With her camera, Durrance chronicled Aspen’s rise

Mary Eshbaugh Hayes
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Photo by Dick Durrance.Miggs Durrance flies down Aspen Mountain in 1941.

Margaret (Miggs) Jennings Durrance, a longtime Aspen resident renowned for her photographs documenting the evolution of Aspen from a dormant mining community into a world-famous resort, died early Monday after a long illness. Born on Feb. 28, 1917, she was 85 years old.

She moved to Aspen in 1947 with her husband, Dick Durrance, who had been asked to manage the fledgling Aspen Ski Corp., and their two young sons, Dick and Dave.

Through the years Miggs helped establish and/or volunteered her energy and photographic talents to sustain many of the institutions that are now taken for granted: The Aspen Institute, the International Design Conference, Music Associates of Aspen, Anderson Ranch, Aspen Valley Hospital and the Roaring Fork chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers.

Her life was guided by the maxim, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and she lived the words. As a girl she rode a family friend’s horse to a national championship. After only two years on skis, she traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho, to try out for the 1940 Olympics and was named an alternate to the team.

The games were canceled, but in Sun Valley she found a husband and cameras in a tree.

“The first time I laid eyes on Dick, he was up in a tree with a big Speed Graphic,” she said. A ski racer, he was training for the Harriman Cup but was more interested in shooting pictures than in training.

Married on June 9, 1940, and living in Alta, Utah, Dick taught Miggs to use a camera. Dick, as manager of that resort, was always trying to get good ski pictures to promote the resort. He would do the skiing himself and would have Miggs take the photo.

“He would put me on one side of a gully and hand me the camera and throw a snowball. When I’d get to the snowball he’d say … push the button. He’d ski and I’d shoot. We got some pretty good pictures that way,” she said.

In 1947 Dick was made manager of the Aspen Ski Corp. Following the FIS World Championships in 1950, Dick began to shift his lifelong profession from skiing to filmmaking. His documentary of the 1950 FIS in Aspen is one of the most important films in the town’s historical archives. Dick followed this film with years of documentary filmmaking.

In addition to ski documentaries and promotional films, the Durrances traveled the world, filming documentaries with famed radio broadcaster Lowell Thomas.

Besides living in Alta and Sun Valley, through the years Dick and Miggs and their sons lived in Aspen several times, in New York City and in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Miggs recorded the evolution of Sun Valley, Alta and Aspen from little mountain towns as they grew into world-famous resorts. They returned to Aspen for good in the 1980s.

“It was exciting to live in New York City, but our heart is in the mountains and in the snow,” Miggs said. “That’s where we belong.”

Through the years with Dick or on her own, Miggs photographed in Alaska, Norway, Italy, Chile, India, Nepal, the Middle East, China and Russia. Hunger for adventure inspired her trips and her cameras made them possible. Editors from Life, Look, Sports Illustrated and the National Geographic published her pictures.

In her willingness to venture forth, Miggs made remote places seem close and inspired her family and her many friends around the world to travel far in search of their dreams.

Dick and journalist John Jerome in 1995 produced a book titled “The Man on the Medal,” which relates the lives and adventures of Miggs and Dick.

[The Durrance family was a major source of information for this story.]