On a wonderful day, Aspen remembers Miggs
November 26, 2002
The light was beautiful on Aspen Mountain yesterday morning as an overnight snowstorm backed away and revealed a deep-blue sky, glorious swirling clouds and a blanket of fresh powder.
It was a fitting day to celebrate the life of Miggs Durrance, who passed away on Nov. 11 at the age of 85.
“What a wonderful day for a celebration,” her son, Dick Durrance II, told a crowd that nearly filled the Sundeck restaurant on top of Ajax. “And what more perfect place could there be to celebrate someone who loved this mountain as much as my mother did?”
As several speakers at the celebration of her life remarked, Miggs’ legacy will live on through her remarkable photographs of early Aspen.
“Miggs’ work is important and enduring,” said photographer David Hiser of Aspen. “Many of her photographs of Aspen in the 1940s and the 1950s are iconic images of the good old days, as they are now how we will think of early Aspen and the Aspen Idea. She was present at the creation, and she got it on film. That’s all a professional photographer can ask for.”
Miggs and her husband, Dick Durrance, first moved to Aspen from Alta, Utah, in 1947, when he got the job of managing the just-created Aspen Skiing Corp.
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They had met in Sun Valley in 1939. Miggs had gone there to try out for the 1940 Olympic ski team, after only skiing for two years. She made the team as an alternate. While there, she spied Dick up in a tree taking pictures of the other racers.
Durrance soon took a photo of Miggs skiing in Sun Valley. The photo, on display at the memorial, captures her making a powerful, graceful turn.
“It not only captures her love of skiing, but more important, it reflects the determined, joyful, fearlessness with which she embraced life,” her son Dick said of the shot.
Miggs’ husband then made his way to the podium to say a few words.
“Wow, what a crowd,” Durrance said. “I’m sure Miggs would be very happy to have known that there were this many people coming out …
“She shortchanged us all again,” he said with a smile. “She wasn’t supposed to die first. I was supposed to go, I’m older than she is. It was my turn.
“But she made it fine, and I’m sure everybody here remembers her with great … good feelings. I wish I could say more, but there isn’t a heck of a lot I could say, except that she was, undoubtedly, my best friend.”
As best friends, Miggs and Dick left Aspen in 1951 and traveled the world, taking pictures, making movies and having adventures. Miggs’ photos would be published in Life, Look, Time and Sports Illustrated. The couple returned to Aspen in the 1980s.
Dave Durrance spoke of his mother, wondering what she might have achieved as a skier if World War II had not gotten in the way of the 1940 Olympics. And he wondered what she would have achieved as a photographer had she not devoted herself to being a mother.
“She had a lot of talents, and she accomplished a lot, but her chosen life’s work was to be a wife and a mother to three lucky guys,” Dave Durrance said. “She brought a lot of courage and love and just plain hard work to that task. And she did it very well.”
And Miggs Durrance never lost her love of skiing, especially on Aspen Mountain, where the Dipsy Doodle trail is named for her husband.
“She was a lady in every sense of the word, but when she hit that mountain, she turned into a tiger,” said friend Ann Watson. “I just adored skiing with her, following that wonderful form down the mountain. I only got to ski in front of her once, and that’s because she had to stop and blow her nose.”
The crowd at the Sundeck included many longtime Aspenites, including Bil Dunaway, KNCB Moore and Charlie Paterson.
Legendary skier Stein Eriksen was also there. He first met the Durrances when he came to Aspen for the 1950 FIS World Championships, which put Aspen on the international skiing map.
“They are Aspen, I think,” Eriksen said of the Durrances. “They were such a big part of the ski industry and were more involved than people realize. And what great promoters they have been for the sport of skiing, both of them.”
After the memorial, Dick Durrance II spoke of the emotions swelling up from the crowd toward the family sitting in the front.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “In Paul Andersen’s words, this was the heart of Aspen up here. And the skies, they did part. It was a wonderful day and a wonderful place to celebrate that amazing woman.”
[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]