campus was the day before the dorms opened,” he recalls. He graduated from CSU’s College of Natural Resources with a recreational and tourism degree and an emphasis on eco-tourism.
“Eco-tourism has changed significantly since I was studying it. It was a pretty new and emerging industry. There wasn’t a lot of hard science or data behind it back then, it was more of a philosophy degree,” Roman explains and adds, “Eco-tourism is responsible tourism with an effect toward conservation, whether it’s socially or environmentally friendly, or coexisting with the local people. You’re not just plopping a resort in the country—you’re working with the natives. Or it can be nature tourism, something as simple as bird watching or as involved and as diverse as developing a treehouse village in the middle of the forest.” Roman claims his ideology involved being outside.
After graduating in 1999, Roman decided he was going to live the ski bum dream and move to Jackson, Wyo. “I had only been skiing a couple of times in college and I barely knew how to ski. I was moving to Jackson to become a ski bum, not really knowing what that meant. I had a pair of skis and boots, loaded up my car and stopped in Steamboat because I had friends who had moved there. The night I got there it snowed two feet. I stayed for five years. I loved it,” he laughs, explaining why he never made it to Jackson. Working in ski shops there, Roman got hooked up with Black Tie Ski Rentals. “One of my managers had started the biz in Steamboat. I ended up working for him and liked it so much I wanted to open a ski rental delivery business of my own.”
At the time, Roman had just met Betsy in Steamboat. She had gone back to school at CU in Boulder to get her master’s in education when he decided that he wanted to open his own Black Tie Ski Rental business. “I did a southern Colorado tour. I knew I didn’t want to go to Vail or Aspen, and Telluride was beautiful,” he says. “It was Valentine’s Day 2005 and Crested Butte had just gotten hit with a big storm. The sky had cleared just as we made the curve at Crested Butte South to come up valley. The clouds had parted, Deadhead Ed was on the radio cranking the tunes and you’ve got this beautiful backdrop. I thought… this is okay!”
Coming from the Steamboat slopes, Roman had never skied steeps. That first day he rode the t-bar and skied all over the mountain from Big Chute to Phoenix Bowl to Spellbound and confesses, “I was pretty well sold. And everyone was really cool.” He moved out that July 2005.
In the summers, for the first handful of years, he painted, waited tables, and tended bar, all the typical ski resort employment until Black Tie Ski Rentals and Delivery got to the point it was doing well enough and had enough summer projects to warrant it as a full-time endeavor.
“We own all our own ski equipment,: says Roman. “The only difference between us and a traditional shop is that we don’t maintain a brick and mortar storefront. We deal with quite a few vendors and we select equipment that we feel is best for our customers—Dynastar, K2, Rossignol, Solomon, Nordica and Atomic. We do have some Romps, the locally made ski. We gather customer info and select their equipment based on that info and then deliver and fit the guests in their place of lodging.”
When he first moved to Crested Butte and opened his business, Roman fondly recalls, he skied every day. “In the beginning, I simply had the business phones transferred to my cell phone and whenever anyone wanted skis I would just get off the mountain, hop into the van, change out of my ski gear and hop into my monkey suit [collared shirt and pants] and go deliver and fit.”
A couple of years ago the couple started putting the wheels in motion to arrange a departure. At the time, they didn’t know which country they’d wind up in. They hired trustworthy managers, got an upgraded Internet server for the business and made all the appropriate changes so that Roman could conduct his business from afar.
“Outside of Christmas and spring break, a lot of what I do is from behind a computer,” Roman reasoned. “I knew that Betsy wanted to try teaching abroad and by putting things in place and by hiring the right people we’re able to try it. I knew how important it was for her to teach abroad.”
The choice of Ecuador, and the entire interview process for getting hired abroad as a teacher, is strange, Roman says. “It’s a weird process, it’s not just calling a school to see if they’re hiring. You have to do a lot of hoop jumping. There are companies who put on job fairs for international schools. The process is, you sign up through one of these companies and submit all your information. There’s a lot of documentation. Schools from all over the world are at the job fairs and teachers sit down for an interview. It’s not as easy as getting to go where you want.”
Roman cites the example of France, which has only three schools in Betsy’s specific teaching genre. She was offered jobs in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Ecuador. “You’re in a lobby of a hotel with your laptop and you have only a few hours to research the countries [who offered a job] to see if you want to go to spend a couple of years of your life there. You have only a matter of hours to make a life decision,” he says of the stress of decision.
“We chose Ecuador because of the mountain environment. We’ll be living at 9,500 feet in an agreeable climate.” And their pooch, Lucy the Lab-Pointer, is going with them, with papers, and her shots. She gets to fly on the plane with them, at their feet.
The couple decided to take on the adventure of living in a different country so Betsy can teach in a different culture in an international setting. They felt it would add to her skill set to make her an even better teacher when they return. Betsy currently teaches gifted and talented children at Crested Butte Community Schools (CBCS). In Quito, she’ll be teaching seventh-grade science and math, which is her passion.
They’ve been studying the culture, and are excited to be trying new and different foods and all the various activities in a new setting. “There’s hiking, mountain biking, and lots of cultural things to check out,” Roman says excitedly. “Most of the world’s flowers come from Ecuador. There are 2,000 species of orchids alone. Rain forests to the east, beaches to the west, the coast is 120 miles away, it’s like driving to Montrose and being at the ocean. The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador and just a short flight away. There are some that are active volcanoes, some covered with glaciers at 20,500 feet like Chimborazo, less than 50 miles away.”
Roman is also thrilled that there’s a big network of mountain bike trails right by Betsy’s school and one of the largest public parks in South America. “We’re incredibly excited to get down there and experience a lot of new things and be invigorated. It’ll probably be hard for me when things come around like Crested Butte events, and the lifts open and the snow falls… it’s going to be pretty interesting. I think if you talk to anyone who’s moved away and returned they feel pretty reinvigorated. Our plan is to come back after two years, which is what we committed to. Betsy retained her position at CBCS. The things that brought me here in the first place is what will make me return—it’s so beautiful here, the people, the outdoor opportunities, the open space, skiing, all the activities. It’s paradise for a reason.”

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