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Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

If you believe the adage that “he who skis the most days wins,” then there is no bigger winner in this Valley, indeed, perhaps the entire world, than Klaus Obermeyer.

I guess it is possible that there may be someone who has skied more runs than Klaus, but given his status as a Nonagenarian, that is someone who is between 90 and 100 years old, and his continuing habit of skiing most every day during his lunch hour, I seriously doubt it.

Klaus, if you have not heard, took a rare ski fall earlier this month at the bottom of Racers Edge on Tiehack and broke the biggest bone in the human body, his femur. Ouch. According to all accounts he will be fine, but still, it was shock to many to hear that the legendary Klaus Obermeyer, not only took a fall, but actually injured himself. I mean if anyone is immune to a ski injury one would think that it would be Klaus.

Consider that Klaus began sliding downhill in his hometown on the Swiss-Austrian border at age 3 and has been skiing for more than 87 years. And, according to Klaus, who is likely the only one around to remember, he has never been injured skiing. Ever. That is an amazing for guy who has put in something like two zillion miles on the slopes.

Klaus’ injury-free streak in Aspen goes back to the 1940s when he came here to teach skiing. Contemporaries included a young Warren Miller who began making ski films while spending his evenings sleeping in the back of his car, and Friedl Pfeiffer who became one of this country’s most influential ski instructors. In addition to skiing daily, Klaus contributed to the growth and popularity of the sport by creating and manufacturing the first down jackets. The innovation changed skiing forever as it allowed people who could not tolerate the elements the opportunity to get out there on the hill in comfort and, as time marched on, in style.

His eponymous skiwear company, Obermeyer, has been an industry leader since he started it, creating new and innovative products, while also setting standards in employee relations and business practices. It has grossed millions of dollars a year but it still manages to maintain a small town, small company feel, largely because Klaus likes it that way.

But Klaus’ status as an icon in this town has much more to do with his spirit and his skills on the hill than his business acumen. No one who has skied with him, or rather behind him, will forget the experience of watching him float down the mountain at breakneck speeds in complete and total control. Nor will the sound of his signature yodel ever fade from memory.

A few years ago at a party celebrating his 89th birthday someone asked Klaus when was the last time he had “skied his age?” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant until the questioner noted that seven years ago on the 24 Hours of Aspen course Klaus had been clocked at 82 miles per hour – days after his 82nd birthday.

While it is likely that Klaus’s days of skiing his age may be over there is little doubt that he will be back on the hill, if not this season, then the next. While his femur may be broken, his spirit remains unbowed.

And in the sport he loves, that may well be the most important thing.


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