Promoting skiing: The Highland Bavarian (Part II) |

Promoting skiing: The Highland Bavarian (Part II)

Tim Willoughby
Aspen Times Weekly
Willoughby CollectionMayor Willoughby (center, front row) and family in front of Highland Bavarian Lodge with its Bavarian figures on the trim.

After picking Little Annie Basin for their ski slope in the summer of 1936, the Highland Bavarian partners pushed to open operations in the coming winter. They purchased what had been the Tagert Ranch (once the mining community of Highland) just above where the Conundrum Road splits off Castle Creek Road. The eldest partner, Tom Flynn, took up residence at the Hotel Jerome and organized to build their headquarters and a lodge on the property.

The lodge, which is still there, was designed by the same architect who designed the Santa Anita Jockey Club. It featured two bunkrooms for guests, a dining room and a living room. A large double-sided fireplace was the centerpiece, built of red sandstone from Arbaney Gulch 12 miles west of Aspen. Dubbed the Highland Bavarian Lodge, the partners gave it a European touch by hiring artist Jimmy Bodrero to paint Bavarian figures on the outside trim. The lodge opened for Christmas guests with a grand party for Aspenites, with speeches by the mayor and the partners, and a symbolic raising of a flag that was their corporate logo, a Bavarian hat.

The goal for 1937 was to promote the fledgling ski resort by enticing skiers and potential investors from both coasts. Ted Ryan worked his native New York, Boston and Chicago. Billy Fiske and Robert Rowan spread the word in California.

Visitors at the lodge were treated to meals cooked by an Austrian chef, Franz Keller. Charles Grover and Flynn’s son Edward, both locals, drove a bus to retrieve visitors from the Aspen train depot and helped out around the lodge.

Billy Tagert hauled guests from the lodge to the bottom of Little Annie in his horse-drawn sleigh for 50 cents a ride. From there they could ski back toward the lodge along a trail cut by Ted Ryan in the fall. That trail emptied into a meadow at the side of the valley, and that became a beginners area. That meadow was the location of Aspen’s first ski races.

Hardier skiers could attach skins to their skis to climb the basin to the top of Richmond Hill. From there, they could either ski down the basin or cross over the basin divide to Buckhorn, then ski through Tourtelotte Park and down mining roads to Aspen.

Important guests included Sun Valley ski instructor Florian Haemmerle, ski manufacturer Thor Groswold, movie star Jack Oakie, and Douglas Aircraft chief engineer Ed Burton. Ski clubs in Denver came, introducing Elizabeth Paepcke, Will and Joe Hodges, Gretel Arndt and Martha Wilcox to Aspen. The partners talked up their plans everywhere they traveled.

Judge McCarthy, the head of the Denver and Rio Grande railroad, was approached as an investor. Humorist for the New Yorker, Robert Benchley, wrote a widely distributed brochure about the venture.

Otto Schniebs, one of the most influential ski figures of the time, made several trips to Highland Bavarian Lodge. The first quarter of his 1939 book, “American Skiing,” the definitive skiing guide of the late 1930s and 1940s, chronicled his ski trips in the Castle Creek valley.

The Highland Bavarian partners were in the process of contacting engineers to do a preliminary study to build a ski lift. Little Annie snow seemed sensational, and since it was an open basin they would not need to clear trees. With cooperation from the Midnight Mine and the eagerness of the Forest Service, securing rights to the area was all but complete.

Not feeling totally confident in their own judgment, however, the partners decided to get a second opinion. They secured the services of Andre Roch, Swiss mountaineer and avalanche expert, plus Italian snow specialist Dr. Gunther Langes, both of whom arrived in January 1937. Plans soon changed. Read Part III next week.

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