Editor’s note: “Their Generation,” an ongoing series profiling longtime locals of the Roaring Fork Valley, runs every other week in The Aspen Times.
Jim and Bianca Hooker are among a small group of people remaining in Snowmass Village who moved there in 1967, the birth year of the resort.
Perhaps best known for their many years of public service, the Hookers originally moved to Snowmass when Jim went into business with his brother and another partner at Cap and Cork Liquors on the lower level of the Snowmass Village Mall. Jim and Bianca had met at college in Illinois and were living in Steamboat Springs at the time, and since Jim wasn’t a skier then, he was the perfect co-owner for his partners, who wanted someone to run the store during the day.
“Right out in front of the liquor store was an ice rink, and we had great broomball tournaments,” Jim said. “I would just put a note on the door that I was on the ice and if they needed anything just holler for Hooker.”
In the early days in Snowmass, it was rare to meet a local over the age of 35, Jim said.
“The summer of ’68 was unbelievable,” Bianca Hooker recalled. “All the people who were part of the organization, the shop owners, the restaurant owners, I mean everyone was young, and it was just wild and fun. There was an event every other weekend in the summers.”
One of those events was a summer Mardi Gras-style festival, and Jim was crowned king. Two decades later, he and Bianca would be crowned again over the Mardi Gras festivities on the Mall. During some of those summers, Bianca would help out in the store while Jim sought extra work in construction.
When Jim and Bianca arrived in 1967, Aspen Village was just being developed, and they were one of the first families to move in there. After about two years, they built a duplex on Ridge Run, renting out one half and using the income to help pay it off.
In 1972, Jim and his partners sold Cap and Cork, and Jim was at a loss of what to do with himself. Also around that time, Jim’s brother, Gifford, was killed in a private-plane crash.
“(That) turned my world upside down for a year or so,” Jim said.
Jim worked at a restaurant for a winter but said that “didn’t do me any good at all.” He then approached Jim Snobble, who managed Snowmass ski area at the time, and asked if there was anything he could do for him as a nonskier. At the time, Snowmass was starting its Skier Services department, and Snobble put Hooker at its head.
“Basically we worked the parking lots and the ticket offices, and we were there to give information,” Hooker said. “My first thought was, ‘Oh I’ll work here for a winter until I figure out what I want to do, and I left 11 years later.”
In the mid-70s, Jim and Bianca took a drive and wound up on a street off Meadow Road overlooking the Brush Creek valley where only two homes had been built. Jim spotted a lot and inquired about it, and after some convincing purchased the acreage from its owner. The Hookers built their home there in 1975, raising their two children, Hilary and Jamie, and horses on the property.
Lives of service
While working his other jobs, Jim began volunteering at the Snowmass fire department, and after a couple of years he joined the district board. He soon was elected chairman and stepped down from the board after 25 years of service.
“I finally said, ‘You guys have got to be tired of me by now,’” Jim said.
Jim and Bianca were a house divided in the mid ’70s when residents were considering incorporating the town. Snowmass Village was incorporated in 1977, and when one of the original Town Council members had to step down for health reasons, Bianca was appointed to fill the position.
“From my point of view, she had fallen in bed with the enemy,” Jim joked.
Jim eventually would follow Bianca’s civic disposition and join the town’s liquor board. He later was appointed to the Planning Commission, but not before having a heart attack “at the ripe old age of 35,” he said.
The stress level of serving on the Planning Commission turned out to not be too detrimental, and Jim stayed on for about four years.
“Then (I) decided I was tired of the Planning Commission, working for hours and hours on these different projects and then sending them up to the Town Council where they just ripped them up,” Jim said. “So I thought, ‘I gotta get closer to the top here.’”
Jim ran for Town Council in 1984 and served two four-year terms before running for mayor in 1992. He was twice elected to the post but declined to run for a third term, despite the support of many in the community.
“I was feeling really good about a lot of people saying ‘you gotta finish this out, you gotta go for the final term,’” Jim said. “But I said, ‘you know, I’m starting to hear the same comments and the same problems for the second time. I think I’ve done all I can do.’”
A lot of things went on during Jim’s 12 years in office, including the construction of several developments. But the one he’s perhaps most proud of is the creation of the Crossings, a development of affordable single-family homes.
“We gave a lot of people the opportunity to live up here, close to their work and be able to afford it,” Jim said. “It makes us a real town in the sense that we’ve got the little people running around, you know, kids on swing sets and all the stuff that a town is supposed to have.”
Jim said during his time on council, he never experienced a division like the one that exists on the current board, which lately has aired its dissent publicly over a contract with Town Manager Gary Suiter.
“When I was first in, we had a seven-person council, and we would have one guy ... he was a big dissenter on a lot of issues, but it was healthy, because he would bring up things ... that maybe hadn’t been thought of,” Jim said.
Suiter was Snowmass Village’s town manager for much of Jim’s time in office. To Jim, Suiter is one of the best city managers on the Western Slope, if not the state, especially after his experience as a consultant for municipal governments.
“I had all the respect in the world for him, both on the council and then as mayor,” Jim said. “He and I had identified what our roles were very clearly, and I wasn’t the least bit interested in managing the town, and he wasn’t the least bit interested in getting involved in political questions — unless asked. He was just a really squared away guy.”
Though he was out of office for the approval of Base Village, Jim strongly opposed it and at one point called on all of Snowmass’ former mayors to take out advertisements protesting the proposal, which at the time was calling for a bigger development than was eventually approved. The former officials all acquiesced.
Jim and Bianca have served on several of the same boards, although never at the same time.
“I think that Jim and I are the only couple (in Snowmass) who both have been members of the Town Council,” Bianca said.
Although Jim and Bianca didn’t always agree on what was best for Snowmass Village — they also were divided over the question of an aquatic center being considered in the ’90s — they have the same passion for serving the community.
“You know, Jim and I have lived in this community, our kids were born here, we came here when we were young,” Bianca said. “We love this community, which is one of the reasons why both of us … have been on one committee after another, elected or appointed. We were so lucky to come. It was just sort of a fluke. It is just one of the best places in the world to be.”
The Hookers might have to relocate eventually, but that’s difficult to think about, Bianca said.
“Our whole adult history is in Snowmass,” she said.
“We love this community, which is one of the reasons why both of us … have been on one committee after another, elected or appointed.”