Greg Mace Award given to Vagneur for promoting Aspen history
Pitkin county cares awards
Other Pitkin County Cares award-winners this year:
Outstanding Volunteer Organization — Mountain Rescue Aspen for its searches, rescues and recoveries in the mountains
Youth Award: Terry Leitch, for his volunteer work with the Aspen Buddy Program at their annual summer camping experience
Environment Award: Ruthie Brown for her work on the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board and Citizens Climate Lobby
Community Pride Award: Carl Buckingham, for his volunteer work on Pearl Pass
Good Samaritan Award: Bob Cook, for volunteer work with the Aspen Elk Club’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee
Good Samaritan Award: Jack Kennedy, for his volunteer work with Challenge Aspen as a board member and all-around helper
Exceptional One-time Event Award: Sue Kendig, for volunteer work to help raise $1 million for Aspen Historical Society’s archive building renovation
When Aspen Mountain was open for the first Friday of the season last week, Tony Vagneur was back on familiar ground — sharing his perspective on the illustrious history of the town and ski area.
Vagneur gives two history tours every Friday of ski season as part of Aspen Skiing Co.’s ambassador program. He leads a free tour at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. from the mountaintop for anyone who wants to learn about the area.
“I get as many locals as people from out of town,” he said.
That’s understandable. Vagneur, a Roaring Fork Valley native and Aspen Times columnist, is widely recognized as one of the most vital and passionate keepers of Aspen’s history. As the son of a multi-generational ranching family that homesteaded in the Woody Creek area, he’s got a wealth of information about cows and cowboys. As a kid who started skiing at about the same time he started walking, he knows Aspen Mountain better than Donald Trump knows Twitter.
Vagneur was recognized earlier this month for his volunteer work as a champion for history. He was selected for the Greg Mace Award, given annually to an Aspen-area resident who stands out among volunteers.
“I was totally blindsided,” Vagneur said. “I figured I was done getting noticed for anything.”
He said it was particularly rewarding because he knew Mace, who was an older schoolmate in Aspen. Greg was killed during training with Mountain Rescue Aspen in 1986. The award was founded in his memory by his sister, Lynne Mace, and is given to a person who shows selfless dedication to a nonprofit, commitment to improving the community and respected leadership abilities — all qualities displayed by Greg. The Greg Mace Award is now part of the annual Pitkin County Cares Volunteer Service Awards.
In addition to the history tours on Aspen Mountain, Vagneur serves on the Aspen Historical Society’s board of directors, which he said is an honor.
“It is the final arbiter on Aspen history, pretty much,” he said.
Vagneur wasn’t a fan of history in school, probably because of the way it was usually presented.
“It was so dry,” he said.
But because his family’s roots in the valley go back to when his “great-granddad” arrived in about 1882, he naturally gravitated toward stories of times past.
He has a flair for storytelling, which coaxes history to life. He’s been writing his column, which often touches on history, since 2005. He’s also written an Aspen history book that’s been well-received. Vagneur has been sharing his stories long enough that he knows what people enjoy.
“I think they like the animal stories the best — horses, dogs and cows,” he said.
While in the tour on Aspen Mountain, he usually talks about how Mount Hayden up the Castle Creek Valley was originally eyed for skiing — a plan dashed by World War II. He also might bring along old photos of Tourtelotte Park, a small town and intensive mining area on Aspen Mountain in the late 1880s and into the 1890s above today’s Bonnie’s Restaurant.
Vagneur said so much of Aspen history is inaccurately reported so he strives to get the facts right. And he’s on a constant quest to keep learning.
“When I find a book I haven’t read, it’s, ‘Oh, better check it out,’” he said.
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An unwelcome but familiar weather pattern in the Aspen-area mountains has created conditions that are once again ripe for avalanches. The early, ample snow in October was followed by dry periods. That resulted in a poor foundation for the snowpack. Steep slopes on north to east aspects pose the greatest threat.