December 8, 2019
The legend himself
Dec. 2 is a day Aspen celebrates with gusto.
That’s because it is the birthday of Aspen’s inspirational icon, Klaus Obermeyer. Apple strudel (topped with whipped cream, of course), alpine music and well wishes are always on the early winter birthday menu, to be celebrated this year at the historic Hotel Jerome. But this one is special. This year, Obermeyer turns 100.
“I don’t count years or ski days,” the centenarian-to-be—still sharp as the tip of an ice ax—emphasized one recent afternoon when asked how many days he skied last winter. But, make no mistake—it is repetition that keeps him young. “I swim every day at the Meadows, a half-mile,” he declared proudly. “One year, I swim the distance from here to Denver; the next, I swim it back.” He also still goes to his office—five days a week.
Born in the mountains of Bavaria, Obermeyer began skiing as a toddler. Trained as a technician (he worked on developing landing gear for Dornier and building engines at Maybach), he came to America and arrived in Sun Valley in the fall of 1947 looking for Friedl Pfeifer, who was at a new ski area in Colorado called Aspen. He later found his way to Aspen, where Pfeifer, founder of the Aspen Skiing Corp. (now Aspen Skiing Company), hired him as a ski instructor and encouraged him to use his skills to improve the sport. “Friedl said, ‘You’re a technician! Make skiing better!’ So we did!”
He began by creating innovations in ski clothing. “You know we couldn’t teach people to ski if they were too cold to go outside,” he remembers. “So I thought, ‘Make a warm jacket.’” Using a feather quilt that his mother gave him before he left Europe, he created a down jacket. That coat not only changed skiing forever, but it became the foundation of Sport Obermeyer, which remains one of the most innovative and successful ski attire companies in the world. Obermeyer worked on building his company in the evenings, after spending the day teaching ski lessons. Nights he wasn’t working were spent playing chess with Walter Paepcke until the wee hours.
As inspiring as his mega success in business is, it is his joie de vivre (and famous yodel) that has made him a legend in Aspen and throughout the ski world. To those who work with him, who know him and ski with him, he remains forever young. “It’s your perception of life that keeps you healthy,” he counseled. “There is so much good in skiing, so much beauty here in Aspen, and it’s such an amazing planet,” he paused. “We are just lucky to be on it!”
Klaus was born in Oberstaufen, Bavaria, Germany.
Establishes Sport Obermeyer. His first desk was a wooden shipping crate with cardboard on top for a smooth surface. He also had a portable typewriter.
Inducted into U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame
Celebrated his 82nd Birthday by clocking 82 mph on Aspen Mountain. “It was the last time I skied my age though,” he says.
Photography by: Courtesy of Obermeyer