Coloradans: Never fear. Phil Kopp has been stationed here to ensure your Earth experience is fun and safe.
You see, Kopp is a member of Planetary Defense. Don't try to Google it; you'll just end up with gobbledy-gook, and perhaps President Obama's planetary defense strategy. True Planetary Defense members remain off the radar; they have no rules and no structured communication or planning system. Though Kopp makes his presence known during spring skiing at the Basin by wearing his planetary defense helmet (black with the signature red and blue star, plus two Q-tips acting as antennas), most Planetary Defense members blend in with the general population. It's so evasive that you, dear reader, may be one of them - and not even know it.
"It's a state of mind," Kopp said, later explaining the meaning of the salute, which is a fist to the head, where the attitude begins and ends. "A lot of people out there (are part of it), but they don't know it ... there's anti-nukes, pro-nukes, all kinds ... it's mostly welcoming and tolerance."
Even Planetary Defense members don't agree upon where and how they originated.
"There are a few different histories going around. Some say we're time travelers from the future trying to warn others about (what's to come)," Kopp said with a smile. "Others say it began at a kiosk in a Detroit mall when someone made an interesting logo."
So, to which theory does Kopp ascribe?
"That we're stationed here to make sure it's fun and safe," he said. "We've just sort of lost contact with other planets."
Luckily for us, there's a "large contingency in Colorado ski resorts," he said. Officially, there are 50-60 in Summit County, but again, they're pretty hard to count. Still, they gather on annual occasions, which don't always happen annually. There's the John Belushi Snow Memorial Classic, a summer hike to ski Grays and Torreys; local Fourth of July parades (which they haven't been sighted at for a while, though it sounds like we may see the likes of them perhaps in 2012; in 1989, they won a trophy for most comical entry, and in 1986, they won best of show, two trophies Kopp keeps in his Frisco condo); and the Sand Dunes camp and ski party just before Labor Day weekend, which Kopp has attended for about 30 years.
"We were viral before viral was viral," he said. "Kids grow up through this (Sand Dunes event). It's multi-generational."
Kopp grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and attended Michigan State, where he got "an education but not a certificate" by initially studying biochemistry, making his way through all of the "ologies," and ending up in communication arts. He also ran into the Planetary Defense group there.
When he left, his vision involved moving to a city to experiment with "the urban, commune co-op idea." He moved to Denver and "basically got eaten alive." Some of the "rough bumps" he rubbed up against included a drug-addled stripper, brought home by a roommate, and a robber running from cops via Kopp's roof - two things he wasn't into.
While he was in between jobs in Denver, a friend offered to pay for Kopp's lift ticket if he drove to Winter Park. There, he got hooked on skiing and later ended up hitchhiking to Vail (because he didn't have any gas money), where he went to the ski area and got a job busing tables.
After spending one more summer in Denver in the late 1970s, he moved up to the mountains and studied business management with an emphasis on resorts.
"I learned more practical knowledge there than I did at Michigan State," he said.
From 1979-81, he worked at Climax Mine in a variety of jobs, including underground train driver, macro mechanic for ore cars, and pipe man on the mining crew. The job paid well and allowed Kopp to ski.
In 1981, he met his wife, Janelle, who worked at a pizza shop in Copper and happened to be his roommate's date on a double date. As it turned out, Kopp and Janelle hit it off, and the roommate, whom Kopp is still friends with, didn't mind, so in 1983, the couple got married in Montezuma. Ironically enough, Janelle especially liked that he had a good job, a car that ran and a place (a trailer) he owned, but after they fell in love, Climax Mine laid him off, his car broke down and Kopp moved in with Janelle because "she had a larger hot water tank."
The couple opened The Daily Planet bookstore on Frisco's Main Street in 1984, because, as Kopp explains it, there weren't any bookstores in town, and "I had problems with authority, and we thought, 'Let's do what we want to do,'" he said. Being a comic book fan (a passion that began in grade school and continued to the point where Kopp still owns 3,000-6,000, all in boxes), the bookstore offered a large collection of comic books, as well as Colorado maps and periodicals.
"The graphic art medium is a great way to get introduced to literature," Kopp said about his love of comic books (he still has the first X-Men comic, which he thinks is worth a couple hundred dollars, tucked away in a safe deposit box). "I'm listening to my wife saying, 'Get rid of them,'" he said, emphasizing the word "listening" but not doing anything about her commands. Rather, he plans to live another 20 years or so and give them to relatives.
The Kopps owned the bookstore until 1999, when a new landlord "killed the business." Through a series of nasty, untrue rumors aimed at the couple, taking down the business' sign, closing off window fronts and causing a lot of emotional damage which put a strain on their marriage, the Kopps finally called it quits, he said.
"We found out what we could survive, (but) it was like losing a kid," Kopp said.
From 1992 to 2000, Kopp turned his attention to Frisco politics, becoming a town council member and acting as mayor for six weeks.
These days, Breckenridge Ski Area "pays me to ski from chair to chair and chat people up" as a marketing supervisor. Seems if he's skiing, any problems with authority he may have disappear. Janelle is an artist who once had a regular political cartoon in the Daily and who now focuses on creating pieces in clay. She also works for Cures and Curiosities, a novelty gift store chain in Copper and Keystone.
The couple doesn't have kids: "The old joke was, 'We're too busy raising each other,' except we're getting too old (to use that)," he said.
They have no plans to move out of Summit County: "I have the cheapest land in Summit County, at the cemetery in Frisco," he said.
In the meantime, they enjoy the outdoors, traveling and "shaking up perceptions in a pleasant way" as a Planetary Defense member wearing a Q-tipped helmet after his professional responsibility in Breckenridge ends for the season.
Kopp's bottom line simply involves enjoying life.
"Some people dread birthdays," said the 60-year-old, "(but I think), 'Wow, this is way more than I ever expected.' Do what you love. That's the secret to a long life."