Robert D. Kesselring | AspenTimes.com
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Robert D. Kesselring

Robert D. “Kess” Kesselring died on Sept. 14 after battling prostate cancer for 10 years.He was born on Nov. 2, 1937, in Oakland, Calif., the son of the late Don and Jane Kesselring. He graduated in 1959 with a degree in finance from San Jose State University, where he competed on the alpine ski team. He also was a member of the ATO fraternity.Following graduation, Kess, Dick Dahlgren and Craig Hooper spent six months in Hawaii surfing, beach bumming and living on sailboats, with a steady diet of hamburger patties, a 100-pound bag of rice and leftovers from beach buffets at the Royal Hawaiian.Kess and Dahlgren went on to Mammoth Mountain, where the two were hired on as rope tow operators, skiing half the day and working the other half. Later, the two, along with John Harmening, Dick Kassebaum, Phil Kerridge, Paul Steinhauser and Earl Morse, became members of the first full-time professional Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol.The long Mammoth ski season traditionally was broken in May for a three-day weekend of tequila shooters and margaritas at Cinco in Ensenada. Then it was back to Mammoth to finish the season. Kess was on ski patrol for three seasons with later additions of Ron Young and Tad Lathrop.In 1962, Kess spent a year in Europe with Dahlgren and Ron Young, beginning with the FIS Championships in Chamonix, France. They skied the winter mostly in Austria and chased the bullfights in the spring, starting with the spring fair in Seville, Spain, and ending with the running of the bulls in July at Pamplona. Europe had yet to recover from World War II, and the dollar was powerful.Kess fondly referred to those times as “The days where 25 cents bought a case of beer, 10 cents rented a hotel room, barrera seats at the bullfights cost 15 cents, you could ski for a month in Austria for a $20 bill, and a five-course meal with a liter of wine cost less that half a buck.”In November 1963, Kess set his sights on Aspen, where he was to spend the remainder of his life. He had a passion for skiing and spent 40 years teaching with the Aspen Skiing Co. at Buttermilk.Kess could be heard around the locker room saying things like “One month to St. Patrick’s Day,” “Two Weeks to Hump Day,” “Only 67 days until Cinco de Mayo” and “No Mas Mosquitoes Day” to name a few. Kess spent the 1964, 1965 and 1966 ski seasons teaching and patrolling in La Parva, Chile. He also spent time in Portillo.He met his roommate upon arriving in Portillo and shortly thereafter, he stepped outside the hotel. As he did, an avalanche let loose and wiped out the opposite end of the hotel where his room was. Kess never spoke of the experience of digging out his dead roommate. He began sailing Fireballs around 1970 and had a very successful racing career. In 1973 he traveled to Ireland to represent America in the Fireball World Championships. Kess was instrumental in building the clubhouse at the Aspen Yacht Club.Kess loved to fish as a kid with his uncle in mountain streams near Lake Tahoe and continued that passion for fishing. His last “trip” the week before he died was to take in a day of the Denver Fly Fishing Show with friend Mark Borderick. He spent many years as a fly fishing guide for Aspen Rod & Gun and Aspen Trout Guides. As Scott Nichols said, “Kess was one of a few who took fishing seriously as a life-long learning experience and would share his knowledge of fishing and the local outdoors with his clients like no other.”Kess had a facility for learning languages, and was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. He used both languages in teaching skiing, and loved being able to converse with our south-of-the-border neighbors. He spoke enough French, German and Italian to “get around” in those places. Mexico was his favorite destination during off-season, and he loved the Pacific Islands, particularly Tahiti where he spent his 50th birthday. Kess also spent time in Australia in 1997 where he attended his nephew’s wedding.He is survived by his sister, Joan K. Larson of Medford, Ore., nephew Erik Larson of Aspen, niece Heidi Fouser of Portland, Ore., great nieces Emily and Olivia Fouser and Anja Larson, and great nephew Luke Larson.In lieu of a memorial service, a party to celebrate his life will be held on Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. at Bumps Restaurant at the base of Buttermilk. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Kess’ name to the Aspen Valley Ski Club.


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