By Mary Catharine Martin
A Day in the Life Of: Charlie Orndorff: surfer, skier, Nurse 102313 OUTDOORS 1 Capital City Weekly By Mary Catharine Martin

Photo By SeņOr Chepe

Charlie Orndorff surfs in Las Flores, El Salvador in July 2013.

Photo By Colter Hinchcliffe

Orndorff (red jacket skiing downhill) skies in Haines in February of 2012.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Story last updated at 10/23/2013 - 2:08 pm

A Day in the Life Of: Charlie Orndorff: surfer, skier, Nurse

By Mary Catharine Martin

Capital City Weekly

When Juneau nurse Charlie Orndorff was a ski bum in his early 20s, he chose to scour his frying pan counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. He chose which shoe he'd put on first in the morning. And he chose, at the beginning of each ski season, that working part time as a ski instructor and skiing Vail's back country with his friends was what he wanted to do.

It was all part of a decision to live intentionally.

"I think the big decisions are the easy ones," he said. "Most of the big ones are clear ... The little ones are the ones that build up to be who you are."

Orndorff is a Juneau-based nurse, skier and surfer.

He was born in Maryland. As a kid, he moved to Vero Beach, Fla., discovering surfing at the age of 13.

Five days before his 20th birthday, he realized he'd fallen prey to his tendency to take things "a little far." He quit drinking and doing drugs - something that, 27 years later, he's remained clear of. This was partly how his commitment to intentional living began.

Before he moved to Vail at age 20, he considered himself a "tourist skier." During Orndorff's first year he was lucky enough to make friends with some "old-timers." The second year he went out into the woods and skied alone. The third he met people that are still his best friends. They skied in Vail's backcountry so frequently that they named many of the ski runs, he said, adding that one of those runs is named for him: "Charlie's Death Chute."

"A friend said 'You can't ski that. If you ski over there you're going to die. That's Charlie's Death Chute.' Then we skied it," he said. "We were dedicated and skied every day, and we started getting pretty good. But since we were the only people that we skied with, we sort of lost track of everything else. We were pretty good, but we didn't really know it."

He said it was upon a friend's suggestion that he began competing in ski competitions like Valdez' World Extreme Skiing Championships and Crested Butte's U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships. In the U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships, he placed in the top 15 against about 200 competitors.

"I figured I could finish 10th place on my best day against the world's best, but never win it because I wasn't going to take the same kind of chances those guys were taking," he said. "So I sort of lost interest (in competition.)"

Just the same, his participation in those events gave him and his friends a different perspective. It offered confirmation that "what we were doing was as cool as we thought. I think it was cool for them to know that they could have been there too, if they wanted."

Orndorff stayed a self-described Vail-based ski bum until Christmas Eve 2002, when he broke his leg and was told he couldn't ski for two years. It was an "easy choice" that he would go to nursing school, Orndorff said.

He got his degree in Hawaii while surfing as much as he could. He graduated in 2008, when, swayed by a heli-skiing experience in Haines, a visit to Eaglecrest, and a friend in Juneau, he applied to Bartlett hospital. He's worked there since, making use of his time off both to heli-ski and travel for surfing. Though he loves skiing, surfing is what he loves best.

"Surfing is simultaneously the coolest and the hardest, and it can also be the most frustrating," he said. "You get crunched by the waves. I think that's part of what makes it good, is that it's not a guarantee. With skiing, you get on the lift, you get off, and you're pretty much guaranteed a run down. When you fall you stand back up and pick up where you left off. When you're surfing, you paddle back out, get in the position to find another good one, and wait."

So far, he's been to Bali, Australia, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, California, Maryland, Florida, and Hawaii to surf. Now, he's in Morocco.

He hasn't yet surfed on the Outer Coast, though he wants to. "Yakutat when it's good is world class," he said.

Now he's 47, and it's "kind of nice to be old, with nothing to prove."

"I've gotten done what I needed to get done," he said. "It's not a downhill slide, being 47. Last year in Haines, I skied some pretty cool stuff."

Do you know an interesting Southeast Alaskan? Write me at maryc.martin@capweek.com.