Aspen icon Klaus Obermeyer rings in his next century, reflects on living well in mountains
IF YOU GO:
What: Klaus Obermeyer’s 100th birthday party
Where: Hotel Jerome ballroom
When: Monday 3 p.m. for public (private ceremony earlier)
Klaus Obermeyer landed in the United States in 1947 as an aeronautical engineer looking for work. He made his way to Aspen, thanks to Friedl Pfeifer, and became a ski instructor. Since then he has been a great influence in our community.
On Monday, Klaus joins the Centenarian Club and will celebrate his 100th birthday with an afternoon party at the Hotel Jerome.
Earlier this fall, The Aspen Times spent a morning with Klaus just to get a glimpse into what keeps him going and how he stays so fit and positive.
After the pool and gym, we made it over to his office at the Aspen Business Center.
From there for nearly an hour we talked about his upbringing in southern Germany, borrowing money from a Basalt potato farmer in the late 1940s to start his Obermeyer ski clothing business to his daily routine.
Aspen Times: What motivates you to swim and work out every day?
Klaus: I have been swimming for a long, long time. When you get to be well over 25 years old, you can’t run any more. You can barely walk. But swimming you can safely do and it gives you all the motions to keep your body in fairly good shape. I swim a little more than half a mile every day. It gets me in one year all the way to Denver, and the next year I swim back. It allows you to eat well because it burns it off. As you get older, you don’t want to eat more than you can burn off. That’s a very important thing. Otherwise your legs get tired of carrying that (weight) around.
AT: Was there ever a time when you were younger and starting the business when you thought, ‘Man this isn’t going to work?’ Or, ‘What was I thinking?’ Have you ever had any of that doubt?
KO: No. You always get to where you aim to. If you aim at Aspen Mountain you will not end up at Red Mountain. You will go up Aspen Mountain. It’s a very powerful thing, an aim. You take aim at something that is doable. When I came to Aspen, Friedl Pfeifer got me here and he said, ‘Klaus, you’re an airplane technician. We need better skis, we need better poles, we need better clothing.’ There was no ski clothing in 1947. He said, ‘So, anytime you’re not in a class or teaching (skiing), work on it.’ And I said, ‘Friedl, I’ll do that.’ So I aimed at making a lot of things better and make it more fun for people to be outdoors and to make skiing more enjoyable and safer and share that pleasure with more and more people. And it worked.
AT: What do you think about when you’re sitting on the lift?
KO: I just love nature. I just think it’s so beautiful to look at a tree with snow on it standing there watching you like little people. It’s just such a miracle. And then you see a weasel run across, and that’s another miracle. I think it is a gift what we have inheritated that took billions of years to develop. … It’s just such a miracle what we have inherited. All the life, all the many, many plants, the beautiful roses. How do they do it? The snails. How they can build that little house without having to go to snail house-building school? That they have that little, little thought that they inherited that they can do that. Life is such a miracle and puts a smile on your face. I love it. Love it. Love it.
AT: It’s become harder to live in the mountains. What’s your advice for people who want to live here and stay positive when it can be difficult to live here sometimes?
KO: Problems are also our teachers. When we start walking we fall and we learn how to get up. So that we fell was really a good thing because it forced us learn how to walk. Problems in our business or everyday we embrace. The Japanese call it ‘Irimee’ to enter it, to get to know the problem really well and make it so that it’s better that the problem came than it would have been if it would not have come. So, embrace the problem, love it, learn from it and that’s in business every day there is something. But you can also get negative about it and that points you down.
Here are a few extra excerpts from our interview with Klaus Obermeyer earlier this fall:
HIS BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY
First of all we wanted to keep the fun in the business. We share the profits with our employees. We try to create win-win situations. Never a win-lose. We do win-win with our dealers, with our factories, with our representatives. Usually, with very few exceptions, you get to where you’re aiming for.
We make it fun. We’re very nice to everybody we work with. Let them enjoy working with us.
