King of the hill Peter King retires after 45 years with Aspen Skiing Co.
Peter King started his career 45 years ago as a ski instructor at Buttermilk. Today he will hang up his aspen leaves as Aspen Mountain manager.
In between, he did a little bit of everything at Aspen Skiing Co. He is credited with helping turn the sleepy Cloud Nine restaurant at Aspen Highlands into the happening party place on the slopes. He rose through the ranks to serve as ski school director at Buttermilk and later Aspen Mountain. He was part of the team that successfully prepared Aspen Mountain for the whirlwind that was the World Cup Finals last season.
But perhaps he will best be remembered as a steady hand guiding Aspen Mountain over the past 12 seasons.
“I do tell people I think I have the best job in the world,” he said from his office this week at the bottom of the Silver Queen Gondola.
King is, by all accounts within and outside the company, a super nice guy who doesn’t like to toot his own horn. P.K., as many people call him, said his 45 years with Skico should only be viewed in the context of the larger team. In every position he held in the company he interacted with people with vision, commitment and passion.
“Any success I’ve had is because of the effort of so many people,” he said. “They’re tiptop in the field, I think.”
While King is humble about his accomplishments, Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan credited King with acting selfless and passionately for the benefit of the company.
King was the mountain manager at Buttermilk in 1993 when leadership decided to make some structural changes with the mountain managers.
“P.K. was the first one to step up and volunteer to try something different, in this case becoming food and beverage director for the on-mountain restaurants,” Kaplan said. “We had recently decided to make food and beverage a core part of the guest experience, and P.K. threw himself into the effort with gusto, a willingness to learn and a determination to succeed. Cloud 9 was born from his leadership, as was the Mongolian Barbeque at the Cliffhouse.”
King came to Aspen to ski rather than pursue a career. He visited on a ski trip in between semesters of his senior year at Syracuse University and thought “what a great place.” He moved to Aspen after graduating in 1971 and worked in restaurants and hotels.
“I worked in Little Annie’s the day they opened” in summer 1972, he said.
After a couple of seasons, some friends urged him to try out to be a ski instructor. He recalled getting assessed by a panel for the better part of a week before making the cut.
He taught skiing and pieced together other jobs during winters. He worked construction in summers. After a decade he earned a promotion to director of Buttermilk Ski School, where he worked from 1983 to about 1988. He was again promoted to head the Aspen Mountain Ski School from 1988 to 1990.
He advanced to become Buttermilk Mountain manager from 1990 to 1999, then volunteered to serve as food and beverage director, a position he held for seven years.
In 2006, Doug MacKenzie retired as Snowmass Mountain manager so Steve Sewell, who also is retiring after this season, moved over from Aspen Mountain to Snowmass. King was selected to manage Aspen, one of the most demanding positions in the company, if not the ski industry.
“Aspen has a very savvy and sophisticated skiing clientele,” Kaplan said. “Under P.K.’s leadership, attention to detail was a focus — lifts open on time every day including powder days, grooming is perfect, lift mazes tight, as much terrain that can be open is ready to go.”
King’s team also came up with initiatives such as opening early in the season when possible, extending the season, Memorial Day skiing and sunset skiing.
“P.K. and his team met every new challenge with passion and excelled under the operations microscope that is Aspen Mountain,” Kaplan said.
King said the breadth and diversity of the experiences at Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk was fascinating. There’s a thrill at Buttermilk of working with people new to the sport of skiing and getting them to the point after a day or so when they can ride to the top of the mountain. Their reaction when they soak in the view that includes the Maroon Bells is priceless, he said.
Aspen Mountain is known for attracting loyal locals and visitors who have high expectations and aren’t afraid to voice opinions on how things should be.
“I’ve appreciated how important this mountain is to so many people,” King said. “It’s a real special place.”
For the record, he calls it Aspen Mountain and never by its nickname of Ajax. Some people are particular about that, one way or another.
His favorite skiing is on the Face of Bell, where he said it’s always fun to “poke around and find good lines.”
King said he could count on one hand the number of times he didn’t make it out on the hill during the days he was on duty. Being mountain manager isn’t an office-bound job.
So why retire now?
“I’m torn about it,” he said.
While King said it is the best job on the world, he is looking forward to more free time as he closes in on age 69 in October. His wife, Carol, is retiring after this school year as a longtime physical education teacher at Basalt Elementary School.
King sees great things ahead for Aspen Mountain, specifically with the proposed expansion into the Pandora terrain on the upper east end of the mountain, to skier’s right of Walsh’s run. He thinks it will spread out skiers more and provide a different type of tree-skiing experience for the mountain.
“There will be a little more secluded feel,” he said.
One of his fondest memories is working with Jimmy Hancock and a broad spectrum of Skico employees and volunteers to host the World Cup Finals in March 2017. The event is intense because so many events are packed into so few days.
He said he also enjoys working for the Skico leadership and the owners, the Crown family. They care about the company, the employees and the community, he said.
“It’s a privilege to work with them,” King said.
The Kings plan to stay put in Basalt after they retire. Peter looks forward to hitting the slopes next season as a customer.
“I’ll want to ski all four mountains a lot more,” he said.
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With the likelihood that some level of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings will still be in place come Mountain Fair weekend, July 23-25, organizers are taking some aspects of the fair to the streets and elsewhere around town.