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Meet Your Merchant: Jeff Hauser, CEO of Challenge Aspen

Challenge Aspen CEO Jeff Hauser holds up the award for Best Nonprofit during the Best of Aspen and Best of Snowmass Party 2019 at The Wheeler on Oct. 23, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Editor’s note: This interview was edited and condensed.

The winter season will look a bit different this year at Challenge Aspen, an adaptive sports nonprofit organization based in the Snowmass Mall. A reconfigured office, temperature checks, half-capacity vans and more socially distanced activities are part of the new status quo — but that doesn’t mean participants will miss out on the on-mountain experience.

For this month’s Meet Your Merchant, we talked with current Challenge Aspen CEO Jeff Hauser about leadership development, COVID-19 protocols and the start of the winter season as he nears the end of his tenure as CEO. Challenge Aspen announced in October that he is stepping down “to focus on personal pursuits,” but will remain with the nonprofit for several months to help with the transition to a new leader.

Snowmass Sun: Before joining Challenge Aspen in 2017, you ran Hauser and Associates, a strategic consulting firm (specializing in leadership development). How has your consulting background influenced the way you’re leading Challenge Aspen?

Jeff Hauser: My philosophy — still to this day— is, as the leadership goes, so goes the organization. If you can prepare the leadership with as many tools to help them be successful as possible, your organization will probably reflect that and do very, very well. I think what I bring to Challenge Aspen is my interest and habits around leadership, and trying to always help our staff in any way I can bolster their leadership abilities.

I have always thought the outdoors was a fantastic classroom, to help people learn and grow and develop more confidence and really great self esteem and self image. That’s, bottom line, what we do at Challenge Aspen, too. We have this wonderful outdoor background called the Roaring Fork Valley. And we take people with all forms of disabilities, and we try to show them in a very concrete way that they are very capable, able people.

That’s really what our job is, and we hope that translates to the rest of their lives. I’m a big believer in that. And it’s worked for me personally. I’ve seen it help lots of people.

SS: I know this season is going to be an interesting one — a lot of things have changed since last winter, namely the COVID-19 pandemic. With that in mind, what can people expect to be different about Challenge Aspen operations this season?

JH: The word interesting is the exact word for this, because there are a lot of unknowns. We are fully preparing to open when the mountain opens — we’re already taking reservations. But what’s going to be different is all the precautions that we’ve learned since the start of the pandemic: certainly masks, certainly social distancing.

We will follow all the protocols that the Aspen Ski Co. has put in place. We’ll be using masks on the mountain. We’ll be trying to maintain proximity with some social distance built in. so we may be standing a little further apart when we’re providing instruction. We’ll certainly be cleaning equipment after instruction is provided. Like everything, we’ll have to see how it works and how it goes, and be prepared to adjust if it’s not working for some reason.

SS: Will the Challenge Aspen season start the same day that the season starts at Snowmass?

JH: We start when the mountain opens, yep. Their first day is our first day. (Skico) is just a wonderful partner and is very supportive of Challenge Aspen. And I think part of how we can help (Skico) is to put our participants on the mountain and show people that this can be done safely.

We’re very visible. We have these really neon yellow jackets — you cannot miss a Challenge Aspen participant and staff out there. I think that’ll help us, certainly, but it also helps our partner in (skico) test out their protocols, and try to give everybody a sense that this can be done safely.

SS: What are you most looking forward to this winter season?

JH: I really look forward to seeing our participants again. This summer, we’ve had a little bit lower volume of participant engagement. We’ve done a lot of things online, but I love interacting with our participants and our families.

Some of our folks, they live many states away, so my only chance to see them is during our school season. I look forward to our veterans coming in and participating with us, and to our locals here in the valley that ski with us and participate in our Special Olympics winter sports program. I just love interacting with participants, who bring a lot of happiness and smiles and energy to our office. I can’t wait to see them and welcome them back.


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