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Experienced Aspen: Embrace the gift of gab

Jim Ward says staying busy and connected helps him and his friends stay young

Jim Ward wears his Aspen hat while talking about his experiences living in the Roaring Fork Valley on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. Ward purchased the hat for eight dollars in 1975 and added all of the buttons. He wears it to all of the events “if it’s that kind of party,” like Winterskol. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Editor’s note: This feature is one in a series we call “Experienced Aspen,” a special section recognizing the life and experiences of Aspen’s most well-rounded citizens. For more, go to the B-Section of our Dec. 22 electronic edition.

Jim Ward’s intuition was pretty sound, as he tells it. When he made his first visit to Aspen more than six decades ago, he had a hunch the base of Aspen Mountain would be ideal for a hotel or two.

Otherwise, why would he have decided to spend the night there?



“When I was an ambassador on the bottom of Aspen Mountain, I used to tell people, ‘I knew this was going to be a good spot for a five-star hotel, because the first time my wife and I were in Aspen in 1958 we slept right here in our station wagon,’” he joked.

A lot has changed since then, including the building of a few hotels, and Ward has been around for most of it since moving to Aspen full time in 1964. A native of Minnesota, he and his late wife, Fay, raised three children in the Roaring Fork Valley and experienced those iconic Aspen days that everyone in the older generation loves to talk about, especially Ward.



His family had always been front and center in the community — due to a large age disparity among their children, they were involved in the Aspen school system for 29 consecutive years — and Ward likes to show off his old top hat, which is covered in parade buttons from days long gone, much like the hat’s original color.

“We’ve been an active group. We did a lot of parades, Fourth of July and Winterskol in the old days, when the parades were fun,” Ward said. “There was a lot of humor in this town in 1970. This town has definitely lost a lot of its humor. In the ’70s, the parades were a lot more fun.”

Ward was a 2003 inductee into the Aspen Hall of Fame. He held many different jobs over the years, notably that of electrician. He was also a former director of the 10th Mountain Hut Association, part of his love for backcountry and Nordic skiing. His exploits, which include trips to Antarctica and the Himalayas, are stuff of Aspen lore.

Now 85, Ward still gets out and about. He tries to hike and cross-country ski as much as possible, but admits he’s slowed down quite a bit. But physical activity has always been an important part of his life and it’s one of the first things he suggests to anyone battling Father Time, especially during a pandemic.

Jim Ward cross country skis at the Aspen Golf Course on a bluebird day in Aspen on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Ward picked up skiing while living in his home state of Minnesota but continued to grow in his passion when he moved out to Aspen. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

It’s a philosophy he ingrained into his children, who rarely had access to a television growing up. Well, at least when the Olympics weren’t happening — the family didn’t skip out on watching the Summer or Winter Games.

“That’s important for older folks, to make sure they exercise,” Ward said. “I was planning on skiing this year, but I’m not going to crowd the mountain. During Christmas, I’m going to let all the people from around the world be there.”

Jim Ward cross country skis at the Aspen Golf Course on a bluebird day in Aspen on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Ward’s daughter gave him new cross country skis for Christmas and he likes to go out skiing with her. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Ward and his wife grew up in a small town north of Minneapolis, and both were part of the same 28-person graduating class. Surely, given the sheer amount of time that has passed, there is no way Ward stays in touch with anyone from his upbringing, right?

Well, you’d be surprised. In fact, when asked what his top recommendation was for staying mentally strong during the pandemic. He suggested picking up the phone.

“If you have any of your old friends from your high school class, give them a call and talk to them. Why not while you’re at it call all your old girlfriends? Or boyfriends? Call those people and surprise them with a phone call. Tell them Merry Christmas or Happy New Year,” he said. “That’s been my life problem. I don’t shut up. I always say too much. I thought it was a good idea. I stay in touch with a lot of my old classmates and talk to them.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com


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