Longtime Snowmass local, skier and family man Joe Coffey dies at 64

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Joe Coffey at the 1977 Donny White Downhill in Snowmass with good friends BJ Adams and Sal Aurley. Coffey won the race.

A “good ol’ Southern boy with a heart of gold” who loved to ski, fish and be with his family, longtime Snowmass local Joe Coffey died peacefully at his home Tuesday following a 10-year battle with melanoma. He was 64.

Coffey worked for nearly four decades as the housing director for Snowmass, where he leaves his mark as the town’s longest-serving full-time employee.

“He was an icon,” said Rhonda Coxon, a close friend and colleague of Coffey’s for 25 years. “Joe never had a bad word to say about anyone.”

Hours before Coffey died Tuesday, in an effort to honor his 38-year tenure, Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler and other members of the town issued a proclamation declaring that the first “epic” powder day of the year be formally known as “Joe Coffey Day.”

“He loved skiing more than anything else,” said Coffey’s son, Sam Coffey. “He might be the only person who likes skiing more than me.”

As part of the proclamation, the town of Snowmass also committed to naming a future housing development after Coffey, who had intended to retire soon.

Born in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Coffey learned to ski at a young age, and by 19 years old, was the ski school director of the French-Swiss Ski College at Appalachian Ski Area, according to Sam.

He relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley in his early 20s and worked for a few years as a ski instructor at Aspen Highlands, where he was named instructor of the year in 1977 and 1978, Sam said.

On Jan. 1, 1980, Coffey became the first director of the town of Snowmass’ brand new housing authority.

In his 38 years at the helm, Coffey oversaw the conceptualization, bidding processes and construction of the town’s more than 420 housing units, according to Snowmass Town Manager Clint Kinney.

Among Coffey’s many goals was to ensure that the town’s properties blended well with the community and would not be negatively labeled “employee housing projects,” Kinney said.

He also strived to familiarize himself with every resident, Kinney said, and let each know that his door was always open.

“The kindness and respect (Coffey) showed to each and every resident was genuine,” he said, noting that he threw some “legendary” resident parties.

“His staff thinks the world of him,” Kinney added. “They saw how much he worked and how much good he has done for the community.”

But Coffey’s legacy extends well beyond the walls of Snowmass housing or Town Hall.

“He was just the best,” Sam said. “He honestly was such a good dad (and) so loving to my sister and my mom. He was just a super passionate guy who was always there for you.”

Sam described his father as “caring (and) super loyal” to his family and his work.

He also is proud to share that the Coffey patriarch built their family home in Snowmass Village with his own hands.

“From ski racing as a kid to ripping Aspen Mountain in my 20s, my dad was always my favorite person to ski with,” said Coffey’s daughter, JoAnna Coffey. “He passed on his love and passion of the sport to me, and for that I will be forever grateful.”

A memorial service will be held at noon on Feb. 9 at Aspen Chapel with a reception to follow.

And in a true Coffey family fashion, a ski day will take place Feb. 10 at Snowmass Ski Area, beginning at the base of Fanny Hill at 10 a.m.