HIS HELP FROM A DOWNVALLEY FARMER
That red soil made beautiful potatoes. One of those guys gave me the first loan when I started the business in Aspen. I got $10,000 and that was done by the barber in town. He knew the guy downvalley, and he had some money that he wanted to get interest on. He kept it under his pillow because he didn’t trust the bank. He was one of those potato farmers, and after a year I paid him back.
I had wonderful parents and we always had land. For my littler bother and I that was so nice. We had sheep and goats and deer. My dad had 100 exotic birds in a big, huge flying thing outside the house. We grew up loving nature and loving animals. We had a prize possession that was a beautiful black-and-white rabbit. So I asked my dad. How can we get little ones. He said feed her well and we’ll see. We had a friend who was a little older and he was already ahead of us and had a little more information. And he said ‘that very well may be but if we let a buck in there then we’ll get little ones for sure.’ My dad said, how come she has little ones? And we said, we fed her well.
We had a tame crow that learned how to talk. We had a hedgehog, which are wonderful. We grew up in the mountains and skiing and rock climbing and loving the outdoors.
My mother was just a great haus frau. Used to be a woman takes care of the household, and that’s what she did and did it in the most wonderful, wonderful way with all the love she could give. And hard work.
AT: How does somebody who is 25 or 27, your age when you moved here, get to be where you are in 75 years?
KO: Set priorities. The first priority is your health — what it is you need to do every day to retain as much as possible your health. That’s No. 1 in eating and exercising and living and breathing.
No. 2 is how to make a living. That’s really important.
No. 3 is what you want to do for your fun stuff.
AT: How do you maintain that positive energy every day?
KO: That’s one’s choice. We have the choice of perception. Every morning in the shower I clean the mirror of perception. It’s your choice. You can hate Aspen Mountain or you can love Aspen Mountain. It’s up to you. I love the planet. I love the unbelievable life on this planet. The nice weather in Aspen that’s great for outdoor sports in summer and winter. There are very few things one can be sad about.
Hate is a negative energy. Love is a positive energy. You always have that choice. Make it nice, make it good, make it terrific and love life and love the planet. Love everything. We are so lucky.
AT: How have you changed your diet? Do you stay away from any foods?
KO: I like everything. We have chickens at the ranch. Now, I don’t eat chicken because they’re so nice. Otherwise I eat anything, everything, but not too much. Otherwise if I eat too much I have a hard time burning it off. I’ve found a balance and now I don’t eat what I can’t burn off. That way you don’t get fat and have a hard time walking around.
I cook my own breakfast: two soft-boiled eggs, radishes, avocado, a little toast. It’s nice and simple. I do a small lunch. My wife is a very good cook, so she makes all kind of nice things. A lot of vegetables.
AT: Have you ever been on a snowboard?
KO: I’ve been on it. … I’ve been punished. … I’m a skier. I think the snowboard did a lot of good for skiing. It brought us the shorter and wider ski. It allows you to float on snow at lower speeds than we used to have. With the narrow and longer skis you had to go very fast to make turns in deep snow. With the short, wide skis it’s more like a snowboard, and a snowboard is ideal in deep snow. It finally convinced the ski makers to make them shorter and wider, and it’s working. Now people are climbing again and skiing the backcountry, which is fantastic.
AT: What is the advice from your parents that you think about every day?
KO: Advice from my dad was to be able to laugh and enjoy. When he met somebody on the street, they would talk with each other and then when they left each other they were both laughing. He told them some joke. You don’t have to pay taxes on jokes. Make life fun. It’s your choice.
AT: Have you ever had a day where you just weren’t feeling it and said ‘I don’t feel like exercising or skiing today’?
KO: No. That is against my philosophy; it is to stay No. 1 (to) keep your body and your spirit healthy by using them. To be lazy and say “I’m not going to do it today,” I don’t think that’s right. You’re cheating yourself. That’s something you just don’t do.
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