Keystone Resort mourns the loss of Ina Gillis, a pioneer and legend who died at 94
Keystone Resort is mourning the loss of Ina Gillis, who was a pioneer at the resort before earning her place as a legend on the mountain.
Almost anyone who’s skied Keystone over the last five decades has probably met Gillis one way or another. She was well-known for her work as a ski school instructor before she created Keystone’s summer landscaping department and, most recently, worked as a greeter welcoming people with high fives in the River Run Village as they made their way across a bridge named in her honor.
Those who knew Gillis for her work at Keystone said she was a kind, helpful and welcoming presence who possessed a smile that warmed hearts on the coldest of days.
With those qualities and more, Gillis left a far-reaching legacy that’s carved her name on the resort.
“The entire Keystone Resort family mourns the loss of Ina Gillis,” said Geoff Buchheister, the resort’s vice president and general manager. “She was a pioneer in the Keystone community since 1971, but even more importantly, she was a friend to all.”
Gillis died at home in Keystone on March 5 at age 94, according to the Summit County Coroner’s Office.
In December 2016, the resort celebrated Gillis and her decades of dedication by renaming the bridge in River Run Village, “Ina’s Bridge,” emblazoned on a commemorative plaque for all to see.
Days after renaming the bridge, Keystone posted photos from the ceremony and a short description on social media. The ensuing outpouring was tremendous with former co-workers, those who took Gillis’ ski school classes and others who simply appreciated her greetings over the years commenting and sharing the post.
Not one to stay off the slopes, Gillis remained a dedicated skier and was often found on the mountain. And while the bridge carries Gillis’ name, so does a ski trail — Ina’s Way — that connects the resort’s signature 3.5-mile green run Schoolmarm back to the River Run Village at the base of Dercum Mountain.
The former general manager and chief operating officer at Keystone Resort, John Buhler, recalled that when River Run and the base of Keystone were being developed in the 1990s, Gillis was frustrated there wasn’t an easier way to get to River Run, so she worked to have Keystone put in the link.
Buhler agreed there’s probably not a more appropriately named trail across all of Keystone, as Ina’s Way presents a nice, pleasant run that’s unassuming, not too steep and perfect for beginners. Peeling off at the tail end of Schoolmarm, Ina’s Way safely directs skiers and snowboarders back to River Run Village, where they’ll find Ina’s Bridge.
“We find that a fitting tribute to Ina, with many guests beginning their day crossing Ina’s Bridge before concluding the day on Ina’s Way,” Buchheister said. “Keystone Resort and the entire Vail Resorts family offers our sincerest condolences to the Gillis family as they grieve their tremendous loss.”
Ina Gillis moved to Summit County with husband, Gene, in 1971, about a year after Keystone opened. That’s where Gene, a member of the 1948 U.S. Alpine Olympic Team, partnered up with Keystone founder Max Dercum.
Dercum had already put a lot of work into the mountain when the Gillises arrived, but he soon invited Gene Gillis to help him develop the North Peak and Jones Gulch areas, according to newspaper archives.
During his time at Keystone Resort, Gene was also credited with installing snowmaking, a fixture of Keystone’s modern-day operations, after determining that natural snowfall wouldn’t suffice and man-made snow would be critical to the resort’s success.
Meanwhile, Ina Gills was deeply involved with Keystone’s Ski School program early on along with the camps there put on by Olympians Phil and Steve Maher, which ran for over 20 years.
“They actually call her, ‘mom,’” Buhler said of the Mahers. “That’s how close they were.”
In the summers, Gillis took charge of making Keystone beautiful too, planting flowers and handling other landscaping, not just in the River Run Village, but along some of the road medians leading into Keystone, as well.
“She could outmuscle and outwork any of her employees, and she would let them know,” Buhler said, agreeing that Gillis was the kind of person who got things done.
Gene died in December 2005 at age 80, but his wife continued to stay active at Keystone, as Buhler explained she shifted toward guest services and took ownership of creating a great guest experience in her later years.
“She was always there to welcome you, thank you for choosing Keystone and, in the afternoons, would ask you what was your day like,” he recalled, adding that Gillis was a “quiet giant” at Keystone who will be sorely missed.
“She was the embodiment of Keystone,” he said.
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