Klaus Stories: Aspen locals recount their favorite memories of Klaus Obermeyer
As Klaus Obermeyer readies to turn 100 on Monday, The Aspen Times asked a few locals to tell us their best Klaus story. Here is a sampling of those responses:
At Klaus’ 95th birthday party, he recalled standing at the bottom of Tiehack with Friedl Pfeifer sometime around 1958, before that mountain first opened. They gazed longingly at the terrain on Tiehack as the light was hitting the trees in a magical way, they looked at each other and realized how special that mountain was and how exciting it would be to ski that terrain. As he talked of that day, his eyes lit up and you could see the joy in his every fiber, his yearning to get back up to Tiehack and not just ski, but to immerse himself in that place amongst the trees, lit up by the afternoon sun and gliding as only Klaus can over the rolls and sidehills that make his home and this sport so special. I left that party and went right up to Tiehack for some runs and I experienced that terrain in a whole new way, Klaus’ way. He’s an inspiration for all of us.
Aspen Skiing Co. president/CEO
When I was about 10, we had a general contractor build the shell of the ranch house in Emma where Dad still lives. He, Nome and us kids finished the inside ourselves in order to save money. We hand built six stone fireplaces (including collecting stones from Aspen Mountain and Ruedi). We stuccoed, laid tile floors and painted — you name it. In the process we learned to swear in German when something went wrong (swearing in English was verboten). It instilled a can-do attitude and introduced us to the joy of making something one’s own.
My favorite Klaus Obermeyer story doesn’t even include Klaus.
About 10 years ago I was standing at the top of S1 with a friend. I think the first three turns there are some of the most demanding around and more than deserving of a pause and look before dropping in. Three gussied up touristy-looking women were also there looking down the trail, more interested in gawking than attempting it. Another acquaintance pulled up long enough to say “hello” before swishing off the headwall. He was a suave, 40-ish man with long, grayish hair flowing from his headband, with mirrored sunglasses hiding his gaze. There were “oohs” and “wows” from the three ladies whose jaws dropped as if synchronized.
“Do you know who that was?” One woman said excitedly. “That was Klaus Obermeyer!”
Obviously these ladies had mistaken the skier’s identity. But they were very aware of the legend and celebrity of Klaus as if they had been looking for him since they arrived in town. My friend looked at me and said, “I sure hope somebody thinks they saw me skiing S1 when I’m 90 years old.”
Aspen Times columnist
“Never lacking a response to any question, in a recent interview Klaus was telling the story of his daily swimming routine. He swims half a mile every day. So, in one year he swims to Denver. And in the next year he swims back to Aspen. The interviewer thought that was so interesting and asked, “which way are you swimming this year, Klaus?” He replied, “I am swimming back to Aspen, of course. I need to be there for my birthday!”
Anyway, the stories go on and on everyday and he and I have traveled together for many weeks.
“When making the Aspen Hall of Fame film about Klaus, I learned about the Koogie Tie, one of Klaus’ lesser-known ski industry inventions. The Koogie Tie was meant to take the place of the necktie which men regularly wore while skiing in the early days.
It was a silly adornment consisting of two fluffy yarn pom-pom balls attached by a string. Klaus had befriended movie star Gary Cooper, and Mr. Cooper offered to pose for a publicity photo wearing the Koogie Tie to help Klaus with marketing. After the photo published, Koogie Ties were the rage among well-dressed skiers and Klaus received orders by the tens of thousands from all over the world. Obermeyer should bring back the Koogie Tie. It could be Aspen’s next big thing.
Pitkin County commissioner
My first personal encounter with Klaus Obermeyer was also the first time I rode in the Silver Queen Gondola.
In mid-December 1986, the gondola opened to the public for the first time. I was skiing with Stefan Palmberg. Having watched the project being constructed, we were both excited to try it out. We had even skinned up pre-season between the gondola cabins as they sat on the ground, waiting to be installed, between the old Little Nell Bar and Restaurant and the new Gondola Building; the Little Nell Hotel would not be completed until 1989.
Imagine our surprise when we boarded the new gondola and Klaus hopped in with us. He was even more exuberant than we were. He told us about growing up skiing in Europe, St. Anton in particular; his first pair of skis fashioned from the slats of an orange crate. He was so happy to be in Aspen; I remember him saying, “The snow here is so much better than anywhere else and it’s sunnier here, too!” He was entertaining the whole way up. Near the top, he yodeled. Unforgettable.
I’ve had many encounters with him since and he is still one of the happiest, most positive people I’ve ever met. We should all do ourselves a favor and “Be like Klaus.”
Perhaps my greatest skiing claim to fame was being mistaken for one of Klaus Obermeyer’s female catalog models. One day I was lucky enough to see Klaus over on the 1A side of Aspen Mountain. As I skied into the maze at the bottom, there he was and for some reason agreed to share a chair with me. Not one to suffer fools while skiing, he took off with a wave and a smile down Spring Pitch, then Strawpile, Norway Island and Fifth Avenue, finishing with a graceful, sweeping high-speed left hand turn mirroring the “America’s Downhill” course. He did not ski slowly. Somehow I managed to keep him in my sights by following the rooster tail of snow he left behind. My outfit was matching yellow and black, and the jacket had a belt around the waist accentuating my, at the time, slender waistline. With my long hair it must’ve given me an overly feminine appearance, because later that day over at the gondola I overheard a group of men commenting that they had seen Klaus riding the lift and skiing over at 1A with “… some hot young thing.” Happy 100th birthday, Klaus. You have set the bar ridiculously high for us mere mortals.
Aspen Daily News columnist
Everybody knows what an irrepressible force of nature Klaus Obermeyer is — happy, dynamic, positive — but I had the great fortune to hear, at an Aspen Historical Society event, an evidently rarely told story of his attempted escape through the Alps during World War II. It might be the most serious I’d ever seen him, and revealed depth and complexity in his life that can only be imagined. I don’t feel that the story is mine to tell, but we are quite fortunate to have had him for so long here in Aspen. The man is a survivor, and a treasure.
Aspen Historical Society