Robinson, Highlands pioneer, dies at 68 |

Robinson, Highlands pioneer, dies at 68

The man you can thank for cutting many of the runs on Aspen Highlands died on Sunday after working at the popular locals’ mountain for 45 years.

Don Robinson was a familiar face for generations of workers on the mountain. A friend of the mountain’s original owner, Whip Jones, Robinson was senior vice president of mountain operations for 37 years. For the past eight years he was the mountain’s trail director.

“Everyone knew Don because he’d been there forever,” said Ron Baar, an Aspen resident and most recently an employee of Robinson’s at Highlands. “People would say, ‘Is Don still there? I worked for him 20, 30 years ago.'”

Born on the Crystal River Ranch in Carbondale in 1935, where his parents Fred and Ida Mae Robinson ran sheep for the ranch owner, Robinson lived in the Roaring Fork Valley his entire life. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in June and died after undergoing various rounds of chemotherapy. He was 68.

It was once estimated that Robinson cut more than 70 of the runs when the ski area was first being created. Jones worked with Robinson building the Smuggler Lodge in Aspen, and when he bought the lower part of the T Lazy 7 Ranch from Had Dean in the mid-’50s, he took Robinson with him to create the new ski area.

His namesake run is a difficult trail stretching on skier’s left from the Cloud 9 Bistro down to the Park Avenue run.

“He ran all the bulldozers ” the heavy equipment was really his forte,” said Mac Smith, Highlands ski patrol director. “He could make a bulldozer talk. He had a lifetime of being productive and not hurting himself or the machinery even on the most steep bits ” that’s saying something.”

A lover of the outdoors, Robinson actually didn’t learn to ski until Aspen Highlands was up and running ” and then he learned from the best. Olympic gold medalist Stein Erickson taught Robinson how to ski there, and Erickson’s award-winning techniques rubbed off.

“It was a good job, and it raised our family and paid for our home,” said Janet Robinson, Don’s wife since May 15, 1955. “Our kids skied free there. Our boys ski very gracefully like their dad did.”

Janet Robinson also had an occasional hand in Aspen Highlands operations ” she was counted on to repair ski suits for the workers in the ski area’s earliest days. Just a couple of years ago she was called on again when the jackets for snowmakers arrived, with their hoods sewed on backward.

“Don said, ‘My wife will take care of that,’ so he brought them all home, and I fixed them,” she said.

It was the sort off attitude her husband always had about his work, where “if he said he’d do a day’s work for you, he’d actually do a day and a half.”

“He worked to the very end, and he was always an upbeat person,” Smith said. “More than that ” he was a hard worker who was always impatient about how [a job] could get done in a day. And he ran this mountain with very little people in the days of Whip Jones.”

Smith said he considered Robinson a father figure, since Smith was just 19 years old when he began working with him 31 years ago.

“I think Don would say his main accomplishment was being a good Christian ” he’s been training for that final exam for years, and I’m sure he aced it,” Smith said, chuckling. “He was a great family man ” he raised four kids right, who are very respectful and polite. I think that’s his greatest accomplishment.”

Robinson was a member of Gideons International and enjoyed singing at the First Assembly of God Church in Glenwood Springs, where he was a longtime member. He was also a self-taught musician, playing guitar and steel guitar.

Robinson is survived by his wife, Janet, of Carbondale; by sons and daughters-in-law Don and Diane Robinson Jr. and Steve and Robin Robinson, all of Silt; by daughters and sons-in-law Kristin and Ray Ortiz of New Castle, and Kara and Mike Teague of Silt; and by seven grandsons and five granddaughters.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. on Friday at the First Assembly of God in Glenwood Springs, 923 Pitkin Ave.

Memorial contributions may be made to Gideons International, P.O. Box 140800, Nashville, TN, 37214-0800 or to the Roaring Fork Hospice, P.O. Box 1970, Glenwood Springs, CO 81602. Farnum-Holt Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]

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