Colorado ski industry pioneer Buzz Bainbridge dies at 93
January 17, 2015
When Steve Bainbridge was a kid, one question became a family tradition before Christmas.
"Where's Dad tonight?" Steve, his older brother and his younger sister would ask their mom.
They already knew the answer.
The Bainbridge kids grew up at ski resorts in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado in the 1950s and '60s. Their father, Buzz, was an industry pioneer influential in creating a dozen resorts in the West and attracting skiers from around the world.
The Bainbridge children knew their dad was likely hanging more chairs on a lift in the nights before Christmas, helping prepare for the holiday rush and making sure skiers from Texas, Oklahoma and Europe would remember their Rocky Mountain vacations fondly.
Alexander Gale "Buzz" Bainbridge died in his sleep Sunday, Jan. 11, at 93.
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"He lived a great life," said Steve, 65, now a full-time ski instructor at Breckenridge Ski Resort. "He was bigger than life."
Steve, a Frisco resident of the last five years, said Buzz grew up in Minneapolis and started ski racing as a teenager.
As a U.S. Naval officer, Buzz was involved in every theater of World War II as well as the Korean War. He helped land troops in Southern France and aided in the Italian landing of the famous 10th Mountain Division.
Veterans of the division, known for its snow and alpine training, founded more than 50 ski resorts throughout Colorado and the West, and Buzz later became an honorary member.
Buzz was a former university ski team captain working as a salesman for the Northland Ski Co. in the Midwest when an opportunity to manage a ski area in New Mexico presented itself.
In the mid-1940s, he moved with his wife, Jean, to the small ski hill, which helped skiers up the slope with its two towropes.
A few ski areas and children later, Jean wrote columns about skiing called "Buzzing throughout the West," and Buzz often canvassed Texas and Oklahoma offering potential skiers special deals.
"My dad said, 'It's Texans and Oklahomans. They're going to make or break skiing in the future,'" Steve said. "He would tell them, 'I'm going to give you a discount on lift tickets, but you've got to start a ski club.'"
As Summit County folks in the ski industry can attest, those efforts were wildly successful.
Buzz became known for improving hospitality at ski resorts, providing comforts like tissues and hot coffee to skiers in lift lines.
"Fundamentally he had a marketer head on him," Steve said. "He was always a leader."
Buzz must have learned some of that from his father, also known as Buzz, who was a marketing genius involved in Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows in the early 1900s, Steve said.
In the 1960s and '70s, Buzz worked as marketing director at resorts in Aspen and Jackson Hole. He helped create national marketing organizations including Colorado Ski Country USA, Ski the Rockies and Ski New Mexico.
Now as a ski instructor, Steve asks visiting Europeans why they choose to ski in Colorado instead of their backyard Alps. They praise American customer service and value, and they say Rocky Mountain snow and terrain are the world's best.
Buzz continued to race in celebrity and master's ski competitions into his 60s and was active in promoting competitive skiing, leading many teams to significant competitions throughout the West.
Buzz and Jean taught their kids to ski, and Steve's high school racing career led to a spot on the Harvard Ski Team.
Growing up Steve and his siblings thought, "Doesn't everybody ski and doesn't everybody love the mountains and the snow?"
It was only later they realized the charmed life they lived, he said.
Steve met his wife through skiing, and now fourth-generation Bainbridges are speeding down the slopes.
Buzz skied with the family into his 80s, Steve said, and "he'd still be at my elbow."
In recent years, Buzz and Jean lived in Sante Fe and people would spot them and voice their appreciation for getting their whole families involved in skiing. He and his wife were honored as Living Treasures of Santa Fe in 2012.
Buzz's Santa Fe construction company, which specialized in building luxury adobe homes, was a significant local employer. He loved traditional New Mexico building techniques, and the 60 homes he built are still mentioned as Bainbridge homes in real estate listings.
Buzz is survived by his wife of the last 71 years, Jean, his children, Buzz, Steve and Andrea, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the Bainbridge family asks that donations be made in his name to Alzheimer's Association ("Research- Bainbridge"), the National Ski Patrol or Audubon Society of Santa Fe.
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