Early Aspen skiing pioneer Percy Rideout dead at age 94
ASPEN – An early pioneer of skiing in Aspen who once expressed a touch of regret at leaving too soon for the real world died earlier this winter at age 94.
The publication Skiing Heritage reported that Percy Rideout died of heart failure Jan. 25 in Marysville, Calif.
Rideout was among the team Friedl Pfeifer assembled to transform Aspen Mountain into a bona fide ski area. Rideout had worked with Pfeifer in Sun Valley before World War II. His old friend urged him to come to Aspen after the war and help establish the resort. Pfeifer made Rideout and John Litchfield co-directors of the original Aspen Ski School.
Rideout also is credited with doing some of the grunt work necessary to transform Aspen Mountain into a top-notch ski area. Rideout led a group of volunteers who cut early trails, according to “Re-creation Through Recreation: Aspen Skiing from 1870 to 1970,” a research paper by Anne Gilbert that is available through the Aspen Historical Society’s website. Among the other early pioneers, Red Rowland poured concrete for 49 foundations for the original lift towers, and Frank Willoughby widened roads with his bulldozer, the paper said.
Ruth Whyte, now deceased, interviewed Rideout for the Aspen Historical Society in March 1991 and learned how he ended up in Aspen.
Rideout said he met Pfeifer at Sun Valley in 1940 after he graduated from Dartmouth. He was hired for the Sun Valley trail crew and asked Pfeifer for a position with the ski school. Pfeifer promised him nothing beyond Christmas, but Rideout ended up teaching the entire season. He called it a delightful experience during the “glamour days” of Sun Valley.
Rideout was drafted in April 1942 and was selected for the ski troops of the 10th Mountain Division. He did basic training in California and then was transferred to Camp Hale, where the troops took legendary trips to Aspen on leave in 1943 to 1944.
“We weren’t really interested in skiing for the weekend, because we did that all week long, shouldering arms,” Rideout told Whyte in the 1991 interview. “It was fun to come here and hang around the Jerome Hotel and drink cruds. A crud was anything from one shot to four, five or six – whatever you could take – of whiskey in a vanilla milkshake. … It was healthy, we thought, and it made the weekend interesting.”
Rideout lost track of Pfeifer, another ski trooper, during the war, but they hooked up while stationed in Colorado Springs and waiting to be discharged. Pfeifer made good on a dream to move to Aspen to establish the ski area, and he invited Rideout and Litchfield to help run the ski school in winter 1945-46, according to the interview.
“We used the boat tow – it wasn’t very organized – it was just a matter of getting someone up there to put gas in the motor and turning it on,” Rideout recalled.
Early skiing on Aspen Mountain was an arduous affair. The Willoughby brothers were running Midnight Mine and would send a truck up the mountain at around 6:30 a.m. Rideout and others would pile in for a ride up most of the way, “then we would climb up from there to the saddle just below the Sundeck – just above Tourtelotte Park,” Rideout explained in the interview. “It was a day’s job. We would go up there, have our lunch and ski on down. One run, that was it. We took students.”
One of his first students was Jeanne Kelly, a young woman who came to ski with friends from Omaha. They ended up getting married. Rideout told Whyte he took life more seriously after they married. They left Aspen in spring 1947.
“I left for complicated reasons,” he said. “I had a young daughter. I was concerned about my future. My wife’s parents were very concerned about my future.
“Aspen hadn’t stabilized. In my own mind, it would have been hard even in those days to visualize that Aspen would be what it is today,” Rideout continued.
The Rideouts left Aspen for Omaha, where Percy worked for a food company. They relocated him to California, where he worked in agriculture and lived the rest of his life. Jean died in 2004, according to Skiing Heritage, which is online at http://www.skiinghistory.org.
Like so many skiing pioneers in Aspen and elsewhere, Rideout performed distinguished service with the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. He was a captain of Company F of the 86th Regiment and was leading an assault on Riva Ridge when he was shot through a cheek, according to Skiing Heritage. He earned a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, the publication said.
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