Aspen loses a Gentleman named ‘Danger’
ASPEN ” Anyone recruited to play prop for the Gentleman of Aspen over the years knew the stare.
Steve Main always made sure to size up the fresh meat, giving newcomers to the local rugby club a healthy once-over before asking the requisite question.
“He’d walk up to them and say, ‘You play prop, huh?'” said Mark Williams, the former Gents coach and captain who met Main only after the latter’s playing days were over. “Then he’d ask, ‘You think you’re tough enough?'”
It’s a question Main, who passed away at his Woody Creek ranch on Sunday at the age of 66, never needed to ask himself.
Not “Danger,” as he was known to friends and teammates.
Born in Los Angeles in 1942, Main grew into a state high school wrestling champ and football standout as a schoolboy in Southern California. He was a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade that made one of the unit’s last combat jumps in Vietnam. After his tour in Southeast Asia, he played football for two seasons at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He then made the natural transition to the rugby pitch, and after moving to Aspen after college in the late ’60s, quickly established himself as the one guy not to mess with in the middle of a scrum.
“He was a center in football and a prop in rugby,” said Jim Spann, an old Gents teammate who estimated he first met Main in 1968. “It’s like trench warfare in there when you’re a prop. And Steve was extremely hostile and aggressive. … He was a war counselor, just ready to do battle until the last drop.”
“As tough as they come,” said another friend, Rob Snyder, who started playing for the Gents in 1977. “Just a hard, hard man. You wanted him as a teammate.”
And even more so as a friend.
While Main could be a grizzly bear on the pitch, off it he was one of the most generous, loyal guys you could ever meet, his old teammates said.
Kelly Klein, another one of the Gents’ old guard, said he had moved into Main’s position on the front line in the summer of 1976 when Main was vacationing in Hawaii. When Main returned to Aspen, he didn’t take kindly to the new guy on the squad.
“That first summer practicing with Danger, he beat the snot out of me,” Klein said. “Of course, we ended up being great friends.”
Some of Klein’s fondest memories of Main date back to when Danger rounded up a posse of Gents for annual trips to Crested Butte on horseback.
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Danger would put this trip together every year,” Klein said. “We’d all load up the trailers with horses and head out to East Maroon and ride over to Crested Butte. … Steve always had the saddlebags loaded up with beers and Jack Daniels …”
Dave Lennon, who met Main when both were at CU in the late ’60s, said Main convinced him to come to Aspen after graduation to play rugby and live the good life out on the old Six Mile Ranch on Brush Creek Road, where Spann and Main lived.
When Lennon moved to Aspen in 1972, he said Main also set him up with work. Main, at the time, was a “racer chaser,” working as a ski rep and equipment technician for Look Nevada bindings and Nordica. During the winter, Main followed the U.S. Ski Team around the globe, working long hours while tuning and waxing skis and setting bindings for the country’s best alpine skiers.
Main offered Lennon a similar gig, and the two traveled and worked together for a couple of years.
“Steve would work 14 hours a day,” Lennon said. “He was always the first guy to the mountain and the last guy there. And he was a great mentor and friend.”
Lennon said it was former U.S. alpine great Cindy Nelson who coined Main’s nickname.
“Steve was working down in Chile, at Portillo, where the U.S. team was training,” Lennon said. “He was in the ski room, and he’d probably been in there six hours already, and had his wax pot going and was talking loud, probably arguing with the Rossignol rep. Cindy walked by and saw him and said, ‘That guy is dangerous.'”
Main eventually stopped chasing races in the ’70s, Lennon said, but still stayed involved with World Cup skiing, running the Winternational’s course security team on Aspen Mountain for more than a decade. The security outfit was known as “Danger’s Rangers.”
Main also kept up his ties with the local rugby club, even after his knees ” after years of abuse ” had given up on him. After he bought his own ranch in Woody Creek, Main would often let rugby players new to Aspen stay at his place while they got settled in town.
“He always made time for new players,” Williams said. “If a player came and needed a place to stay, Steve would help them out. If he was going somewhere scuba diving, he’d give the guys his house and stuff. He kept the connection strong.”
“He was incredibly generous,” Snyder said. “A number of guys got their start in town staying on his ranch, and benefited from his generosity. He was a great guy. It’s a huge loss.”
Spann remembers the same generosity, among other things. He also said Main was a proud patriot who demanded that his teammates showed class during trips abroad to play matches. Main also had a keen awareness about his surroundings. Spann mentioned one memory in particular, when Main jumped into a pond to help a young woman during a rugby party.
“Everybody else wasn’t paying attention, but Steve had been trained as a soldier and was such a good water man and a diver that he just immediately realized she needed help and jumped in and saved her,” Spann said. “He had sort of a John Wayne persona. Once he’s your friend, he’s it for life. He was a boy scout, and had old-fashioned values. Just very loyal, responsible, generous and brave.”
Those values will certainly be talked about today when friends and family gather for a private memorial at Main’s Woody Creek ranch.
“We don’t forget people like Steve who paved the way for making Aspen rugby the way it is today,” Williams said. “He was from the old guard, and we all take that to heart really. We owe him and all the other old boys a debt of gratitude for giving everything they did to get us where we are.”
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