Snowmass history: Meet Bill Janss, part 2 of 3
Editor’s note: In honor of the ski resort’s 50th anniversary, this page, which continues to be a partnership with the Aspen Historical Society, will feature historical content related to the ski area’s inception. The following excerpt by John Henry Auran was published in a December 1964 edition of Ski Magazine and will appear in three parts over the next three weeks. If you have pieces of Snowmass history to donate, email email@example.com.
“A recreational development is not a subdivision,’”Bill Janss says. ‘The last thing you want is a city or a suburb. The relationships between mountains, streams, trees and man-made facilities are critical and a mistake once made is almost impossible to correct. Nature, pitted against man with modern tools, is becoming more fragile all the time.” This concern, almost by definition, requires that Janss acquire vast tracts of land, regardless of the immediate scope of the project. The firm then can supervise the development and maintain control over the entire environment. This discourages parasite developments such as the neon-lights motel rows which disgrace almost every natural attraction in the United States.
It was such reasoning which led to the discussion on Aspen Mountain’s Sundeck, the two brothers had been coming to Aspen since 1950 and had watched the once almost-abandoned mining town boom. Even as early as the mid-’50s it was becoming apparent that skiing was going to outgrow its britches. Confiding in Pitcher, Ed and Bill Janss ticked off their requirements. Basically they were looking for a “super mountain anywhere in Colorado,” one with plenty of private developable land at its base. “Take all the time you want,’”they told Pitcher.
Pitcher, an enthusiastic flyer and inveterate bushwacker, literally searched high and low. For almost three years he cruised the Rocky Mountains by plane and foot. Somewhat ironically, the answer came when he was sitting on a tractor while haying his Aspen ranch. It seems almost incredible that no one had looked at Mount Baldy, eight miles west of Aspen. But as Pitcher was contemplating the scenery, it suddenly occurred to him that there was a supermountain almost in his back yard. An examination of U.S. Geologic Survey maps confirmed his judgment. There were 4,300 feet from valley floor to peak and about 10,000 skiable acres.
As it later turned out, Pitcher was not the first one to spot the mountain. Pete Seibert, who was event hen looking for a ski area of his own, had looked it over but decided that it would be too big and too difficult to develop. He opted for Vail instead.
Coincidentally, it turned out that the 100-acre Hoaglund ranch at the base of the mountain was for sale. Having satisfied himself that the area had unlimited potential, and that it met all the Janss prerequisites, Pitcher got on the trans-Atlantic telephone. “Buy that ranch,” he told Bill Janss, who was then in Copenhagen. Janss rushed back from Europe to close the deal.
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