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Friends, family celebrate life of Gary Shimanowitz in Beaver Creek

Vice president of mountain operations leaves behind a big legacy

A celebration of life was held for Gary Shimanowitz Friday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek. It was a packed house as Shimanowitz touched a lot of lives throughout his decades at Vail Resorts.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Beaver Creek celebrated Gary Shimanowitz on Friday.

The mystery of Shimanosnow was revealed. Many Shimanowisms were shared. Speakers tolerated raucous moments and heckling, and the definition of the Rockford turn was recited from artofmanliness.com.

The Vilar Performing Arts Center was packed for the occasion, as Shimanowitz hadn’t yet received a local celebration of life following his death on Feb. 25. Shimanowitz was Beaver Creek’s vice president of mountain operations and, at 57 years old, his sudden death was a shock to all.



“Vail Resorts was lucky to have Gary for 31 years, but I was lucky to have him his whole life,” said Shimanowitz’s sister, Sandy Krieski.

People watch as a snowcat procession makes it way down the mountain at Gary Shimanowitz's celebration of life Friday in Beaver Creek. Shimanowitz was vice president of mountain operations.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Krieski told the crowd aside from possibly wanting to live a little longer, Shimanowitz would have had no regrets.



“Gary lived his life exactly as he wanted from the moment he stepped onto the mountain as a diamond-in-the-rough ski patroller to his final moments skiing First Tracks,” she said. “He loved his mountain, and he loved the people of the mountain … He was doing exactly what he wanted at a job, and getting paid for what he loved to do.”

People watch as a snowcat procession makes it way down the mountain at Gary Shimanowitz's celebration of life Friday in Beaver Creek.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The Breckenridge Years

While many in attendance knew Shimanowitz from his time at Beaver Creek, attendees were treated to a few stories from a period of Shimanowitz’s life they might not have known much about.

Shimanowitz referred to his time working in Breckenridge as VP of mountain operations his “Eagle County hiatus,” emcee Phil Metz told attendees.

“I think one of the most stated quotes that people heard when he was in Breckenridge was ‘Breckenridge didn’t even know what guest services was before I showed up,'” Metz said amid a roar of laughter.

Former Breckenridge COO Pat Campbell worked side by side Shimanowitz during those years, often literally as the two rode the T-bar together, resulting in one hilarious story in particular which Campbell shared.

“I’ve only failed to summit the T-bar once in my life, and it was when Gary lost his balance at the turn, ejecting me from the T, with both of us on full display in uniform in front of a full line of guests,” Campbell said. “If he were here with us today he would insist that it was my fault.”

Shimanowitz took his on-the-ground duties seriously at Breckenridge, Campbell said, embedding himself firmly within the ranks of the workers.

“I first had to pry him out of employee housing where he was comfortably ensconced, sharing walls with our lift operators,” Campbell said.

Stories by friends and family were shared about Gary Shimanowitz during his celebration of life Friday in Beaver Creek.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

While Shimanowitz’s legacy at Breckenridge is “building Peak 6 and bringing the vision there to life for our guests,” Campbell said, another lasting legacy endures every time skiers check the snowstake cameras around the state to compare which resort received the most snow after a fresh storm.

A possible explanation for Breckenridge recording more snow than nearby resorts in recent years could be “the miracle of Shimanosnow,” Campbell said.

While Vail and Breckenridge both claim about 350 inches of annual snowfall, Vail has not recorded more than 320 cumulative inches over the past decade, while Breckenridge has recorded more than 380 inches twice in the last nine years.

Shimanowitz arrived to Breckenridge in 2009 and “almost overnight, the weather patterns seemed to shift, delivering bountiful snowfall to our newly positioned snowstake, which more often than not now resulted in Breckenridge having the highest daily snowfall among our Colorado resorts,” Campbell said. “Some speculated it was the cloud seeding program he’d started, others the more favorable snowstake location, I am going to stick with the myth and miracle of Shimanosnow.”

Nadia Guerriero, vice president and chief operating officer of Beaver Creek Resort, speaks at Gary Shimanowitz's celebration of life Friday in Beaver Creek.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Riding with Gary

Shimanowitz’s friend Carol Johnson shared a memorable story of Shimanowitz behind the wheel of a rental car in the panhandle of Idaho.

“We had missed the turn, and we needed to do a U-turn,” Johnson said. “Gary was driving, of course … about to make the U-turn, Gary turned to me in the backseat with that spark in his eye you all know and said ‘wanna see my Rockford?'”

Johnson then described the Rockford turn using some steps outlined on artofmanliness.com.

Earlier, Beaver Creek COO Nadia Guerriero said her affection for Shimanowitz was also solidified in some behind-the-wheel moments, evidenced by the fact that she never felt the need to become certified to drive a company vehicle during her time working with Shimanowitz.

“Because I really wanted to spend that time with Gary,” she said.

During the McCoy Park project, which opened in January following a summer of construction, “We had a routine, every Friday I would meet him at the Covered Bridge bus stop here in the Village, and we’d make the 30-minute drive west,” Guerriero said.

When Shimanowitz returned to Beaver Creek in 2017, “all seemed right in his world,” Guerriero said.

Guerriero described some of Shimanowitz’s last moments on Friday, during a First Tracks session in which some areas of the mountain are made available to a select group before the mountain’s normal opening.

“We took two runs down the freshly groomed Birds of Prey race course, making stops along the way, he pointed things out to us. I learned what a snatch block is that morning. That’s who Gary was, a teacher, a collector of information. He placed such a high value on knowledge, and loved sharing it with everyone around him. That last morning, he was surrounded by people who admired him, respected him, adored and loved him.”


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