How a dishwasher met a legend
With the passing of Andre Roch, I feel compelled to write a few thoughts on the impressions he had upon me in the 29 years I knew him.
On a frosty morning in December 1973, I was on my way back to Chamonix for my second year. Standing with my thumb out, on the edge of Geneva, a rather worn black Peugeot 404 pulled to side of the road to give me a lift. The elderly gentleman motioned me to get in.
After a few minutes of silence, he asked politely where I was headed. “Chamonix,” I replied. Hearing my accent, he queried as to where I was from, and upon hearing it was Aspen, Colorado, his blue eyes lit up.
“Aspen … I have been there. First in 1937, and many times since. I cut the first run on Aspen Mountain. Maybe you have heard my name. I am Andre Roch.”
Having lived here since 1968, I, of course, knew of Roch Run, the Roch Cup and the story of Andre Roch. He apologized that he could not take me all the way, as he was headed to nearby ski area ? Flaine ? to inaugurate a new lift, but promised he would visit me in the restaurant where I was to work as a dishwasher.
Later that winter he did come, and the Chamoniards that owned the restaurant could not believe Andre Roch would come all the way from Geneva to see me, a dishwasher. He was famous in many places.
We stayed friends ever since. When he was in Aspen in 1987, he predicted our child would be born during his stay, and would be a boy. He was right on both counts. During each return to Chamonix we were always graciously welcomed in his home in Geneva, where on a clear day a fine view of Mount Blanc is had from his library.
Andre was an amazing man in many ways, not the least of which were his skills as an oil painter. But, moreover, he had an incredible philosophy of life. The positive always surmounted the negative.
Once together in Chamonix I commented how the town had changed over the years, and lost much of its charm. He replied, “Possibly, mais les montanges sont toujours aussi affirantes” (but the mountains are still as alluring). He felt the same about Aspen. I think of that often as we all grapple with our own changes.
Life was not always kind for him. While rock climbing with his daughter, she fell to her death. Skiing with his son in Davos, they were caught in an avalanche, but he dug his son out just in time.
Madame Roch did not share his passion for the mountains, and reproached him for his frequent absences to America and the Himalayas. I don’t think she ever fully accepted the loss of their daughter. Despite it all, he was able to continue to smile; it never diminished him.
His love for Aspen was extremely strong. He would tell me of how in 1937, while living at the Highland Bavarian Lodge (at the base of Conundrum Valley), he would saddle a horse, skis across his lap, and ride up to Ashcroft. There he would dismount, turn the horse around and with a slap on the fanny, send the horse home.
Then he would strap on his seal skins and climb the various drainages from Ski Hayden to Cathedral Peak, mapping the future ski area, the future of which was forever ended upon the outbreak of WW II. But if it would have transpired it would have encompassed not only all the above-mentioned area, but also that of Richmond Hill, from Little Annie Basin to Taylor Pass. Just your average Euro-style resort.
His snow and avalanche studies are famous. Author of numerous books on the subjects, he was sought after worldwide for his expertise. He has first ascents to his credit in the Mount Blanc massive, and was intimately familiar with every mountain range in all of Austria, Switzerland, France and Italy. He skied the Haute Route dozens of times. His passion for the mountains was deep in his soul.
Andre’s charm, wit and love of life will always stay with me. I feel so fortunate to have known, and called him a friend.
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