Snowmass history: Meet Bill Janss, part 3 of 3 |

Snowmass history: Meet Bill Janss, part 3 of 3

Jim Snobble, an Aspen Ski School guide and instructor, leads three people through powder above the Timberline at Snowmass in 1967.
Aspen Historical Society |

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50th anniversary, this page, which continues to be a partnership with the Aspen Historical Society, will feature historical content related to the ski area’s inception.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 is the third of a three-part series. If you have pieces of Snowmass history to donate, email

“For anyone less far-sighted than Janss, it seemed to be the most unpropitious of times to think of another ski area in Aspen. Whip Jones was building his Aspen Highlands and, across the valley, Robert Anderson was bankrolling Friedl Pfeiffer’s Buttermilk. Said a native, totally unaware of the Janss plans, ‘We’re going to have skiing running out of our ears.’

For two years Janss ran his property ostensibly as a cattle ranch. He also busied himself acquiring two adjoining ranches and, with Pitcher, began exploration of the mountain. It was inevitable that the word would leak out. A stockholder in the Aspen Skiing Corporation, Janss was elected to the board of directors. ‘I think they did it because they wanted to know what I was doing,’ he commented. From this new vantage point he proceeded to further develop his concepts for the area. In the summer of 1961, Janss arrived at the first rough outline of a plan of action. The Aspen Skiing Corporation was to conduct the exploration of the mountain-whose name was changed by that time to Snowmass- with an eye toward eventually building and operating the lifts and on-mountain facilities. The Janss Corporation was to evolve plans for the base complex of lodges, restaurants, shops, houses and summer facilities.

Mountain exploration is unusual inasmuch as it involves both recreational skiers and area experts. Uphill transportation at Snowmass is provided by two 10-passenger Thiokol Trackmasters which make several trips up the mountain each day. Since there is an absolute limit of 20 trips and snow is frequent, the area has become a paradise for powder hounds, who, while effusive in their favorable reaction, would rather see the area remain undeveloped. ‘What do they want to do that for?’ said one enthusiast when learned that a trail would be groomed and packed for the 1964-65 season. ‘Now I’ll have to start climbing again.’

But these long-term explorations have already yielded valuable dividends. Initially it was thought that most of the Snowmass terrain would be primarily beginner through high intermediate. But last winter Manager Jim Snobble, one of this country’s great powder skiers, discovered that the slopes toward Snowmass Camp Ground are ideal expert terrain, being roughly a mixture of nearby Aspen Mountain’s Bell Mountain and Ruthie’s Run. While Snobble wrestles with the multitude of technical problems-the main lifts will be over 16,000 feet long and the conventional system of patrolling won’t work- the Janss team is involved in making the base area compatible with nature.

‘We haven’t settled on a thing yet,’ Bill Janss said. ‘What we have done so far is to become immersed in the idea of the area and what we think we can do with it. We know that we want to work with native materials to the largest extent possible. We know that we want to get people out of the city physically and mentally. And we want people to genuinely identify themselves with the tremendous wilderness area adjoining the mountain.’

Although the methodology is the same, the specific approaches to Snowmass and Sun Valley inevitably will differ. The former has to be carved out of the raw, the latter has to be expanded from a well-established base. ‘Both in terrain and character, Sun Valley is very much like St. Anton and we’ll probably develop around the continental atmosphere. At Snowmass we not only have to consider Aspen-both aesthetically and economically- but the fact that the area is much more alpine in nature, more along the lines of the classic glacier runs of Europe.’… With their almost simultaneous plans for two of the five largest ski resorts in the country, the Janss brothers are more than casually aware that they have made a gigantic splash in skiing, But behind this drive –‘they’re not the kind that count their hours,’ an intimate of the Janss team said of their capacity for work- there is also a well-schooled patience.

‘We’ve been around development and skiing a long time,’ Bill Janss said. ‘The true profits come from the satisfaction of having created something that has genuine value. If you do that, you don’t have to worry about commercial worth. That’ll take care of itself.’”