The Golden Years of the Aspen Valley Ski Club
Today’s AVSC headquarters.
|Mike Farny, winner of the Roch Cup and Fred Iselin Trophy in 1979|
A year of milestones in the history of American skiing was 1937: Stowe Mountain opened in Vermont; Sun Valley in Idaho enjoyed its first full season; and in Colorado, rope tows were installed at Berthoud Pass, Climax, and Durango. Here in Aspen, a group of passionate skiers led by Swiss-born Andre Roch, a renowned mountaineer and avalanche expert, began cutting the first run on Aspen Mountain (now Roch Run). With the help of brothers Frank and Fred Willoughby, Roch formed the Aspen Ski Club (AVSC). The trio gave lessons to local kids who would ride up the mountain in a wooden boat pulled by cables from a local mine and a couple of truck engines. A year later, the Club opened its headquarters on South Monarch Street. In the years after World War II, the Club really took off. Members of the famed 10th Mountain Division returned from Italy and hit the slopes here in theValley. Funded by industrialist Walter Paepcke, the world’s longest ski lift was installed on Ajax and opened in 1947. Club members Dick Durrance, a two-time US Olympian, and Steve Knowlton were among the first to ride the lift. Three years later Aspen hosted the FIS World Ski Championships, the first time the sport’s elite would compete in North America.
The mid-1970s to the early ‘80s were the Club’s golden years, according to former coach Peter Looram, as racers Jill Carter, Andy Mill, Ned Ganz, Belinda Brownell, Dave Stapleton, Mike Farney, Kelly Swales, Whit Sterling, Terry Morse, and Mark Taché were regulars on the US Alpine teams. In 1976, 16-year-old member Mike Maple had the unique thrill of skiing a practice run before the World Cup event here. “I remember standing in the starting gate in front of [Olympic legend] Franz Klammer,” he recalls.
Today, the AVSC serves more than 2,100 youths, making it the largest local winter sports club in the country. Seventy-five years later, the Club’s core values remain the same: commitment, teamwork, and integrity. With such a storied past, the AVSC is best celebrated by the athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators who have played integral roles in its success. Here are some of their fondest memories:
Chris Devlin-Young, member of US Paralympic Team and AVSC athlete: “Last year was my first full season with the AVSC. In a nutshell, it completely revitalized my outlook on skiing and ski racing. The difference was the people in Aspen and the people at AVSC. The thing I learned in Aspen last season was to love ski racing again. AVSC gave me my love of skiing back. Nobody ever said, ‘you people’ in Aspen; like, ‘You people are such an inspiration’ or ‘How can we help you people?’ I’m just another athlete at AVSC.
Andy Mill in 1976
Andy Mill, US Olympic skier and AVSC alum: “My time training and learning life skills at Aspen ski club gave me knowledge in how to focus on being successful in attaining big goal.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARY ESHBAUGH HAYES (JUNIOR SKI, ERIKSEN); COURTESY OF ASPEN HISTORICAL SOCIETY (OTHERS); GETTY IMAGES (KNOWLTON, 1946); ASPEN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, LINDNER COLLECTION (MILL)
Aspen Peak editor in chief Erin Lentz goes behind the scenes at the annual charity race.