The recycling man
SUMMIT COUNTY – Standing in his garage in the midst of his impressive collection of records, Jerry Rawles smiles and reminisces about his latest thrift store score – a functioning Kenwood turntable he picked up for $5. “It works just fine,” he says, as he lovingly places a platter on the disk and cranks the volume.But old vinyl and turntables aren’t the only items Rawles picks up when he’s checking out the goods at local second-hand emporiums. His garage is also stacked high with ski poles and skis that otherwise would have probably ended up in the landfill. Instead, Rawles converts the pole shafts into wind chimes, the grips into ski racks and ski tips into handy-dandy coat racks. “I’m the ultimate recycler,” he says, proudly showing off four pairs of old Salomon rear-entry SX 91 Equipes, a now-vintage ski boot from the 1980s that is his favorite piece of gear. He reckons the four sets of boots should at least get him through the next few seasons.Rawles has made his hobby pay off for a worthy cause. Selling the items at local shops has netted about $23,000 for the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center in the past six years.Rawles says he saw some similar wind chimes in a local shop and decided to start fooling around with old poles himself.”At the time, my son, Kirk, was director of the adaptive ski program in Durango,” Rawles says. “I took some of them down for a fundraiser and decided it would work here, too.”
Rawles was born in Great Falls, Mont, in 1929, and is an eyewitness to the many social and economic changes the Rocky Mountain West has seen in the past seven-plus decades. He recalls Great Falls as a humming industrial center as he grew up there, with a massive copper mine, a smelting operation and busy railroad lines defining the town, at least through the end of World War II. During the post-war economic boom, recreation started to play a bigger role, and Rawles became involved in the ski industry.”I helped develop a ski area near Libby, Montana,” Rawles said, adding that the hill boasted what was then the longest T-bar in North America, running some 5,600 feet. That T-bar was finally replaced by a chair just a couple of seasons ago, but Rawles, who still visits his old stomping grounds every now and then, says it’s still a real locals ski area.”It’s the kind of place where the owner would go out and turn the lifts on for you if showed up with a group of friends,” Rawles says.Like for so many Summit County residents, skiing became a family passion. Rawles jokes that he wouldn’t marry his wife, Suzi, until she learned to ski – which she did, of course.The passion was handed down to three sons, who are all still deeply involved in the sport: Scott, currently the U.S. World Cup and Olympic Team Freestyle coach, Kirk, who runs the freestyle program at Durango, and Mike, who is also a skier.
“I’d be driving to work and I’d hear the snow report on the radio,” Rawles says, half closing his eyes at the memory of that long-ago powder day. “I’d get to work and call Suzi and say, ‘Don’t send the kids to school today. We’re going skiing.’ “During one of those “powder rules” days, Kirk was cut by a ski edge during a nasty tumble on the slopes, requiring treatment by a local physician.”He chewed us out for taking our kids out of school to ski, but I just said, ‘Doc, you do your job, and I’ll do mine!’ “The ski experience became a metaphor for other parts of their family life, as when it was time for a serious father (or mother) and son talk.”We had this expression we used: ‘Are you ready for your chairlift ride?’ You know, when you have a captive audience for a serious one-on-one. But they all turned out to be great kids, friends to each other and to us,” Rawles says, a warm, loving glow spreading across his face as talks about his sons.At their current home on Tiger Road, one shed is so filled with old ski gear that Suzi says she made Jerry build her a new shed, reserved exclusively for gardening gear.”I won’t let him go anywhere near it,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “And I suppose he’s told you, he’s not allowed to bring anything home for the house or kitchen,” she adds with a laugh.
“We have ‘his-n-her’ sheds,” Jerry jokes in reply.And while Rawles may favor those old rear-entry Salomons, that doesn’t mean he won’t try out a new pair of skis every now and then. In fact when youngest son Mike stops by for a few minutes, they banter about who will demo some of the latest and greatest models of skis, leaning and tilting in every corner of their property like a giant game of pick-up sticks.”I want that pair of Rossi XXs, with the Salomon’s,” the younger Rawles says. “You’ve got about 20 pairs of skis set up.”But the senior Rawles says he hasn’t tried out the latest crop of ultra-wide powder cruisers – yet.”I’ve got a ski rack on the back of my car that’s about 25 years old,” he explains. “If they don’t fit, they’re too fat!”Vail, Colorado