Aspen Skico employee ‘lived life fully, didn’t hold back’

Rick Carrol
the aspen times
Kiera Tongish

ASPEN – Kiera Tongish spent Thanksgiving Day working, one shift at the Wienerstube, the other at the ticket office of Buttermilk Ski Area. She didn’t enjoy the day with her relatives or close friends, but she made sure they would top off their feasts with a scrumptious dessert.

“She made nine pies at Thanksgiving,” recalled her grandmother, Fay Ward, of Aspen. “She made three for us, and the others for her friends.”

A week later, on Dec. 2, Tongish died as a result of a skiing accident at Snowmass, apparently caused after she lost control on the upper third of the Grey Wolf trail, before striking a tree on the intermediate run. She was skiing with friends and wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, the Aspen Skiing Co. said. She was 22.

Friends and family, which also include her uncle Casey Ward and aunt Natalie Ward, both of Aspen, have been grieving ever since.

“It’s just devastating,” said Harald Neuweg, the owner of Aspen’s Wienerstube Restaurant, where Tongish worked as a waitress. “She was scheduled to work (Dec. 2) and we were worried when she didn’t show up. We laughed that we thought she was enjoying the skiing too much.”

For sure, Tongish loved the sport, starting from her childhood when she first learned how to ski at Loveland Ski Area. She lived in Denver until she was 7, before her parents – Kimberly Ward Tongish, the daughter of Fay and Jim Ward, and Steve Tongish – moved to Switzerland. She continued to ski there before moving to the United Kingdom.

After graduating with a history degree from the University of Bristol (U.K.) in 2009, she relocated to Aspen, where she lived with her grandparents for one year. She then moved in with some roommates, and had recently entertained the idea of continuing her education at George Washington University and studying international relations.

“She was just starting out her life,” Fay Ward said. “She was one of those kind of kids blessed with a really smart brain and did very well in school.”

While she was in Aspen, her chief focus was working, skiing and socializing. Just recently she helped boot-pack the Highland Bowl, her grandmother said. She did it last year as well.

“She was a really good skier,” Ward said.

Last season she logged 82 days on the mountains, mostly skiing, but she enjoyed riding on Buttermilk, too.

“She was so excited about the ski season getting started,” Neuweg said.

Tongish also was remembered as being fiercely independent, with a charming smile to boot.

“Kiera lived life fully and didn’t hold back,” wrote her Skico supervisor, Pat Otte, in an e-mail to staff members. “She made friends easily and had many at the Aspen Skiing Company. She called me this summer to make sure that I was going to have her back and though she never said it, I am sure it was because she loved the ASC friends she had made and wanted to work with them.

“She definitely had her own mind and would stand up for herself.”

Said Fay Ward: “She was a young person who kind of lived on the edge with a full life and a daredevil kind of personality.”

Neuweg recalled Tongish as having an upbeat personality, “always smiling, always in a good mood.”

“She will be missed by so many of our customers,” he said. “She was such a great person to be around.”

“Any guy would have fell for that smile,” her grandmother said. “She was perky with a lot of energy.”

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