Luis Benitez will show the inspiration of outdoor adventures
Luis Benitez fondly remembers when he first summited Mount Everest in 2001.
He was 27 years old and guiding Erik Weihenmayer, the first vision-impaired person to summit Everest.
“At the time, Erik wasn’t really known as a mountaineer,” Benitez told The Park Record during an interview. “He was an English teacher at a school in Denver, and the people who went with him had never climbed Everest themselves.”
Since Benitez and the others joining in the climb were fairly young, media started to weigh in, calling them stupid and foolish.
“They told us that we were going to get him killed and destroy our career,” Benitez said.
The climb, however, was a success, and Benitez, who has summited the mountain six times, has used the experience as a catalyst for his career as the first director of Colorado’s newly created Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.
Benitez, who is known as an inspirational adventurer, will share his stories during a presentation at 9:45 a.m. Friday, Oct.28, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium.
The event, sponsored by Chase Bank and the Park City Board of Realtors, is free and open to the public.
In addition to stories about his guiding days, Benitez will explain how the outdoor industry inspires and encourages people to examine what is possible personally and professionally.
“So often, people who live in mountain communities somewhat discover this in an organic way,” he said. “You feel different at the end of the day after you’ve skied really hard or rode really hard.
“It also happens even if you are just trying to get back in shape and you walk around the block every night,” Benitez said. “The inspiration comes in different forms, but the constant is being outdoors.”
Benitez, who also serves on the Town of Eagle’s Board of Trustees in Colorado, is the founder of Endeavor Consulting, a firm that trains executives with experiential leadership programs.
He has also served as the Rocky Mountain regional director of Outward Bound Professional and designed leadership development programs for Vail Resorts in Eagle County as the resort operator’s head of talent management.
With all of the outdoor emphasis on Benitez’s career, many people are surprised to hear that he was born with debilitating allergies and asthma.
“Believe it or not, I couldn’t go outside until I was 10 years old,” he said. “So, I became a voracious reader.”
On day he came across a National Geographic issue about the first American expedition up Mount Everest.
“The first American to climb the mountain, Jim Whittaker, also had bad asthma and allergies,” Benitez said. “I remember going into my parents room and saying, ‘I have what he has, and if he can climb Mount Everest and he’s a mountain guide that’s what I want to do.’”
While his friends took on odd jobs during the summer, Benitez would go rock climbing and started working for Outward Bound, a recreational school in Colorado.
“My father, who is from South America, had a brother who was a guide and an engineer and I learned a lot from him as well,” Benitez said. “After a while, my lungs got stronger bit by bit and by the time I finished high school, it was all-systems-go to build a career in the outdoor industry.”
Benitez said it was his love for the outdoors that got him to where he is today.
“I didn’t have a plan, but I think this happens in any career you find,” he said. “As long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing, the dots ultimately will connect.”
Having faith is important, too.
“My grandfather always said if you do what you love, the rest will come,” Benitez said. “It is hard to keep the faith, especially when you have those existential moments where you will question where things are going to go.”
Sometimes those doubts will make it difficult to see how qualified people are for a job.
“For example, I was the COO of an international guiding company and was a guide for the Seven Summits (Everest, Kilimanjaro, Denali, Aconcagua, Elbrus, Puncak Jaya and Vinson),” Benitez said. “I had a couple of clients who owned multiple businesses approach me after we climbed Everest.”
The clients asked Benitez to talk with their management about leadership and communication.
“I didn’t know what to talk about but they told me that I had just led a diverse group towards a distinct goal in a tight timeline in hazardous conditions while managing a strict budget and international staff,” Benitez said. “They said if that’s not organization and having an entrepreneurial mind set, they didn’t know what was.”
After a few presentations, Benitez became interested in organizational and leadership development.
“If you would have told me while I was guiding that those experiences would have led me to overseeing an entire industry for a state, I don’t think I could have connected the dots,” he said. “I have learned that you need to be open to what’s in front of you, but also focus on whether or not you’re doing what you’re most passionate about.”
No matter what Benitez chooses to do in the future, he will always look back on his first Mount Everest excursion.
“It’s not just that we guided a man with a disability to the summit,” he said. “We focused on the fact that it’s nobody’s right to tell you what you can and can’t do and what you are and aren’t capable of.
“I talk with people who read about that trip and they tell me that after reading what we did, they feel like they can do something that they felt like they couldn’t do before,” Benitez said. “That’s what makes this all worthwhile.”
Inspirational adventurer Luis Benitez will give a presentation at 9:45 a.m. Friday, Oct. 28, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium at 1255 Park Ave. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit luisbenitez.info.
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