Breckenridge chief John Buhler hangs up his hat after 27 years with Vail Resorts
‘To have the ability to have an entire career in a field that was your lifelong passion is pretty cool and pretty rare’
Longtime Vail Resorts employee John Buhler is retiring from his position as chief operating officer of Breckenridge Ski Resort. Buhler has served as the COO of Breckenridge for six years following his five-year role in the same position at Keystone Resort.
With a dad on ski patrol, Buhler started skiing when he was just 2 years old. After getting involved with other sports during his teenage years in high school, Buhler revived his passion for skiing in 1980, when he kicked off his career in the ski industry as a part-time instructor in California.
“To have the ability to have an entire career in a field that was your lifelong passion is pretty cool and pretty rare,” Buhler said, adding that the reason he got into the ski industry is the same reason he’s stuck with it for nearly 30 years. “It’s the passion for the sport that I love, the mountains. And more than that, it’s the passion of everyone that lives up here.”
After progressing as an instructor, he became the ski school director at Mountain High Resort in California and then made his way to Breckenridge as the ski school manager in 1994. In that role, Buhler was credited with creating the family-friendly resort icon Ripperroo, Vail Resorts’ dog mascot.
When working to name the mascot, Buhler said he took drawings of the dog to the two Breckenridge elementary schools and created a contest for students to color the image and come up with a name. The winner was rewarded with a snowboard, and Ripperroo was born.
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“We have so many people that come to Breckenridge from around the world, and I felt like we could step our game up in the kid’s world,” Buhler said about his efforts with building children’s programming.
In 2010, Buhler became the chief operating officer of Keystone and worked to build a family-friendly atmosphere at the resort with Kidtopia children’s programming and the snow fort on top of Dercum Mountain. He was asked to take the helm at Breckenridge in 2015.
At Breckenridge, Buhler oversaw major capital improvement projects, adding the Falcon chair and the Pioneer Crossing restaurant to the mountain. He also spearheaded the Peak 8 base area update, which included escalators, new locations for ticket sales, the Breckenridge Ski & Snowboard School and retail and rental stores.
In his 27 years with Vail Resorts, Buhler said he’s most proud of the teams he’s built.
“In every position I’ve had, I feel like I’ve built a really strong team and have had great players around me,” Buhler said.
As for passing on the torch to the next leader at Breckenridge, Buhler said he would want the person who fills his shoes to know “what an amazing community they’re joining.”
He went on to say why he’s made Summit County his longtime home.
“It’s a lot of like-minded people who love to live, work and play in this environment, and I just think it’s such a caring community,” Buhler said. “The amount of support for our nonprofits — the willingness to give is huge here. People are concerned about the environment; people are here for the right reasons, I believe, and that makes it easy to want to live here.”
Buhler said he’s not afraid to put himself out there for the community, naming his participation in “Dancing with the Mountain Stars,” a fundraising event for the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center Foundation, as an example. Buhler danced in the event in front of 800 community members to the theme song of “Mission Impossible” despite proclaiming that he “can’t dance at all.”
Buhler will officially retire after the ski season comes to a close at the end of May. However, he plans to stick around, staying in the county with his wife, spending more time with his two daughters — one of whom lives in the area with her husband and children — and skiing moguls, which he said is still one of his favorite things to do.