Aspen community mourns Michael Ferrara, a legendary adventurer and first responder

Ferrara, 73, died Friday from injuries sustained in a car crash near his home on Highway 82

Michael Ferrara with one of his avalanche rescue dogs.
Courtesy photo/Michael Ferrara’s Facebook page

Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers knew Michael Ferrara for nearly 40 years and can share countless stories about his longtime friend.

Whether it’s the time Ferrara sliced a deer in half while driving too fast on a motorcycle on his way to Snowmass Village, or the adventures Ferrara had climbing in Nepal, Ayers said the stories are countless. And, so, too, are the lives Ferrara saved.

“The most amazing thing is that no one will ever know how many people he ministered to through his activities in the valley and the tens of thousands of visitors he helped,” Ayers said. “You cannot count the number of people he helped or the lives that he saved. It’s not a number that anyone could count, but it’s huge.” 

Ferrara, 73, died Friday, Sept. 8, from injuries sustained in a car crash near his home on Highway 82 and Lazy Glen Way. He is survived by his sister, Janet Ferrara, a valley resident.

Michael Ferrara
Courtesy photo/Michael Ferrara’s Facebook page

According to Colorado State Patrol, at approximately 4:39 p.m. Friday, Ferrara was turning onto Highway 82 westbound from Lazy Glen Way when his Jeep Grand Cherokee was struck by an Audi A3 driven by a 42-year-old Aspen resident.

The driver of the Audi A3 was hospitalized with serious injuries. While no alcohol or drug use is suspected, Colorado State Patrol said excessive speed was likely involved. The incident is still under investigation.

Colorado State Patrol informed the deputy coroner that the driver of the Audi was injured and released from the hospital, but no further information is available at this time.

Ayers performed the scene investigation for the coroner’s office and said that while the preliminary findings appear to suggest the crash was an accidental manner with trauma-related injuries, he’s still waiting on additional information and reports. He expects that it will take several more weeks before his office is able to issue a detailed press release on the cause of death.

Ayers said that sending samples to be tested at a toxicology lab in Pennsylvania is what adds time in cases like this. He expects to know more roughly by Oct. 20, adding that the Colorado State Patrol’s report could take as long as a month, as well.

Ferrara was a former Aspen Snowmass ski patroller, first responder, deputy sheriff, assistant coroner, paramedic, mountain rescuer, and an accomplished mountaineer and guide.

He moved to the valley with his sister from Buffalo, New York, in the late 1980s, shortly before Ayers. At that time, Ayers said Ferrara was a business executive but decided it wasn’t the life he wanted to pursue, so he moved to the valley in search of a change.

It wasn’t long after moving to the valley that Ferrara and Ayers became friends, as their occupations often found ways of overlapping.

“He was like the ultimate first responder, and like many first responders, he paid a heavy price,” Ayers said. “The things he saw and dealt with, it ate at him, caused him grief, caused him having to take time away from his jobs all at once, from the coroner’s job to ski patrol to the paramedic, to take a break and get healthy. During that time, though, he still found ways to help people, he was driving a bus for older people in the valley who couldn’t get around to help to take them to appointments, he just never stopped helping people.”

In 2010, Outside Magazine published an article entitled, “The Man Who Saw Too Much” chronicling Ferrara’s time as a first responder and his fight with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper knew Ferrara for 40 years, first meeting him during her time as a nurse with the Aspen Valley Hospital.

“He was someone who was always there for others, always willing to help, always willing to teach people how to save lives, and he always had the best smile on his face,” she said. “He will be missed by so many throughout this community, so many families, so many friends, and so many young people he inspired to become first responders.”

Michael Ferrara wears his Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol uniform with one of his avalanche rescue dogs.
Courtesy photo/Michael Ferrara’s Facebook page

Among the many fond memories she had of Ferrara, Clapper said one in particular will always stand out as especially memorable.

Her son Trevor was a junior in high school and played on the football team. It was the night before homecoming and one of her son’s friend’s parents were out of town, so the boys decided to throw a party. When Clappers’ son called to ask if he could stay longer than 10 p.m. she told him no because he was on “football curfew” and had to come home. 

Shortly after he left, the Snowmass police broke up the party and all of the boys ran out of the house and down into a gully. Ferrara was a deputy at that time and he showed up with his German shepherd K-9.

“He yelled down into the gully, ‘Gentleman, I’ve got my dog here. If you don’t come up, I’m going to take my dog off-leash, and just so you know, my dog goes for the genitals,'” Clapper said. “And all the boys popped up out of the bushes with one arm raised and one arm in their crotch. When Michael told me that story, he didn’t know my son Trevor had been (at the party). It just gives me goosebumps, and I will never forget that story. It gives me good thoughts about Michael.”


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