Remembering Gary Shimanowitz: Beaver Creek mourns the loss of a strong leader
Shimanowitz, who died suddenly on Feb. 25, spent 31 years with Vail Resorts
Beaver Creek is grappling with the loss of one of its strongest leaders, both literally and figuratively, after Gary Shimanowitz, the resort’s longtime director of operations, died suddenly on Friday, Feb. 25.
Shimanowitz’s death occurred after skiing an early-morning First Tracks session, his family has confirmed.
“It was very sudden and shocking, but we’re glad he was in the place he loved most at Beaver Creek,” said Shimanowitz’s sister, Sandy Krieski.
Born in New Jersey in 1964, Shimanowitz moved to Colorado at age 7 with his parents and his two sisters and attended Cherry Creek High School and the University of Colorado Boulder.
Shimanowitz was the youngest of the three siblings; Krieski said the family immediately took to Colorado and Gary developed a love of the mountains at a young age.
“He learned to ski in junior high school and really became quite good when he was in college,” Krieski said.
After graduating college with a degree in economics and working in Denver for a few years, Shimanowitz moved to Vail in 1990 to pursue his true calling with Beaver Creek Ski Patrol.
“He was a big, strong guy, an outdoors guy, and the job just suited him perfectly,” said his longtime friend Darren “Barney” Epifanio.
Shimanowitz, at 6 feet, 7 inches tall, made for an interesting pairing with Epifanio, who stands 5 feet, 1 inch. The two met during Shimanowitz’s first year in Vail and were friends ever since.
“For many Halloweens and parties, we would always dress up as Jolly Green Giant and Little Sprout, or Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito,” Epifanio said. “He was a great guy who loved the mountains and loved his job.”
Addy McCord, director of ski patrol at Beaver Creek Resort, said when she hired Shimanowitz as a rookie ski patroller, he was a talented, confident, boisterous young man.
“He was one of a kind,” McCord said. “I knew from the moment I met him that he would make an impact on Beaver Creek and this industry.”
Krieski had two children, who would become like children to Shimanowitz, as well.
“He was like a second father to me,” said Shimanowitz’s niece, Rachel Margolis. “He never missed a birthday party, never missed a recital, he was always there.”
Margolis and Shimanowitz shared a bond in their work life — both were immensely dedicated to their jobs.
“We were two business people in the family,” Margolis said. “We really bonded and connected over what it means to be with a company for a long time, watch it grow, be a part of the change, help in that growth, and look back and say, ‘Wow, we did that.’ We didn’t work for the company, but we connected in looking back on a long career dedicated to one company, and what could be achieved.”
John Garnsey worked with Shimanowitz when Garnsey was with the Vail Valley Foundation and Shimanowitz was working on the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races. Garnsey became the chief operating officer for Beaver Creek and helped to broaden Shimanowitz’s career by giving him more opportunities in the mountain operations side of things.
“He said, ‘I don’t know much about snowmaking,’ and I said, ‘you’re a smart guy, you’ll figure it out’ and he figured it out pretty quickly and did a great job at it,” Garnsey said.
“He was a real doer, a great thinker and loved to come up with new ideas and he was also a lot of fun. He was very proud of what he did, and he was always trying to make Beaver Creek a better place,” Garnsey said.
Shimanowitz left Beaver Creek for a stint at Breckenridge in the mid 2000s as VP of mountain operations, spending eight years there and working on the Peak 6 expansion. He returned to Beaver Creek in the mid 2010s where he worked on another terrain expansion at McCoy Park.
Shimanowitz also served at two Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and Torino, Italy, and his contributions to building the Birds of Prey World Cup race course left a permanent imprint on ski racing.
All told, Shimanowitz spent 31 years with Vail Resorts.
“I learned a tremendous amount from him,” said Dan Ramker, director of mountain operations at Beaver Creek Resort, who considered Shimanowitz to be a mentor. “He was my advocate and champion, teacher and mentor, he kept me grounded through incredible challenging times, but most importantly he was my friend. I will cherish every minute I had with Gary.”
Chris Jarnot, former vice president of Vail Resorts’ mountain operations, said Shimanowitz had a huge presence in the Colorado ski industry as a leader at Beaver Creek and Breckenridge.
“He worked with us in marketing/PR during several summers in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s when he was on workers comp for injuries sustained while working on patrol, and we all loved him,” Jarnot said.
Nadia Guerriero, vice president and chief operating officer of Beaver Creek Resort, said Shimanowitz welcomed her with open arms when she joined the Beaver Creek team.
“He taught me so much about this resort and community,” Guerriero said. “My time working alongside Gary was invaluable, and I am grateful to call him a friend. He was a formidable leader whose kindness and joy touched everyone who had the pleasure of working with him. His passion for the mountains, our sport and the guest experience will be felt for generations to come.”
Yachts of fun
Shimanowitz, amid his career advancements, could have afforded a luxury vehicle, but instead chose to hang onto his 1989 Nissan Pathfinder for as long as possible.
“He drove that vehicle into the ground,” said Sue Straub. “We drove it down to Mexico for our friends’ wedding, we got on a big ferry with the vehicle, and it got covered in pig (feces) … he just couldn’t give up that vehicle, he loved the memories.”
Shimanowitz lived with Straub for much of his life in Vail. They met in the late 1990s when they were both on ski patrol.
“We started dating in secret, of course,” she said. “We could never figure it out, but he would never take anything personally or get into drama, just a really beautiful person who loved his friends so much.“
Among Straub’s many memories are several involving house boats, some of which, like the Pathfinder, may have remained in the field for years following their rightful expiration dates.
“Yachts of Fun was one of the boats I remember that just pretty much fell apart in the main channel during a storm,” Straub said.
In addition to downhill skiing, Shimanowitz is also remembered as a talented water skier.
“Just a gorgeous slalom skier, when he’d pull on an onside turn he’d pull the whole boat back, it was hysterical,” Straub said. “He loved being on Lake Powell.”
Shimanowitz enjoyed motorcycles when he was younger and took a lot of trips into the desert with Jim Cloutier, whom he considered to be a best friend, Straub said.
Cloutier died in a plane crash in 2000, a loss which Shimanowitz felt deeply.
“He was so full of love despite knowing loss,” Straub said.
Rock of the family
Shimanowitz also lost his father in 1982, during his senior year of high school.
“He became our rock,” Krieski said. “He always drove down to Denver and mowed the lawn and took care of the house.”
In addition to his sisters, nephew, niece and a great nephew, Shimanowitz is also survived by his mother, 92-year-old Barbara Shimanowitz.
“We all took my dad’s death hard but Gary stepped up and helped out my mom all these years,” Krieski said. “He took care of her.”
As a gift for Oliver Margolis, who is the son of Rachel Margolis and Gary Shimanowitz’s great nephew, Krieski recently decided a toy lawn mower would make a perfect gift.
“We said now you can mow the lawn with Uncle Gary,” Krieski said.
When Oliver was born in 2020, Shimanowitz was as excited as a father would be, Margolis said.
Oliver wasn’t given a Hebrew name at birth and will now receive Gary’s Hebrew name of Gabriel Mendel.
“Oliver will know who Uncle Gary was,” Margolis said.
“To know Gary was to love him,” Krieski said.
A funeral service will take place on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Feldman Mortuary Chapel in Denver.
A celebration of life at Beaver Creek has been scheduled for March 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Full capacity is expected, and attendees are encouraged to arrive early, leave time for parking, and be aware you may be directed to a secondary space if venue is full. The celebration of life will move outside and conclude with fireworks in Shimanowitz’s honor.
Tricia Swenson contributed reporting.