Employees, both current and former, at Copper Mountain Resort are using the ski area's 40th anniversary as an opportunity to host a reunion. The gathering isn't limited to employees - anyone who has had an involvement with Copper Mountain over the years is invited to join in, bringing stories, photos and memories to share during the event this weekend.
The reunion is also doubling as a fundraising benefit for Chuck "CJ" Julin, who was among the first employees at Copper Mountain in 1972, working there until 1991 and then returning in 2010 as executive director of Team Summit. After Julin suffered a stroke in September of last year, his friends and former colleagues rallied to his side, working with the resort, Team Summit Colorado, the Copper Mountain Resort Association and the "old" Ex-Employee Committee to organize the reunion. All proceeds from the lift ticket sales will go to Julin to help defray medical expenses.
"We're really excited that we're able to get people together for Copper's 40th, to raise money and to be able to see a bunch of old friends," said Jim Spenst, also a former Copper employee and friend of Julin's.
Spenst and others involved agree that the 40th anniversary has afforded the perfect opportunity to merge the present day with the history that Julin and many other people share with the 40-year-old resort.
Growing up in Leadville and Climax, skiing wasn't a question for young Julin so much as an automatic aspect of life, just as first steps and the fist day at school. He was three when he started, encouraged by his father, who was president of the Continental Ski Club. He has strong memories of learning to ski down Chalk Mountain.
"That's where my dad said here, strapped the skis to my feet and said 'here you go,'" Julin said. "He gave me the gift of being on the hill."
From then on, skiing remained a large part of Julin's life, not only recreationally, but eventually professionally as well. Julin said he remembers, almost down to the exact moment, when, at age 12, he definitively decided that he wanted a skiing-related career.
"I want to make skis," he told himself while contemplating a pair of them in his parents' basement. "I want to be in the ski business, that's what I want to do."
And that's just what he did, returning to the Rocky Mountains after college and getting a job at Arapaho Basin, which involved working at the rental shop, running the lift and giving ski lessons. News that another resort was opening up at Copper Mountain intrigued him, so he went over and got himself an interview. Soon after, he became employee 116, working at both the ski school and the repair shop in the center building.
"This was an opportunity to be a part of something really great and it was a bit of a frontier - we were pioneers," he said. He was thrilled to be involved.
While Julin enjoyed his work at the tuning center and ski school, he was eager to learn about all aspects of the industry. So when the director of ski patrol asked if he wanted to join, he said, "Sure!"
"Those were terrific years, being part of ski patrol," Julin said.
It was where he met many of the people he's still in touch with today, including Spenst, who recalls the "great experiences" he and Julin had skiing all over Copper Mountain, particularly one "glorious spring day in late April. We just went out there for fun," Spenst said.
In addition to ski patrol, Julin spent time in the race department and then the marketing side, working with skier services, sales, promotions and special events. Eventually he decided to return to school to receive his MBA, a decision influenced, he says, by Copper founder Chuck Lewis.
"He was a fun guy, a passionate guy, and a very astute businessman," Julin said, "and so every day you could learn something from him that would make you a better person. I was very lucky."
Julin likes to insist that Lewis "sewed a homing device in me" that kept calling him back to the mountains. Returning was never a question for Julin. "I love the mountains. They're a part of me," he said, naming off mountains he's looked at his whole life the way one would mention old friends.
"Skiing is a way of life for him, it's a lifestyle," Spenst said. "He turned a love and a lifestyle into a profession. Winter sports activities are all CJ. Helping people enjoy the mountains and the winter activities that are available in mountain communities is very much at his core."
For many of those who know him, Julin is inextricably tied to the mountains in their memory.
"He was the first person who gave me the introduction to Copper," said Eddie Bowers, who came to work at the resort in 1987. "We became instant friends."
Listening to those who know him talk, a portrait of a man emerges - someone outgoing, friendly and perpetually positive.
"He's just one of those guys you just love to be around," Bowers said.
Chuck Tolton agrees. "He's just effusively good-natured and positive, every day," he said. "It doesn't matter what he's doing, he is so committed to it and so into it that it's very infectious, that positive outlook, and I think given the seriousness of what we went through last fall, I think that's even more the case."
Being sociable just comes naturally to Julin, almost as naturally as skiing, which isn't surprising, as he beleives the two to go hand-in-hand.
"Skiing is a very social sport," he said. "When I was a kid at Climax I can still remember my parents and their comrades singing ski songs. ... It would be nice to see if the customers would slow down a little bit too and enjoy just being there and celebrating part of skiing together. That's what makes the sport so great, because it's such a social gathering."
In true form, Julin said he is looking forward to the reunion and a chance to be with friends and re-connect with old ones.
"There will be a lot of tales told this weekend," he said, "some really great ones, because they are great people."