John Thorpe, longtime Aspen local and 1950s skiing icon, dies at 83
John Thorpe, whose family bought a block in Aspen in the 1930s that became known as “Thorpeville,” died last week of complications from a pulmonary ailment. He was 83.
Born in Denver on Oct. 7, 1934, Thorpe moved to Aspen in 1937 and the family bought a square block on Aspen’s West End, said Nancy Thorpe, John’s wife of 60 years. John and his siblings later developed houses on the land his parents handed down, Nancy said, and his grandparents also leased ranch property in the area in the 1920s.
John Thorpe was a major part of Aspen history through the 1990s before he and his wife moved downvalley to Carbondale. He was known for being soft-spoken but spoke with an authority that made people listen.
Thorpe suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and died peacefully at their home Tuesday, Nancy said.
The Thorpes married in 1958 after meeting at an Aspen party. Nancy had moved to the area just two years earlier to teach school. They lived at their home in the West End until 1999 and were the last in the family to leave the Thorpeville block.
Thorpe’s parents, Hollis and Myrtle, and Myrtle’s parents bought the block bordered by Fifth and Sixth streets and Hallam and Francis streets. Nancy said the parents gave each of the seven Thorpe children two lots to build homes on, and she and John lived there until they moved downvalley.
John graduated from Aspen High School in 1952 and was part of the 1950 and ’51 ski team, which included Max Marolt, David Stapleton, Teddy Armstrong and Tony Deane. Those teams went to junior nationals in Vermont and Winter Park.
When the high school brought back five-man football in 1951, Stapleton said they all played that sport, too.
“In those days, we all did pretty much the same thing,” said Stapleton, who was best friends with Thorpe from the time they started school. “We dated the same girls, hung out by the Elks and Eagles clubs and sneaked a beer when we could.”
After graduation, Thorpe went into the Air Force in 1953 for two years and continued to ski in national events. He returned to Aspen and worked for a year as a ski patroller and also at The Red Onion, Nancy said, before he enrolled at the University of Denver.
He was a skier on DU’s 1957 NCAA championship team.
After earning a degree in business administration, Thorpe stayed in Denver to work for IBM for a few years, “but I think the mountains were calling him and we moved back to Aspen in the late 1960s,” Nancy recalled.
Thorpe was co-manager of Aspen Sports stores in Aspen and Snowmass from 1970 to 1990 and then worked in real estate in the 1990s until they retired to Carbondale.
“John excelled at skiing but he had passion for hunting and hiking,” Nancy said. “Nearly every morning he would hike up Tiehack over at Buttermilk for exercise.”
He was a longtime member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society and the Aspen Rotary Club.
Thorpe served for years as the president of the Red Butte Cemetery Association board of directors. After retirement, he stayed involved with the board and the cemetery where his parents are buried.
“He was good to work with and had an awful lot of insight,” said Stoney Davis, who met Thorpe 30 years ago when Davis joined the board. “He knew a lot of the history of all the families that lived in the valley in the 1930s and ’40s.”
John is survived by Nancy; their three children, Mark, Karen and Stacy; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Aspen Elks Lodge.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 9 to include memorial service information.
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