Ashcroft ethic is alive and well |

Ashcroft ethic is alive and well

Paul Andersen

We cannot keep fouling our nests. We cannot keep covering the green land, and we cannot keep shoving the wild animals farther and farther away from us … – Stuart Mace

Man is the only animal that has gotten fully out of tune with the basic laws of the living world – namely, that you’ve got to give back as much as you take. – Stuart Mace

I insist that man can’t, doesn’t and shouldn’t own land. He can use it, but he should only use it if he cares about it. – Stuart Mace

Stuart Mace was a man of powerful words. His philosophy was boldly stated. He held nothing back when his sense of justice was aroused. He spoke his truth with unflinching honesty.

Stuart was the voice of Ashcroft, but it was Ted Ryan who gave Stuart Mace his pulpit. And yet Ted Ryan is largely unknown today, despite the esteemed contribution he made. Ashcroft would be far different without Ted Ryan’s generosity, and Aspen would be diminished without his conservation land ethic.

Theodore S. “Ted” Ryan first donned skis in the 1920s. He fell in love with cross-country skiing on the “Maple Leaf Trail” in the Laurentian Mountains of Canada. In 1935, Ryan skied in Europe for the first time, and his view of skiing was forever changed.

He met a young man there named William M. L. “Billy” Fiske III, a student at Cambridge University and the former captain of the U.S. bobsled team, which had competed in the Winter Olympics of 1932. Fiske and Ryan shared a close bond from their mutual love of skiing and together attended the Winter Olympics in Garmisch, Germany, in 1936.

They marveled at the expansive ski slopes and alpine terrain, and they vowed to establish a ski area in America that could equal those in Europe. Their dream brought them to Mount Hayden near Ashcroft, where in 1936, with the help of famed ski visionary Andre Roch, they planned a ski area of world-class scope and scale.

They also formed a partnership and founded the Highland Bavarian Corp., the first ski company in Colorado. They acquired land at the junction of Castle and Conundrum creeks, at the old town site of Highland, where they built Aspen’s first ski lodge.

Their plans for Mount Hayden were dashed by the advent of World War II. Fiske was killed in the Battle of Britain while flying a spitfire for the RAF. Ryan served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a forerunner to the CIA. He survived the war, but never again reactivated plans for Mount Hayden.

Instead, Ryan made a lifelong commitment to Stuart Mace, then an itinerant dog musher fresh out of the 10th Mountain Division. Mace and his family were given a lease on Ryan’s property in Ashcroft for as long as Stuart and his wife, Isabel, lived. In return, Ryan asked Mace to be a steward of the land, a role that Mace took on with missionary zeal.

In 1971, Ted Ryan, who owned most of the land around Ashcroft, opened Ashcroft Ski Touring. By then, he was a retired publisher and former Connecticut congressman. In an ultimate act of generosity and sensitivity, he decided to leave his land undeveloped.

Ryan nicknamed the touring center “Ashcroft Ober Aspen,” and, according to an early brochure, there were “No lift lines … no lifts! Guided tours into God’s high country … quiet tracks along the valley floor …”

Ted Ryan loved the peace and tranquility, and he made sure the land stayed that way, as it mostly is today. With the recent announcement that the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies will purchase the Ryan land with a grant from the Catto Foundation, Ryan’s vision will live on, and so will the Ashcroft ethic.

The best use of this valley is its own use as a high aquifer, as a gene pool; it is its own reason for being and in so being, it is useful to us.

– Stuart Mace

Paul Andersen believes Ashcroft was made sacred by both men. His column appears on Mondays.

Ryan asked Mace to be a steward of the land, a role that Mace took on with missionary zeal.