Family. Highline. Jeff. All three words are synonymous
James Deighan reflects on the legendary Highline Sports and Entertainment and its founder, Jeff Brausch
Special to the Daily
Jeffery Charles Brausch encapsulated the word “family.” The Highline Family lost its founding father last week. His family, Kelli, Keaton, Kiana and Kamryn, have lost their father. The Vail Valley has lost a true pioneer and friend.
In 1995 Jeff, along with Kelli and her brother Scott McCormick, set out to start a sports marketing business in and around the mogul skiing world. A few other characters along the way joined the team: Rod Higgins, Adam Baker, Herb Heneman and myself, weaving our way around a brand new type of business, just as though we were navigating the bumps of the infamous Chair 10 Highline mogul run, the bump-run after which the company was aptly named.
The very next year, Red Bull descended upon the United States, specifically Vail, and the Highline offices (clubhouse) over in Vail Run. Experiential Marketing was born and Highline was at the epicenter of it. 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 – they took Highline Sports Group and made it into Highline Sports & Entertainment, Inc. all over the world. Jeff and Highline worked our asses off, but never without remembering to laugh and enjoy life.
Mogul Mania was created to fill the winters and in the summer months, the Vail Mountain Bike Challenge. Four misfits, Jeff, Scott, Herb and James set out to create experiences, which provided entertainment for the mountain community surrounding Vail. We all did everything. None of us had experience in producing events.
“We all winged it. All four of us built the jumps, packed the trailers until 3 a.m., sold the sponsorships, wrote the press releases, did the TV interviews, pounded the rebar, manned the beer bong,” Jeff said in an interview back in 2007.
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Dressing up in cockamamie outfits to do interviews on TV8 with Lynda Gustafson, while WWF bouts took place on-set, wearing World Cup race outfits to support our athlete Chad Fleischer throughout town and in the bars, Mogul Mania after-party mayhem with frozen t-shirt contests, air hockey tournaments in the basement of Vail Run filling our days, road trips to the Olympics, Mickey’s Big Mouth beer chugging competitions in tank tops … the fun and zaniness never seemed to end.
Jeff had a vision so grand, and I don’t think any of us really saw it in the beginning. We all came along for the ride for the next 25 years in ways we never could have imagined. From his and Scott’s MBA thesis, creating the Vail Ultra 100, to pioneering how music festivals are produced at ski resorts throughout the country in Spring Back to Vail, Highline did it right.
We never cut a single corner and that was a charge Jeff demanded. “Every zip tie gets cut, no matter where it is,” Jeff would demand. We didn’t create another splash down at the end of the ski season, we created the World Alpine Pond skimming Championships. We brought the largest snowboarding event in the world to Vail with the Burton US Open.
Some of the players changed, but the core of the family stayed intact. There is a moniker throughout the country known as the Highline Family and it all started with Jeff. From the Super Bowl Halftime show to Zac Brown concerts in Jackson Hole with 15,000 people, we can pull from the Highline Family at any given moment.
When Jeff left the company a few years back to focus on his health, 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. When you spend 20 years with someone 10 feet away from you, there are ups and downs, challenging times and contentious ones. In the end, Jeff left this world making me a better person, and thousands of others as well. We shared so many laughs and tears together as partners, and just as many in waning months prior to his passing.
Highline has shifted to doing COVID-19 testing throughout the country, and it wouldn’t have been possible without being able to rely on the Highline Family. A family incredibly well-respected. A family that Jeff started.
Personally, Jeff taught me so much. His business savvy, drive, perseverance, insight and outlook on success helped to make not only Highline what it has became, but who I am personally today. Relentless hard work and play made Highline so unique. There were as many antics as there were hardworking hours.
That family element was ever present at home as well, which carried over into the business. Jeff’s wife, Kelli, was our CFO, and when their son Keaton was born, it was an office celebration as if we all had our first newborn. Jeff loved and cared about his family to the very core. He loved them so incredibly much it was moving. The relationship he had with his dad and the fishing trips around the globe they shared was truly an inspiration. I spent some time with Jeff Sr., whom Jeff respected with all his heart, and he divulged that he didn’t just lose his son, but his very best friend.
I sat with Kelli a few days after Jeff’s passing and she just shook her head in disbelief. She loved Jeff as much as anyone I’ve ever seen someone love her husband. What a rock she was to Jeff and their family. Standing at barely 5 feet tall, Kelli is an absolute animal. A pro-mogul skier herself back in the day, the strength she has shown over the past 10 years as Jeff battled through his brain cancer, is awe inspiring. Every time I came to the house to visit with Jeff, Kelli was just there, waiting to give me a long and strong hug.
Jeff’s legacy and the mark he left on the Vail Valley will live on in infamy. I will miss my partner and brother more than words can express.