Straight Up Snowmass: Gracie Oliphant has always been outside
Editor’s note: Straight Up Snowmass is a weekly series spotlighting people who live and/or work in Snowmass Village.
On purpose and with great joy, Gracie Oliphant has spent all of her life working and playing outdoors.
The 50-year Snowmass Village resident grew up on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains. When she was a young newlywed, she and her husband Bruce spent a year working to build a homestead in Alaska, felling trees to build their home, living out of a pup tent and keeping bears at bay.
“It was thrilling,” she said of that time.
But the Roaring Fork Valley beckoned, and the couple moved here in 1966, spending their first six months camping at the Maroon Bells. Eventually Oliphant started her own business in Snowmass, and the couple built a home on Oak Ridge Road.
“How wonderful it was coming here and being part of the ground floor,” Oliphant said. “We built our house with friends. There was so much camaraderie.”
Called Kinderheim after similar programs she’d seen while traveling in Europe, Oliphant’s business was a day camp for both local and visiting children focused on outdoor activities. In the winter, Kinderheim teachers would teach the children how to ski, then bring them indoors for puppet shows, arts and crafts, and playing with animals. Oliphant had everything from rabbits and guinea pigs to birds that the children could play with (with supervision), and it helped to both teach them about nature and set them at ease, she said.
“I’ve had animals all my life, and I know what a difference it makes for kids,” Oliphant said.
Oliphant sold Kinderheim after 19 years. It closed not long after, but she went on to provide insight to Aspen Skiing Co. when it decided to fill the void by developing its own program for its youngest visitors.
After that, Gracie, then single, juggled several jobs for a while. Having skied and explored the area that is now Two Creeks, she approached developers Jim Chaffin and Jim Light with a proposal to build a ski-in/ski-out cabin in those woods where she could host dinners. They agreed to give her a $10 annual lease for the land, and she and a friend cut logs with a chainsaw and hauled them in from Lenado, building her namesake cabin in 1977.
Oliphant and her guests would ski in to the sound of owls hooting and coyotes howling. When they reached the cabin, Oliphant cooked all the food on a wood stove.
“It was very gourmet food,” Oliphant said. “It was just like magic going up there. … People would drop all pretenses. Well they’d drop them along the way because it was a lot of hard work to get up there.”
Singing and playing music was a central part of the experience. John Denver and Twirp Anderson were known to play, and Chaffin and Light liked to sing.
“It was just a trip back in time,” Oliphant said.
Eventually the area was developed and the cabin closed. It was time for Oliphant’s next career: landscape design, which she is still doing today. Her business Pretty Petals serves clients in Aspen and Snowmass, mostly at people’s homes, both big and small. She still lives in her home on Oak Ridge Road.
“Everything I’ve done I’ve adored,” Oliphant said. “I feel so lucky, and it was so intentional, to have worked outdoors all my life.”
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Kenichi will open its third location in Snowmass Base Village in summer 2021, with the proposed space being remodeled this winter.