George Madsen dies at age 90, leaves large legacy in Aspen
George Madsen — a man who made his mark in Aspen media, politics, business and civics — died Wednesday at age 90.
Madsen was an editor and longtime columnist at The Aspen Times after his own one-man publication, The Aspen Flyer, was absorbed by the larger newspaper.
He worked for Aspen Skiing Co. as vice president of marketing and headed a three-person department during a period of vigorous growth in the 1970s.
He won election twice as a Pitkin County commissioner and served from 1980 through 1988.
Madsen immersed himself in community activities in an era when that meant putting in a lot of sweat and toil rather than writing a check. He was a charter member of the Aspen Rotary Club in 1971 and organized numerous events for seniors.
He was inducted to the Aspen Hall of Fame last year.
“It was great that we were able to honor him,” said his son, Bill Madsen, a Snowmass Village council member. The induction ceremony was almost like a memorial service for him while he was still alive, he said.
He died at Heritage Care Center early Wednesday.
“I think he ran out of gas,” Bill said. “Father Time finally caught up with him.”
Came for the skiing
George Madsen was one of countless longtime residents who came to Aspen on a ski trip, became enamored and found a way to scratch out a living. His biography on the Aspen Hall of Fame website says he was working in sales and marketing at General Electric in Illinois in 1956 when he first came to Aspen on a ski trip with roommates.
He returned the following winter and met a young nurse in the lunch line at the Skier’s Chalet. He and Martha Wilson were engaged, married soon after and moved to Aspen in 1958. They bought a little corner lot at Fifth Street and Hopkins Avenue and built a four-unit property dubbed the Madsen Chalet. It was among the first affordable housing built in Aspen, Bill said.
The Madsens had four kids, Cindy, Tim, Beth and Bill, before they were divorced, so George got to know a lot of people through his kids’ activities. He was a longtime volunteer with the Aspen Ski Club and was a starter for numerous events, most notably the Roch Club.
Whether it was organizing the Fall Jeep Tour or helping at a fish fry benefit for Trout Unlimited, George was “always ready to volunteer,” Bill said.
George also loved to write. He penned his column, “On The Other Hand,” on local issues from 1959 to 1972 in The Aspen Times. He also had a popular talk show in the 1960s on KSNO radio.
Su Lum, longtime former advertising director and current Aspen Times columnist, said Madsen had a knack for drawing out interesting tidbits from sources familiar with Aspen’s history on his radio show. His most frequent guest was “Miss Berg,” who was born in Aspen during the mining days and was a wealth of information of a bygone era. In a 2014 column, Lum wrote that everyone listened the radio show because it gave “a genuine ‘I was there’ sense of the history of Aspen.”
Cindy Buck, George’s daughter, said her dad had the ability to strike up a conversation and makes friends with whomever he was around — at the grocery store, in a lift line and just on the street.
Even at Heritage Care, George was known for his friendly demeanor, saluting, winking or otherwise acknowledging people he would meet in the hallway. Nurses knew he wasn’t feeling well lately when he lost his usual flare.
“He was an incredible guy who loved being around people,” Cindy said.
His love of people shined through last year when he was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, he read a speech he crafted himself.
“One of the things he said is ‘Aspen is great because the people are great,’” Cindy said.
George and Connie, his second wife, led 60 backcountry ski tours to the 10th Mountain and Braun Hut systems as well as Colorado Mountain Club hikes and Tour d’Aspen bike trips with groups of seniors.
Cherie Oates, who knew George since the mid-1960s, said his good nature rarely dimmed, even as the organizer of the senior outings, when everyone had their own idea of what to do and when.
“Nothing seemed to bother him very much,” she said.
She said she and George would always share a good laugh, even if they hadn’t seen each other for a while.
Oates had an interesting observation about what possibly made Madsen tick.
“He really had a happy heart, probably because he did so much for others,” she said.
Marketing the ski slopes
After his tenure at The Aspen Times, Madsen returned to his marketing roots when he was hired by DRC Brown as vice president of marketing for what was then known as Aspen Skiing Corp. He created the “Snow Host” program, overseeing locals who helped enhance the guest experience for visiting skiers, according to the Hall of Fame bio. It was the predecessor to the current ski ambassador program.
“He was all about helping the guests,” Bill Madsen said.
Jack Brendlinger worked with Madsen as director of public relations starting in winter 1975-76, which presented the ultimate marketing challenge of a legendary drought.
Brendlinger said he feels he, Madsen and another worker accomplished a lot for a three-person team. They got Aspen Skiing Corp. involved in Ski the Rockies and Ski America, trade associations for the blossoming sport.
“He was my mentor at Aspen Skiing Company,” Brendlinger said. “I will miss him a lot.”
After leaving the skiing company in 1980, Madsen dove into an even harder gig. At the urging of Tom Sardy, Madsen ran for Pitkin County commissioner in 1980. He won re-election four years later.
During his two terms, the county built a significant amount of affordable housing, constructed a new jail, the senior center and the assisted-living facility. The county also expanded the airport and terminal.
Bill said his dad had a sense of duty but never needed recognition. In fact, he didn’t accept official recognition of his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. George served his time in San Francisco and didn’t see combat, so he didn’t feel he deserved the honor.
“He was honest to a fault,” Bill said.
Plans are in the works for a memorial service for George and will be announced by the family at a later time.
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