Willoughby: Ruthies Run — the story behind the name
Next time you ski Ruthies, revel in its beginnings. It was inevitable there would be a run there, but it was not the first run on that section of the mountain. Roch Run was cut in 1937. It was over a decade later that Ruthies opened. You can see from the photo that in the first few years there were few runs and ones you are familiar with were narrower.
The most known American ski racer, Dick Durance, was hired to be the general manager of the Aspen Skiing Co. in its second season. Durance tasked himself with expanding the mountain. Before his stint with the Skiing Company he worked for the Constan lift company that provided the T-Bar lift for Little Nell.
The Aspen Ski Club had built Aspen’s skiing reputation by hosting races including the national championships in 1941. Durance, working with the Ski Club, wanted to expand that fame internationally by hosting the 1950 F.I.S races. He recognized that the mountain would need to expand to host the races and began raising money to accomplish that goal.
Ruth Humphries was the first to donate. She put up $5,000 ($45,000 in today’s dollars). Work began in the summer of 1948 clearing the trees and brush, hauling some logs to town and burning the rest. This would be, at that time, the largest run with a vertical drop of 2,500 feet. It started at Midway and was between 300 and 1,500 feet wide, dwarfing Roch Run.
Ruth Humphries (Brown) lived in Denver and was a frequent Aspen visitor beginning in 1941. She was well-connected with the Denver ski clubs and had connections to the Coors family, who were the second to donate to the F.I.S. fund. Humphries opened the Smuggler Shop in the Roaring Fork Building that sold ski and after-ski clothing and gifts, in 1947. She operated another store with the same name in Denver.
Humphries joined the Aspen Ski Club and became acquainted with D.R.C. Brown, whose father was a major mine owner in Aspen. He was president of the Ski Club for several years and helped arrange the use of the Brown family mining claims that the Ski Club’s early operations were on. They married in 1948. Brown later became the general manager for the Aspen Skiing Co.
Ruthies Run opened with a grand celebration Dec. 16, 1948. This was not just to promote the run but to also highlighting the other new features that Durance added to the mountain. Humphries went to Midway and opened the run breaking a champagne bottle hanging under crossed ski poles. To make the festivities fun for a larger crowd, all the Ruthies in town were invited to participate. Humphries skied down the new run and finished at the bottom skiing through the other Ruthies holding and crossing ski poles.
The F.I.S. downhill did not use the new Ruthies Run, instead going down the F.I.S. run, down Spar Gulch and crossing Little Nell finishing by the Ski Club house at the bottom of the jump. But later, Aspen Mountain downhills used Ruthies.
The day continued with a gathering at the Hotel Jerome continuing into the evening. The next day activity moved to the airport. Forty airplanes were scheduled to land from Utah, New Mexico, and all around Colorado. Stuart Mace displayed and demonstrated his sled and sled dogs. Locals could get a plane ride to fly over Aspen for $5.
Humphries continued her store after marriage, but she moved to the Brown ranch near Carbondale and relied on employees and partners. The store continued one of her favorite features, afternoon teas.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.