AVSC recognizes newest hall of fame members at T-Lazy-7 Ranch
Before John Bakken started Aspen Gymnastics 25 years ago, he was back in Boulder and came upon an old VHS tape that sparked something inside of him. It featured Norway ski racing legends Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus training at a gymnastics gym in their native country.
Bakken was so intrigued by it he reached out to University of Colorado ski coach Richard Rokos, who then was only at the beginning of what is now a near three-decade stint leading the Buffaloes.
“Man, they were good, too. It was the coolest thing,” Bakken recalled Saturday of that tape. “I told him about it and he came over and saw the video and the next week he had his kids — the ski team was all over there in the gym and they’ve been going to that same gym now for 30 years.”
Bakken, who grew up ski racing at Minnesota’s Buck Hill much like the great Lindsey Vonn — although admittedly he was much slower — found a way to connect to his ski racing background through his career as a gymnastics coach. For this reason, he was one of those honored Saturday night during the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s annual hall of fame dinner at the T-Lazy-7 Ranch.
“Before AVSC had trampolines and super tramps and air bags, we had John Bakken and Aspen Gymnastics,” said AVSC freestyle program director Eric Knight during his introduction. “There are not a lot of ski clubs in the country that have a gymnastics center and a staff of gymnastics coaches to teach their kids and take them out of their comfort zone. John has a tremendous talent for raising the intensity of training sessions and pushing them out of their comfort zone.”
Bakken was presented with the Community Impact Award, the third such person to receive that award since the AVSC hall of fame celebration started back in 2012. Jeff Gorsuch and his family received the original award that year, while John Keleher received it in 2015.
Knight estimated the AVSC athletes — which include ski racers, freestyle skiers and snowboarders — have had around 1,200 training sessions with Bakken and his gymnastics staff over the years. Bakken also has hosted members of the U.S. Ski Team, including Bode Miller, and worked alongside the Canadian and Norwegian national alpine teams.
“It’s a real honor to be recognized tonight,” Bakken said during his talk Saturday. “I always had a passion for skiing, so when I came out here I wanted to try and figure out a way to get these other athletes involved in gymnastics because we feel the kinesthetic awareness and the balance and the strength and the coordination and all the things that we bring to the table with gymnastics really helps these athletes.”
Second among the three hall of fame inductees Saturday was Aspen Elks Lodge No. 224, which received the Most Valuable Partner Award, joining Aspen Skiing Co. (2012) and Alpine Bank (2018) in that honor. The Elks have long supported AVSC, including through helping fund its annual Fourth of July barbecue and providing scholarships for some of its high-level athletes.
“I’m so happy to still be able to put our name on the Aspen Ski Club,” said Aspen Elks trustee Tommy Moore. “It’s really an honor for us.”
Moore was presented the award on behalf of the lodge alongside fellow trustees Rick Head, Kevin Hagerty and Exalted Ruler Stacey Stuart. Moore was given the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
The third inductee was the Oates family, which received the Legacy Family Award. They joined the Marolts (2012), Hoffs (2014) and Callahans (2018) in that honor.
A multi-generational Aspen family, the crew is still led by Cherie Oates, now 77, who learned to ski when the first chairlift was put on Aspen Mountain just after World War II.
With numerous members of her family front and center with her, the first thing Cherie Oates did was to hand her granddaughter, Aspen High School senior Ellie Oates, the microphone so she could talk about her recent competitions and college prospects. Ellie has become an accomplished big mountain skier through the club.
“There is not a more deserving family,” Jeff Gorsuch said during his introduction of the Oates family.
Also recognized prior to the official hall of fame inductions were Valley Settlement, the Carbondale-based organization with a mission “to empower immigrant families in the Roaring Fork Valley to improve their lives,” and the AHS ski teams.
AHS alpine ski coach Jennifer Morandi-Benson spoke on behalf of the high school teams, which have long had a strong relationship with the club. The AHS boys ski team won its ninth state championship on Friday in Durango, with the girls having finished second.
Of the 10 players listed on the varsity roster ahead of Tuesday’s home game with Summit, two were juniors, seven were sophomores and one was a freshman. It’s a far cry from the class of 10 seniors who last season led the Skiers to a perfect 27-0 mark and the Class 3A state championship.