David Wood
Special to the Snowmass Sun

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March 13, 2012
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Buttermilk shrines honor two longtime, local ski instructors

Buttermilk has the fewest shrines of any of the four mountains of Aspen/Snowmass, but that doesn't mean it's lacking in quality shrines. Two outstanding shrines are at Buttermilk and are dedicated to deceased ski/snowboard instructors.

On March 5, 2009, Chris Polk, Buttermilk snowboard instructor, died after colliding with a tree on the Columbine trail at Buttermilk. He was 30 years old.

His death was the first on-mountain fatality at Buttermilk ski area in more than 25 years. Polk always wore a necktie under his snowboard instructor uniform "as a mark of professionalism and for style points" according to a tribute that appeared in the Aspen Journal.

His shrine was created by his fellow instructors using his own neckties. These instructors all placed ties in the branches of the small tree island just to the right of tower 11 on the Summit Express lift where the accident happened. The shrine was created the very same day Polk died, which makes it unique among Aspen/Snowmass shrines.

Polk was born and raised in San Jose, Calif. He enlisted in the Navy after high school and served in Operation Desert Shield. He had a passion for snowboarding that led him into teaching. He taught in Yosemite, Calif. ,and then at Buttermilk. In addition to Polk's ties, his shrine also contains a small wooden cross, a photo of him, and a laminated copy of the poem, "Do not stand at my grave and weep," written by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

Another Buttermilk shrine dedicated to a deceased instructor is a shrine for Robert D. Kesselring, who died on Sept. 14, 2003, after having battled prostate cancer for 10 years. He was 65 years old at the time of his death.

Kesselring's nickname was "Senor Kess," and in his shrine is a life-size model dressed up in a ski instructor's uniform, mounted on a platform in the trees near Fort Frog at Buttermilk.

He came to Aspen in November 1963, where he spent the remainder of his life. He had a passion for skiing and spent 40 years as a ski instructor with the Aspen Skiing Co. at Buttermilk.

He could be heard around the locker room saying things like "one month to St. Patrick's Day," "two weeks to Hump Day," "only 67 days until Cinco de Mayo," and "no mas mosquitoes Day," to name a few of his sayings.

He had a facility for learning languages, and was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, both of which he used as a ski instructor.


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 13, 2012 05:21PM Published Mar 13, 2012 05:16PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.