‘Larger than life’: Snowmass community remembers Steve Wiggins

Wiggins was a longtime ski instructor, photographer and fly-fishing guide

Dozens of skiers met at the top of the Village Express at Snowmass after last chair April 25 to remember Steve “Wigs” Wiggins, a Snowmass local who spent more than four decades in the community as a ski instructor, photographer and fly-fishing guide. Wiggins died in early November at the age of 71.

Ski patrollers, instructors, family members and friends were among those who joined Steve’s brother, Scott Wiggins of Mukilteo, Washington, on a ski down to an outdoor memorial at the Base Camp Bar and Grill, according to Scott.

The end-of-season memorial was a matter of timing and logistics, Scott in a phone interview April 26. Organizers wanted to be diligent about following public health guidance and COVID-19 safety protocols. The extended season helped make the open-air gathering possible, as the extra week to work with gave more people time to get vaccinated before attending.

“We couldn’t really do it any sooner. … It was kind of serendipitous, really,” Scott said.

Scott distributed a third of his brother’s ashes along the Banzai Ridge trail at Snowmass; another third will be spread in the Pacific Ocean and the remainder will be interred in Pioneer Cemetery in El Monte, California.

“When it was me skiing down with the ashes trailing behind me, I was just speaking to Steve and letting him know that he was getting his wish,” Scott said.

Banzai Ridge was the same trail where Wiggins and his fellow ski instructors used to take training runs before work, “just about every Thursday morning for 10 years,” Snowmass instructor Jeff Ashcraft said in a phone interview April 27.

Ashcraft met Wiggins 33 years ago when he joined the Snowmass Ski School and considered him a “close friend.” The two shared a love for photography, which both of them had explored professionally and recreationally; Wiggins was a photographer for the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington D.C. before he moved to the Roaring Fork Valley.

Those who knew “Wigs” remember him for his wide-reaching influence in the Roaring Fork Valley community.

“He was a larger-than-life character, he had a very big presence and people were very much attracted to him,” longtime friend and ski school coworker John Kneiper said in a phone call April 26. “He was fun-loving and highly skilled.”

Wiggins moved to Aspen in 1977 and joined the Snowmass Ski School in 1978; he worked for more than four decades on the mountain and received the Stein Eriksen Lifetime Achievement Award for his 40-plus years of service, according to an email Kneiper sent to the Snowmass ski pro community after Wiggins died.

“In the ski and snowboard school we make reference to it as a family, and we’ve lost a family member,” Kneiper said April 26.

Wiggins had just as large an impact in the local fly-fishing industry, according to Kneiper. He spent his summers as a guide in the valley and a mentor to people like Kneiper who were interested in guiding.

“His presence in the fly-fishing community, his presence on the river, his reputation as a guide in this other local industry was as profound,” Kneiper said.

Ashcraft, too, remembers Wiggins’ presence on the river; Wiggins took great care in releasing fish back into the river by checking that a fish was moving and breathing before sending it on its way, Ashcraft said.

In response to a client who once asked Wiggins if he ever ate the fish he caught, “He shook his head and said, ‘No, these are my friends,'” Ashcraft recalled.

“Steve was the kind of guy who always said exactly how he felt about things but there was a side to him … that a lot of people never knew — a side of him that was kind of an easy-going, gentle person that cared about animals and fish,” Ashcraft said.

That impact resonated at the memorial April 25.

The celebration of life continued at Base Camp after the ski down with live music from the True Story Band. Band member Damian Smith, a 25-year Snowmass local and longtime friend of Steve’s, played a guitar Wiggins had given him. The two connected through music and Wiggins took nearly all of the photos Smith uses to promote his work.

“He was a tough guy, but he had a real tender side and music was the way that we were able to communicate,” Smith said.

While playing the memorial, Smith said he thought about the connection they shared, about Wiggins’ “big heart” and about the influence Wiggins had on those he taught to ski and fish.

“I’m glad that this had something to do with rock and roll because he had a rock and roll heart.”

Like Kneiper and Ashcraft, Smith also learned to fly fish from Wiggins. Spending time with Wiggins on the mountain or on the river could be a “life-changing experience,” Smith said. He recognizes that he is one among hundreds who Wiggins impacted over the course of his life, some of whom attended the memorial.

“I’m glad it went the way it went because when I looked down at the audience, it was family,” Smith said.

“You could feel the soul of Snowmass there.”