After 50 years, Aspen and Buttermilk ski patroller hangs ’em up |

After 50 years, Aspen and Buttermilk ski patroller hangs ’em up

Ski patroller Flint Smith captured this photo of Robin Perry in deep powder in Walsh's late in the winter of 1980-81. It didn't snow much until March, but then powder conditions were supreme.
Flint Smith/special to The Aspen Times |

All you need to know about Robin Perry’s approach as a ski patroller and summer trail crew boss on Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk for 50 years is illuminated by this quote.

“My dad always told me, when you ride for the brand, you give it 110 percent,” Perry said, citing an old cowboy credo.

Perry retired from his duties this summer after working on Aspen Mountain for the first 25 years and at Buttermilk for the last 25 years. Everyone he’s worked with over the years agrees that he gave it 110 percent.

“They broke the work ethic mold after Robin. In the summer it was go, go, go,” said Travis Benson, who worked for Perry for 11 years on the Buttermilk Ski Patrol and on the summer trails crew.

“I take (ski patrolling) more of a way of life rather than a job.” — Robin Perry

Perry’s official start date with Aspen Skiing Co. (then the Aspen Ski Corp.) was June 1, 1967, but his first job with the company came when he was in high school in 1958. Red Rowland, a Ski Corp. vice president of construction, hired Perry and Charlie Maddalone on a trial basis for summer trail work for 75 cents per hour. Their first assignment was cutting up and hauling away heavy cable leftover on the Face of Bell from the mining era.

Perry left the Roaring Fork Valley for four years after graduation to serve in the Marines. After his military service he spent additional time away in college.

When he returned to the valley, he got hired for summer trail work and lift operations on Aspen Mountain. He was loading lifts with Jim Gerbaz but a different job captured his imagination.

“I watched those old patrol guys and decided that was more my line of work,” Perry said. “They weren’t tied down to one place.”

He joined the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol for the 1969-70 season. He had the skiing skills and knew all the nuances of Aspen’s grande dame. As a child, he regularly skied Aspen Mountain. His uncle, D.R.C. Brown, was president and general manager of Ski Corp. from 1957 to 1979.

Perry’s dad, the late Bob Perry, was a ski racer in his youth. (Perry’s Prowl in the Mine Dumps on Aspen Mountain is named in the senior Perry’s honor.)

“We skied all the time. Skiing was in my blood,” Perry said.

It’s one thing to get hired for the ski patrol. It’s another to earn acceptance.

“I kept my mouth shut and learned the job,” Perry said.

He took to the life as a patroller right away. He said he enjoyed helping people and felt that initiating contact with skiers — visitors and locals — was a crucial part of the job. Being outside was the big benefit. He said he would remain on the hill as much as possible rather than spend time in the patrol shack.

“I take it more of a way of life rather than a job,” he said.

Perry didn’t participate in the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol strike of 1973 and got promoted to management. He said there were some hard feelings over the strike, but he didn’t personally have any problem. He became Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol director that season and held the post until 1992 when he was transferred to Buttermilk.

Erik Peltonen was hired for the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol the same year as Perry and worked for him until Peltonen was injured in a lift accident on Aspen Mountain in 1985.

“To me he was a good boss,” Peltonen said, noting it’s a difficult position because the director must be part boss, peacekeeper, babysitter and friend.

“He’s a straight shooter. He worked hard, by example,” Peltonen said.

When the snow melted each season, Perry stayed on and toiled with the trails crew, first at Aspen Mountain and then at Buttermilk. He was so good at the job that Skico sent him to Breckenridge in the summers from 1970 to ’72 when the Aspen company owned the Front Range resort. Skico also sent him for summer trail work to Blackcomb Mountain in the summers of 1979 and ’80 when it owned the British Columbia resort.

Perry, who remains solid and strong at age 76, said he has always enjoyed hard, physical labor and was accustomed to it while growing up on his family’s ranch near Carbondale. Summer trails work provided ample opportunity for tough work by clearing brush and picking up rocks off ski runs.

“I guess my forte was doing sawing,” Perry said. “They called me the last rock picker the ski company ever had.”

Skiing 100 days or more per season allowed him to get to know the trails intimately — and key in on improvements that could be made during the summer. He would make mental notes of where rocks created problems for skiers and snowboarders, then seek the areas out in summer and smooth them.

Perry also became adept at finding lost items on the winter slopes. A woman was riding Lift 3 on Aspen Mountain when she pulled off a glove and dislodged a ring that had been in her family for 400 years. She reported the general area where she lost it. Perry found it in April, after the lifts were closed but before all the snow melted. He knew the clue to look for — the sun would heat the metal of the ring and it would make a distinctive melt pattern in the snow. The ring was retrieved.

He once found the ring of comedian Buddy Hackett’s granddaughter. That netted him a $200 tip.

He helped a skier on a lengthy but fruitless search for a ski. That spring he found it up on the branches of a tree. The snow had been high and the errant ski got tangled in covered branches under the snow surface.

Perry also was responsible for the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol breaking the glass ceiling. He hired Alex Halperin as the first woman on the patrol in the mid-1970s.

Halperin said in an email that Perry didn’t have a gender discrimination gene.

“Most of the old boys waited for the women to fail tryouts, Robin cheered for everyone,” Halperin wrote. “He taught me to ski powder and tight trees when no one was looking. We’ve stayed friends and he always asked about my mother, having taken her down in a toboggan a time or two before after my patrol years.”

Like others who worked with Perry, she cited his work ethic.

“The man must be a Quaker. He rarely sat, always fixing something, raising a tower pad or moving pesky rocks off the slopes, sending details out to crush the death cookies left the morning after the cats groomed,” Halperin wrote.

Aspen Skiing Co. was a great organization to work for, Perry said, and he credits many of the colleagues he worked with over the years for making it a fabulous experience.

“I don’t think I would have lasted this long if I hadn’t had a lot of good people working with me,” he said.

But the job is changing. Running the ski patrol increasingly demands command of computers, which Perry acknowledged isn’t his forte. He decided this summer to step down.

“It’s time to let somebody else take a shot at it,” he said.

Instead of plucking rocks off ski runs this summer, he’s mending fences on the ranch he and his wife, Cindy, own along Thompson Creek, outside of Carbondale. He said it will take a little bit of adjustment this winter, not pulling on ski boots quite so early after doing it for 50 years.

“I’m gonna miss the atmosphere and not being out on the hill every day,” he said. “I do have a free ski pass — and I plan on using it.”

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