Entrepreneur Jeff Brausch loses battle with cancer
Founder of Highline Sports and Entertainment leaves a legacy of great events and cherished relationships
Local entrepreneur, father and friend Jeff Brausch, of Eagle, passed away on Jan. 29 at the age of 52. Jeff was diagnosed with brain stem glioma in May of 2011. He had been battling the disease on and off for years and fought his cancer valiantly.
His wife and three children were by his side when he passed. Jeff had been married to Kelli for 28 years. Kamryn is a junior at Vail Christian High School, Kiana a freshman at the University of Georgia and Keaton is a sophomore at Gonzaga University.
Jeff was born in Fairview Park, a suburb in Cleveland, Ohio. Kelli recounts how they met.
“We met in Columbus in 1987, his sister had a party and he came later with his two friends. They went to the Stevie Ray Vaughn concert and came to the house after. We dated a little bit but broke up for a couple of years before we got back together for good,” Kelli said.
Jeff attended Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated in 1992. That same year, Jeff and Kelli got married and moved to Vail where they started a new journey and made lifelong friends.
Dave and Kathleen Cope were some of those early friends.
“I remember when we first met Jeff and Kelli and knowing they were married kind of shocked us because we were all so young. But at the same time, it seemed pretty romantic. Plus, they still went to bars, on trips to Moab, and hut trips and went skiing a lot. Old married life didn’t seem to crimp their style too much, so we all followed suit eventually and got hitched as well,” Cope said.
Jeff started out as a server at the Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail. He also had a passion for magic and was a magician for hire in his early days in the valley. He performed magic tricks at the Beaver Trap Tavern (now the Dusty Boot) in Beaver Creek Village.
Jeff and Kelli eventually started a family and Jeff, an entrepreneur at heart, started Highline Sports and Entertainment with Kelli’s brother, Scott McCormick, in 1995.
The early business provided mogul skiing athlete management. The company was named after their favorite mogul run on Vail Mountain, Highline. It eventually brought sports competitions, corporate events and concerts to Vail.
“The very next year, Red Bull descended upon the United States, specifically Vail and the Highline offices over in Vail Run. ‘Experiential marketing’ was born and Highline was at the epicenter of it,” said James Deighan, managing partner at Highline Sports and Entertainment.
Events like Red Bull Flugtag, the U.S. Freeskiing Open, Red Bull Giants of Rio, Red Bull Spring Break in Cabo, Key West and South Padre Island, Red Bull Soap Box Derby, took the small Vail start-up from Highline Sports Group to Highline Sports and Entertainment, Inc. and the local outfit produced events all over the world.
“Jeff and the Highline crew worked our butts off, but never without remembering to laugh and enjoy life,” Deighan said.
Laughter was a big part of the formula at Highline Sports and Entertainment.
“It was one of my first days on the job and Jeff and James talked me into joining them for a live television interview on TV8 in the old Lionshead studio and I was petrified. Within seconds, Jeff had us in stitches. His confidence and ease, not to mention mischievous humor, filled the room. Jeff filled every event, from Mogul Mania to the World Pond Skimming Championships, with laughter, brotherly banter and steadfast confidence. Most of all, his humor was infectious. We were a family at Highline and he will be greatly missed,” said Amy Hornyak, who was with Highline from 2003-08.
Diane Moudy of Resort Events became friends with Jeff in in the late 1990s. In 2002 he hired Moudy’s company to book the music and produce the concert for the Summer Sports Fest.
“We had The Violent Femmes and G. Love & Special Sauce outdoors and people loved it,” Moudy said. “We had a great collaborative working relationship and a great loyal friendship to the end. In business, Jeff was funny, kind, fair and honest. In friendship, he was the same. Those traits are hard to find.”
Several big name acts came to Vail and played Highline Sports and Entertainment’s events like Spring Back to Vail and Vail Snow Days. Snoop Dogg, Kid Rock, Weezer and Ludacris were just a few of the bands that played to large crowds all over Vail.
As much as Jeff and his family loved all that Vail had to offer, they also loved to travel.
“We would travel with the Brausch’s quite a bit. For our family vacations, we traveled to Nantucket, Hawaii, Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands,” said Laurie O’Connell. “Jeff also loved to travel the world fly-fishing with his dad, my husband, O.C. and good friend, Nick Noesen.”
“He had such zest for life! He never said no to anything and loved a great street taco!” O’Connell added.
Jeff left Highline a few years ago to focus on his health, which left a void for Deighan.
“I was the lone wolf standing, and without having him as my work spouse, friend and mentor for 20 years, I wouldn’t have been able to carry on,” Deighan said. “We shared so many laughs and tears together as partners, and just as many in the waning months prior to his passing.”
Ever the entrepreneur, even after creating and leaving Highline, Jeff started Switch Tires, a mobile tire service that specialized in tire sales and seasonal tire storage with another local, Adam Baker, in 2017.
Jeff’s friends said he had a great sense of humor, but most of all, he was a good person who cared about everyone around him.
“I was so lucky to work closely with him in the early years and I was inspired by witnessing his powerful fight against cancer and strong faith in the more recent years,” said Missy Johnson, who was with Highline from 2008-20. “I’m pretty certain if I had a chance to talk with him one more time, that he’d remind me to stay true to myself, clear the air whenever necessary and get ’busy livin’.’ He would shine his bright smile, crack a joke or tell a story of a stunt. I’ve been playing my music more loudly lately in honor of Jeff.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there will be a very small private mass on Saturday but Deighan said a large-scale, Highline-style memorial will take place later this year when restrictions are lifted.