Paul E. Anna: High Points
December 5, 2008
It’s good to have a town icon.
Philadelphia has Rocky, Chicago has Michael Jordan, Memphis has Elvis. Here in Aspen our town icon turned 89 on Tuesday.
Yes, I know it is hard to believe, but Klaus Obermeyer is just a decade and change away from the century mark. There was a celebration Tuesday at the newly reconstituted Ajax Tavern at the base of the hill (if you haven’t been, it is worth a stop, especially for lunch on the enlarged outdoor patio) to honor the skier, raconteur, businessman and inspirational figure on his special day. And he didn’t look a day over 88.
Klaus’ legend in this town began in the 1940s when he came to teach skiing. Contemporaries included the young Warren Miller, who began to make ski films while sleeping in the back of his car, and Friedl Pfeifer, who was one of this country’s most influential ski instructors. Klaus contributed to the growth of skiing by creating and manufacturing the first down jackets. The innovation changed the sport forever as it allowed people who could not tolerate the elements the opportunity to get out there on the hill in comfort and, as time marched on, in style.
His eponymous skiwear company has been an industry leader ever since, as it not only creates new and innovative products, but also sets standards in employee relations and business practices. It grosses millions of dollars a year but manages to maintain a small-town, small-company feel largely because Klaus likes it that way.
But Klaus’ status as an icon has much more to do with his spirit and his skills on the hill than his business acumen. No one who has skied with him, or rather behind him, will forget the experience of watching him float down the mountain at breakneck speeds in complete and total control. One of the speakers at the party asked Klaus when was the last time he had “skied his age?” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant until he noted that seven years ago on the 24 Hours of Aspen course Klaus had been clocked at 82 mph ” days after his 82nd birthday.
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At the birthday celebration there were any number of mature faces, many of them wearing Obermeyer sweaters and, despite their years, they maintained the same sense of enthusiasm for life and its adventure as Klaus. It was great to see so many people who have called Aspen home for decades looking so good for so long. But clearly Klaus is in a class by himself.
I engaged the octogenarian in a brief conversation by asking about his son, who had recently returned from the South Pacific. “Do you surf,” I asked Klaus. His blue eyes got big and they looked exactly as they must have when he was 5 years old and just getting on skis. “No,” he replied. “But I am learning to kite surf and that is really, really great!!” An 89-year-old novice kite surfer. Only in Aspen. Only Klaus.
Each week, I fly through DIA on my way home from journeys to the hinterlands of America. There, on a large banner, is a photo of Klaus on skis with the Maroon Bells in the background. It is more than an advertisement; it is a symbol, an inspiration. Each time I see it I know that I am going to a town where Klaus Obermeyer is an icon.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
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