A Q&A with Ryan Smalls, Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club’s new board president
Aspen native Ryan Smalls is in his first winter as the board president for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club, which provides on-snow opportunities for nearly 3,000 kids in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond. An AVSC alumnus and local real estate broker, Smalls answered questions about his upbringing and what he hopes to bring to the club in his new role, where he replaced pro big mountain skier and staunch AVSC supporter Chris Davenport.
Q: Tell us about your background and how you first got involved with AVSC?
A: “I was lucky enough to be an Aspen native. I’m a product of some ski bums. My parents came here in the ‘60s. My dad would teach skiing by day and fix frozen pipes by night. And my mom became a retail queen of Aspen — she had a lot of stores here. I never quite had a great appreciation for how lucky I was growing up here until I left. I started at AVSC when I was 9 years old. It was a little different then. Tiny little clubhouse at the top of South Mill. Probably only a few hundred kids in the club at the time.”
Q: What was your favorite discipline within AVSC?
A: “I was an Alpine racer. The club was just Alpine and Nordic at that time. Now it’s a much bigger and better organization with freestyle, snowboard and even some mountain biking in the summers. For me, I was all about ski racing. AVSC played this incredible role in my life. It was a dream factory … there was nothing I wanted more than to take the sport as far as I could.”
Q: You’ve been on and off the AVSC board since 2002, but this is your first term as president. What made you want to step up into this role?
A: “My motivation for stepping up at this time is to honor the memory of my parents and pay tribute to the coaches, staff, donors, volunteers and most importantly the kids and families who have made this club great dating back to 1937.
“We are now experiencing some of the biggest challenges in the club’s history with pandemics, housing shortages and mountain towns with an identity crisis. Winter sports are expensive as it is, but combined with cost of living increases and no homes to call home, it is increasingly more difficult to provide kids access to the mountains. At the same time, making sure those who commit themselves to transforming the lives of kids through winter sport have a place to call home and a career with AVSC.”
Q: As board president, what do you hope to accomplish?
A: “Our board simply has to take these threats head on to secure the club’s future. This requires raising the funds to house our coaches and staff who continue to inspire and impact lives by getting over 3,000 kids on skis, boards and bikes every year. The only way to achieve this is by providing as many scholarships as possible and delivering extraordinary, subsidized programs for every participant. Our role as a board is to work with directors and coaches to bring their vision and goals to life. We are guided by the same core values we instill in our athletes: Commitment, Teamwork and Integrity.
“There are some big goals on the horizon: Snowmaking for Nordic, dry slope training facility for freestyle and snowboard, with venue enhancements on the Stapleton Training Center for Alpine. And the big pie in the sky dream is to work with the town of Aspen and the Aspen Skiing Co. to bid for the World Alpine Ski Championships. I have watched those iconic films from the 1950 world championships my whole life and in my opinion there could be no better way to honor our past and work toward the future than to bring this event home.”
Q: While the return of the world championships might be a ways off, what does it mean to have men’s World Cup ski racing returning to Aspen Mountain this March? It will be the first World Cup races in Aspen since the 2017 finals.
A: “I’m just one kid that came through the program and I can look back to my time at AVSC and point to everything. I owe pretty much everything in my life to skiing. My home, my livelihood, my wife, my kids, all of it, one way or another, is tied to the experience I had at AVSC and a big part of that was the World Cup.
“When you are sitting in second grade one day and the next day you are peering over the fence on Aspen Mountain and watching Franz Klammer, it makes a big impression. And you can see it in the club and our athletes and their successes. In the absence of having World Cups here we’ve had the X Games, and that’s been amazing. I think it’s no accident that during that time Alex Ferreira and Hanna Faulhaber and Torin Yater-Wallace — all Olympians — have come from having that be center stage. The same was true when Gretchen Bleiler was leading the charge snowboarding. So, to have that back here is a really big deal for the kids and the club.”
Q: The Audi Ajax Cup, AVSC’s largest fundraiser, returns to Aspen Mountain on Dec. 30. How important has the event become for the club?
A: “We were, like so many nonprofits, having gala dinners, silent auctions, trying to find ways to raise money for the club. We were just like, ‘Man, we are a ski club. We got to do something that is authentic for us and create an event where our donors can come out and have a great time.’ So the Ajax Cup was born from that idea. Looking a little further back in the club’s history, when Mark Tache was the director, he and Kristin Cooper had a pro-am celebrity fundraiser that was similar. So we kind of built off of that blueprint and created the Ajax Cup.
“We are really excited. We have hosted the event out at Aspen Highlands on our venue for the last two years, and this year it is coming back to Aspen Mountain. So we are excited about that. It’s great when your primary fundraiser and one the club counts on so dearly becomes a great party and a thing to do and something people really value and look forward to.”