Charitable Investment Program Spotlight: Hitting the Slopes

Ron Schnell’s two best days skiing are etched in his mind very clearly.  When he talks about them, you can almost feel the crisp air and the wispy snowflakes dancing around his sleek skis.

 “I saw these guys skiing in uniform,” he said describing the moment he saw a group of 10th Mountain Division skiers on Vermont’s slopes. “And I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Ron Schnell owns Orange County Snowboards, a full-service ski and snowboard shop, located in Vermont.  The cavernous store carries all the latest winter sport gear – companies with hipster names like Stepchild SnowboardsLobsterSandBox, CrabGrab and others.  Long retired boards suspend from the ceiling and quirky stickers cling to the walls. Schnell organizes bus trips to nearby ski areas, sponsors local boarders like Brian Mott, a tween boardercross rider who recently qualified for the USASA Nationals, and espouses stellar customer service. By all accounts, Schnell is running a successful business.  Except he’s not.

“I don’t know social media, marketing or bookkeeping,” admits Schnell, an Army veteran who served with the 3rd Battalion, 172nd and calls the original 10th Mountain Division his personal heroes.  “And I need some help.”

Schnell is attending this week’s National Veterans Small Business Conference in St. Louis thanks to a generous scholarship from the Bob Woodruff Foundation and The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).  Schnell attended IVMF’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program in 2010, a critical first step in launching the store.  But now as the business grows, so do the challenges.

“The bigger I get, the more glaring my inefficiencies seem,” said Schnell who hopes to connect with someone who “has the skills that compliment my abilities.”  Schnell’s industry – sports and recreation – is a decidedly niche business but with some 4,000 vets, entrepreneurs, and small business owners in attendance, the NVSBC is an ideal place to start.

Sara Lafe, the Director of Charitable Investments for the Bob Woodruff Foundation, lauds the conference for its connections and opportunities.

“Attending the conference could be a tipping point for Schnell,” said Lafe.  “The talks are incredibly inspiring and the knowledge he will gain will prove invaluable.”

Schnell joins an impressive cohort of more than 70 service-disabled post 9/11 vets who are in various stages of their careers.  Many are starting their own business while others, like Schnell simply want to meet other like-minded folks who share a passion for hard work.

“This company is growing leaps and bounds,” said Schnell.  “The sky is the limit.”

Ron can be reached at ron@ocsnowbards.com

By Molly Blake

Molly Blake is a freelance writer and Marine Corps spouse (emeritus).  She writes about issues that affect military families and veterans. Her work can be found on her web site www.mollyblake.com