Family, friends remember Snowmass ski instructor Uli Lerch
Longtime Snowmass ski instructor Uli Lerch, an early member of Stein Eriksen’s ski school, died Feb. 8. He was 85.
Lerch was born in Longenbruch, Switzerland, in 1928. He learned to ski at age 5 and would become a Swiss national ski jumper at a young age, according to John Kneiper, manager of the Snowmass Ski and Snowboard School.
Lerch taught skiing at Mount Snow in Vermont in the early 1960s. He and friend Franz Kopp, of Germany, left the resort to work on ships in Canada.
Lifelong friend Amund Ekroll hired Lerch when he and Kopp moved to Snowmass together in 1968, the second year of the resort. Lerch would go on to be a supervisor in the ski school.
“He was very well-liked,” Ekroll said. “He was very good with people. He was so calm and nice, and he was very fair to everybody, and everybody liked him.”
Legendary ski racer Eriksen directed the Snowmass Ski School in its early years, and the European instructors he hired, including Ekroll and Lerch, put the resort on the map, Ekroll said.
“They were the kings of the mountain for a long, long time,” said Paula Lerch, Uli’s wife. “The original crew, they stayed pretty tight all these years. It was their life, and a lot of them are still doing it.”
Uli often won the “Stein races,” a ski-school event annually held in the spring, Paula said. He was also a passionate golfer, winning the Snowmass Club championship several times in the 1980s.
His love for golf connected him with people. Ekroll said he and Lerch became close later in life playing the sport together, and Lerch met Paula while she was working at the restaurant on the Snowmass golf course in the mid-1970s. They married in 1981 and lived on the golf course for about a decade.
Lerch’s stepchildren Anthony Benham, of Silt, and Courtney Wood, of Brisbane, Australia, were young when he and Paula married, and called Lerch “dad.” Both were able to see him before his death, Paula said.
Paula said her husband was an interesting man who “did a lot.”
“He saved a man’s life during World War II, and the man gave him a ruby ring, and he never took that ruby ring off until the day he died,” Paula said.
While shoveling coal on ships in the Great Lakes, Lerch convinced three men to leave the ship with him because he saw that the captain was using cheap coal, Paula said.
“The ship sunk the next day,” she said. “He did a lot of things like that. He was a good man that way; he kind of read situations well.”
Lerch learned to speak English by watching old Western movies in Canadanian theaters, Paula said.
“Some of his ways of expressing things was kind of funny,” Paula said.
Trained in upholstery and carpentry, Lerch was a man of many talents. He used his carpentry skills to build houses in the summertime throughout the area, Paula said.
Lerch was close with many of the original ski-school instructors, Paula said, including Henrik Brusletto, of Norway, who died Nov. 8. A large memorial was held for Brusletto in the Elk Camp Restaurant on Dec. 13, which was Lerch’s last outing in public, Paula said.
Ekroll said the surviving members got together and toasted Lerch at the Mountain Dragon recently.
“We had a lot of fun,” Ekroll said. “We had a lot of good days together. … He was a very comfortable man to be around.”
Lerch remained a contributing member of the ski-school team up until this season, Kneiper said.
“He had a great life; that’s the main part,” Paula said. “A long one, a big one, and he had a good time.”
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