Lessoned Up: Aspen ski school pros are some of the most tenured in the industry
• Group classes on Aspen Mountain: Chances are you’ll be one of a few in this class with a lot more personal attention paid to you. “It’s almost a private lesson.” — Scooter LaCouter
• “I can boil it down to less than 20 words: A controlled slide to the left, a controlled slide to the right, connected by a simultaneous edge change.” — Scooter LaCouter
• “Get free with your hands and stay forward.” — Andy Hanson
• “If you’re skiing up and over a mogul, be patient. Wait until your toes have crested the top before starting the next turn. If you start the turn as you’re still going up the mogul, your hips will fall behind your heels and throw you out of balance.” — Susan Blakney
• “A little bit of speed makes everything turn easier.” — Gary LaCouter
• “You won’t do anything great unless you are in balance.” — Gary LaCouter
THEIR FAVORITE RUNS
• Summit on Aspen Mountain. “It’s like figuring out a puzzle.” — Scooter LaCouter
• Buckskin to Magic Carpet at Buttermilk. “We call it Clinic Hill.” — Andy Hanson
• Golden Horn to Thunderbowl at Aspen Highlands. — Andy Hanson
• Cone Dump on Aspen Mountain. — Susan Blakney
• Polecat Alley and World’s Longest Tree Trail (WLTT) — Gary LaCouter
Forget the “10,000 hours” rule.
The collective tenure of Aspen’s ski pros adds up to well above 10,000 years, standing head and shoulders above most any group of on-mountain ski instructors in the world.
At what other resort do you find close to 500 instructors in the ski and snowboard school who have tenures of 20, 30, 40, 50 years or more?
Aspen Skiing Co. recognized the commitment of their pros last season when it took out a full-page newspaper ad listing their names and thanking them for their years of service.
Jonathan Ballou, managing director of Skico’s ski and snowboard school, chalks it up to the place and the people.
“We run a very high retention rate, over 90 percent, because of the company as a whole, its guiding principles and our commitment to really taking care of people,” he said. “When you take care of people they will take care of you.”
Skico employs more than 1,200 pros across its four mountains who are dedicated to giving guests a memorable experience — whether that’s teaching the basics, diving into specific techniques or being a tour guide on the hill.
“I love taking them to places they’ve never been before,” said Susan Blakney, who is entering her 31st season as a pro and instructs predominately on Aspen Mountain, but will go anywhere the guests want to go. “I love when my clients get better. It’s an extraordinary feeling.”
David “Scooter” LaCouter, who has more than 50 years as a pro with Skico, has instructed thousands of guests since he began teaching in the 1960s here.
And with each one, a relationship was built — some that have lasted decades.
“I’ve done it for the money but really it’s a love for the people,” said LaCouter, 76, who like most tenured pros have an arsenal of repeat clients.
He’s had his share of celebrities over the years, especially back in the heyday of Hollywood when producers and politicians would come to Aspen to learn to ski.
“I had Hugh Hefner once,” LaCouter said.
“I wouldn’t call him a good skier but maybe
LaCouter taught the Kennedys, a former mayor of New York, professional athletes and TV stars.
“These stories go on forever,” he laughed.
LaCouter is intent on careful instruction and the art of low-impact skiing for many of his clients who are now in the same age group as him.
“It’s gone from nuts and bolts to a lot more philosophy and a lot more dynamics involved,” LaCouter said. “It’s kind of like getting into their psyche and what they relate to.”
Like LaCouter, his son, Gary, began instructing as a teenager; Scooter at 15 in New Hampshire and Gary at 14 in a part-time capacity at Buttermilk until he graduated from college and then became full time.
Gary is now in his 40th season as a Skico pro teaching kids between 7 and 12 years old, many of whom have never skied before.
“I will be there forever. … I grew up in that program,” Gary said. “There is nothing better than seeing a kid in the morning not knowing how to turn and then in the afternoon seeing that reaction, that amazement and that wonder.”
Andy Hanson, who took his first instructing job at Aspen Highlands in 1966 and now has two years left before hitting the 50-year mark, has been a full-time pro at Buttermilk teaching kids since 1991.
“I was an adult instructor but friends who were in kids ski school convinced me to transfer,” said Hanson, 82. “I watched my friends skiing around and they looked like they were having fun and I quickly learned that they are way more fun to teach than adults because they don’t talk as much or analyze things.”
While Blakney spends between 100 and 110 days on the hill each season, LaCouter and Hanson have dialed it back and work during the busy times in the season and average around 60 days.
LaCouter, who lives part time in Florida, and Hanson, who lives part time in Mexico, return when the snow starts sticking.
“I come back in December,” Hanson said, adding that he has to train a bit to pass the physical fitness test to teach. “I have to acclimate to get to used the altitude as I get older.”
LaCouter said he hopes to stay involved for years to come and be an ambassador for the ski school.
“I may be teaching less but I want to keep my hands in it,” he said.
His son has the same outlook.
“I’ve got nothing to retire from,” said Gary LaCouter, adding Skico’s ski and snowboard school is one of the best trained and best paid
in the country.
Blakney said she’s working her dream job.
“I feel very valued by the Skico and I’m happy to do a good job for them,” she said. “I love being out in nature but it’s the people that I do it for … you meet the most extraordinary people.”
And that’s music to Ballou’s ears.
“It is so inspiring the connections our pros make with people,” he said.
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