Ski pioneer supported Vail Valley local’s photos |

Ski pioneer supported Vail Valley local’s photos

Raymond Bleesz
Community Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Raymond Bleesz/Special to the Vail DailyOtto Werlin, far right, at Loveland Ski Area

Otto Werlin was a giant amongst the Colorado pioneers of skiing.

The former general manager of Loveland Ski Area, who died in November 2008, was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame this month. I say giant for a multitude of reasons, not only for his accomplishments in the ski business, but because he was also a very tall man who stood out amongst those around him. His tall lanky features were also passed on to his sons, Billy, Pete and Otto Jr., and his daughter, Liz.

For those of us who associated and worked with Otto, there was a general attitude of profound respect towards this gentle, towering, yet firm man of German heritage. His influence extended far and wide amongst those of us who were in the ski business at Loveland.

His personality and charisma reached out and touched us all. There are a good number of ski instructors, ex-racers and ex-patrollers who were influenced by Otto. Some of my fellow Loveland instructors migrated to Vail and are presently teaching here in Vail. They would speak highly of Otto as well. They include Vail Fire Department member Tom Talbot. Edwards business man Kurt Vogelman, an ex patroller, also was influenced by Otto.

We went to Otto’s memorial service together last November and discussed our “history” with Otto and Loveland during our trip to Georgetown. Georgetown, in its early days prior to the interstate, was ski town USA even though it did not have a ski run in its backyard. It did have housing, and the famous Red Ram. Georgetown was where the employees who worked at Berthoud Pass, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland ski areas lived in the late ’40s, 50s and 60s.

It was in Georgetown where Larry Jump, another Hall of Fame inductee, lived. Larry ran Arapahoe Basin. It was in Georgetown where Otto lived, raised his family and became an outstanding contributing citizen of the town, community and county.

My dealings with Otto, as stated in the introduction, were numerous as I too lived in Georgetown for 20 years, working as a weekend instructor at Loveland starting in 1970. Over time, Otto supported my efforts and work as the area ski photographer, giving me free rein.

He furthered my professional photo work by supporting my selection in Winter Park as the 1982 team photographer for the U.S. Handicapped Ski Team at the time of the World Championships For the Disabled in Leysin, Switzerland. My involvement in photography as a business and in fine art is directly linked to Otto’s support over the years.

It was in the classroom, however, at parent-teachers meetings, that I really got to know Otto. I had his two sons in my history classes when I was a full-time teacher at Clear Creek. He would sit down in front of my desk and ask me why one of his sons would be getting a “C” in my history class.

I had to know my classroom subject matter as one could not put a “bluff” on Otto, nor would anyone want to. He was the type of guy who wanted answers, straightforward talk and accomplishments. He expected that of his sons as well as from the rest of us at Loveland. No slackers, no excuses.

Otto and I connected as parent and teacher, and I connected with his sons as they became outstanding students of mine over the course of their high school years. I still have dealings with the Werlin “boys.”

Otto was also an outstanding parent and school supporter who would drive from Loveland Friday afternoons to watch his kids play ball. I remember well a particular basketball game he attended to watch his son, tall Otto Jr., play center during his last game as a ninth grader. It was a playoff game in Denver. I took note of it as I was the novice ninth grade basketball coach at the time.

Our record at Clear Creek for that particular season was 13 wins, 2 losses , a record which still stands at Clear Creek and a Werlin was at the center of victory. Otto was a very proud parent that day, and I was a proud teacher/ coach.

Otto was also known for his love of fast cars, a hobby which he was passionate about. His Ford Cobra and his Pantera were awesome. He was also known to the Colorado State Patrol. Otto, who because of his height barely managed to fit his frame into those cars, was known throughout the state due to his appearance on TV during the ski season.

Patrol members knew him and his cars by sight, and perhaps looked in another direction when Otto was on the road. It was not uncommon for Otto to phone Patrol Headquarters in Golden and tell the commander or the local commander in Clear Creek County that he was going out on a “Sunday Night Drive.”

Otto Werlin was a giant of a man. His contributions to the ski industry is documented. Otto’s personality and his ethics, if one had contact with him, made us better individuals.

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