Iconic guide Dick Jackson sells Aspen Expeditions
After an iconic career as one of Aspen’s first and foremost mountain guides, Dick Jackson is stepping down from the helm of the guiding service he founded 40 years ago.
“I’m ready for a change in my life,” Jackson said Friday. “I want to do some other things.”
Still, the 66-year-old has no plans to abandon mountains, the Roaring Fork Valley or Aspen Expeditions, the guiding service he started in town in 1977 before most U.S. guiding services even existed.
“I’m not disappearing at all,” Jackson said. “I will still be around the business.”
The business, however, is now owned by two of Jackson’s longtime guides, Amos Whiting and Britt Ruegger, who officially bought Aspen Expeditions on Feb. 3.
“I have a lot of respect for these guys,” Jackson said. “They know the guiding profession well.”
Whiting, 40, moved to Aspen in 2002 from Durango to be Jackson’s head guide at Aspen Expeditions. The Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, native has spent the past 14 years in the field guiding rock climbing, alpine climbing and skiing domestic and international expeditions, but said he, too, was ready for a change.
“I have a family,” Whiting said. “I have kids. I’d like to travel a bit less … and be part of a team we’ve been with on a deeper level.”
Ruegger, a New York native who moved to Aspen in 2007, is in a bit of a different stage in life. The 34-year-old recently got married and is working on mastering the backcountry and climbing skills required of a certified mountain guide.
“I’m an aspiring mountain guide,” said Ruegger, who’s spent 10 years guiding for Aspen Expeditions and other companies in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. “It’s a long process for all guides going though (the American Mountain Guide Association) program.”
The two men “balance each other out” and have worked together closely over the years, which has built “lots of trust” between them, Whiting said.
“Another exciting thing,” Ruegger said, “is carrying on (Jackson’s) legacy with the company. Dick is a bit of an icon.”
After attending the University of Colorado in the late 1960s and becoming involved in rock climbing there, Jackson moved to Aspen in 1977 and bought the Rocky Mountain Climbing School for $200. The business, which was renamed in the early 1980s, was first located in a trolley car at Rubey Park before the bus station was built, then moved to a space above the Butcher’s Block for about 14 years before relocating to Aspen Highlands in the mid-2000s.
Jackson was an early proponent of telemark skiing and paragliding. He has climbed, skied and trekked in the Himalayas, Alaska, South America and Europe. He’s also a former head of the American Mountain Guide Association.
Jackson said he fondly remembers the old days before modern technology, when being in the backcountry of, say, Nepal meant you were days from anyone knowing about anything that might have happened back there.
“I cherish those old days, but I wouldn’t go back to them,” he said, noting that modern guides cannot ignore modern technology. “I guess I survived it.”
Now that he’s stepping away from the day-to-day running of the business, Jackson said he plans to spend more time with his wife, Paulina, and their 13-year-old daughter, Tashi. He also plans to thoughtfully digest the past few decades of adventures, digitize his photo library and, perhaps, write a book.
“I do want to collect my thoughts,” he said. “I’ll be spending evenings and early mornings reflecting on (my life).”
He said he still has some remaining nerve damage in his left leg from a debilitating paragliding crash in 2011 and can’t do much rock climbing these days. But his feet still slide into the ski boots without fail.
“I have some issues but I’m not complaining,” Jackson said. “I’m still a pretty good skier.”
As for Whiting and Ruegger, they plan to try to expand Aspen Expeditions international trip offerings, while maintaining the boutique feel of the company and the Aspen brand. They’d also like to turn more locals on to expeditions they offer to places like Japan. Both men will remain the primary guides for Aspen Expeditions.
“We’re a little bit nervous,” Ruegger said. “But we’re feeling pretty good. We’re excited.”
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