David Wood, documentarian of local shrines, dies at 77
Part-time Snowmass Village resident remembered for generosity, ‘magnetic personality’
Of the 150-plus shrines and more than 210 plaques and memorials hidden in the woods across the four mountains of Aspen Snowmass, David Wood knew them all.
Wood’s ongoing endeavor to catalog the history, narrative and appearance of every shrine on the mountains yielded an expansive website, a book (“Sanctuaries in the Snow: The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass”) and a reputation as the unequivocal source on local shrines.
The part-time Snowmass Village resident died unexpectedly July 22 at the age of 77, his son David Wood Jr. confirmed this week.
A love of history and a natural curiosity likely drew him to the shrine endeavor that would define his presence in the Aspen Snowmass area over the two decades of winters he spent here as a part-time resident, his son said. (Wood spent the remainder of the year at his home in Des Moines, Iowa.)
“When he discovered some of these shrines, he saw it as something that should be documented. … It didn’t matter if it was someone famous, like Jimi Hendrix, or Jerry Garcia, or it could have been someone from the Aspen area, someone who is not famous, but also someone who is very well known and loved,” he said.
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Wood was always on the lookout for new shrines, which sometimes led to personal discoveries, too. His research into a shrine on Aspen Mountain for Widespread Panic founding member Michael Houser helped spur a decade-plus of fandom for the band, the younger Wood said; as father and son, the two attended 122 Widespread Panic shows from 2008 to this June.
Then, too, perhaps there was an allure to the culture surrounding these monuments hidden in the woods, said Boone Schweitzer, a real estate agent who became instant friends with Wood when the family bought their home in Snowmass Village in 2001.
“The shrines were kind of — and still are — kind of a counter-culture. … They were kind of underground and had a mystique about them,” Schweitzer said. “They were secretive in a way and nobody really disclosed where they were and they were popping up all over the mountain. It was fascinating, … but he found them.”
The project, though one that may have begun out of a personal interest in history, morphed into a community narrative as Wood told the stories behind memorials and tributes to beloved locals, celebrities and themes as wide-ranging as cats, the state of Minnesota and golf. (Wood helped create that golf shrine — he loved the sport just as he did skiing — and made something of a tradition out of toasting to the shrine with paper-cup servings of Laphroaig single-malt scotch.)
Wood’s expansive work involved archival research at the Aspen Historical Society, a vast compilation of internet sources and relationships forged with those who had connections to the shrines.
Though Wood did not publish the GPS coordinates to the shrines he documented, he was eager to share his knowledge on the mountain as an impromptu “tour guide,” said Anna Scott, an archivist at the historical society who developed a friendship with Wood through his research endeavors.
He was a frequent flyer at “First Tracks” early-morning skis on the mountain and forged close bonds with ski instructors and resort ambassadors who would then bring their clients to those hidden tributes in the woods. Taking people to the shrines and sharing his knowledge was part of the point; it was never a solo endeavor.
“Through his passion of discovering it all, he became the expert. … It definitely tied him to this community,” Scott said.
So too did Wood’s generosity and “magnetic personality” connect him to the people of Aspen and Snowmass, said Schweitzer, who also founded the Trashmasters golf tournament in Snowmass Village. Wood dedicated all of the proceeds from “Sanctuaries in the Snow” to Trashmasters and quietly but consistently supported a number of nonprofits with charitable donations.
Wood took great joy in sharing good news and stories with others, said Snowmass Sports manager Cameron Wenzel; Wood was a loyal customer at the shop (and a loyal customer at just about every establishment he patronized, his son said).
He had a knack for making every person he met feel like they were important and valued, Schweitzer said. At dinner parties, Wood would set framed photos of the evening’s visitors on prominent display in his home; Schweitzer estimated that Wood had hundreds of such photos in storage and would rotate the display based on the guest list of the day.
“When you look up the word distinguished, and extraordinary, his picture would appear there,” Schweitzer said.
Perhaps, when you look into the trees of Snowmass this winter, his picture and some memorabilia might appear there, too. It would be a fitting tribute, according to Scott from the historical society.
“I think our local celebration should be the creation of a shrine for him,” she said.
Wood is survived by his wife, Rosalie, his sons, David Wood Jr. and Michael Wood, his daughter, Jennifer Worthington, and his granddaughter, Anastasia Wood.
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