Three decades of ski business
KEYSTONE – John Rutter has already found a health food store near his new home in Jackson, Wyo.
He has a place to live.
The scenery and array of activities are comparable to those in Summit County.
There’s plenty of skiing at Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee and Snow King Mountain.
And he knows where his new office is located.
Rutter, who until Oct. 31 was the chief operations officer of Keystone Resort, moves today to Wyoming, where he will oversee Vail Resorts’ Grand Teton Lodge Co. Included in that is Colter Bay, the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club and Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake lodges.
His transfer is part of a reshuffling Vail Resorts announced late last month to cut $10 million from its budget. Fifty other employees, many of whom worked for Rutter, were laid off in the belt-tightening.
The change is one among many Rutter has experienced in his 28 years at Keystone Resort.
Rutter was born to parents who worked in the National Park system, so he grew up in the forests of Lassen Volcanic and Sequoia national parks in California, the Badlands of South Dakota and Rocky Mountain National Park.
All his life, he thought he’d follow in his father’s shoes and become a park ranger. With that goal in mind, he entered the University of Washington as a forestry major. In this junior year, however, he dropped out.
“I decided I didn’t want to be a park ranger,” he said. “The parks were getting to be real popular, and rangers were starting to participate more in law enforcement. My loves in life were skiing and climbing.”
He figured he’d pursue both – and hoped one of those loves would land him in a job meant for him.
He spent his summers as a mountain guide in Washington and Oregon, started a backpacking and tent manufacturing company and taught skiing.
“I was doing what I loved to do,” he said. “I loved to ski, I loved to climb, I loved the outdoors, so it was pretty neat.”
In 1973, after it became “infinitely apparent” that the backpack manufacturing business could support only one of the two founders, Rutter left to become the director of the ski patrol for Mission Ridge near Snoqualmie, Wash.
It was there he heard from his parents that their long-time friend, Bob Maynard, was looking for a bunch of young guys who were willing to work hard at his new ski area in Colorado.
Rutter had skied at Arapahoe Basin growing up. When he returned almost 20 years later, Keystone consisted of little more than four lifts, Mountain House, Summit House, Ski Tip, a few condominiums, a gas station and a concrete shell of a building called The Lodge.
That first year, Rutter worked for Olympic skier Gene Gillis, building trails in the Packsaddle Bowl.
“That was the first year-round job I ever had,” he said. “I thought, “A year-round job? What better deal can you have?’ The idea of a regular paycheck was really neat.”
In 1976, ski officials appointed Rutter mountain manager. Two years later, they purchased Arapahoe Basin and appointed Rutter as general manager of Keystone. In 1980, he was responsible for both operations.
Rutter lived in a small cabin – 300 square feet on a big day, he said – that still stands near the children’s park in River Run. He left the cabin in 1978 when he married his wife, Perrin. The couple later sold their three-bedroom, two-car-garage home to move back into the tiny cabin, which he purchased for $50,000.
In 1983, ski area officials finished the resort’s new master plan.
“That’s when they got pretty serious about expanding and development,” Rutter said. “I spent a lot of time walking with Max (Dercum, one of the founders of Keystone). I hiked with Max, talked with Max, to understand Max’s vision and thoughts about the mountain.”
He absorbed everything he could. The list of influential people reads like a Who’s Who in Skiing: Maynard, Bob Craig, Max Dercum, Gene Gillis, Bill Hannisch, Doc Cornwell, Joe Michelitto, Bill Stiritz.
By 1984, Rutter – a college dropout – was the vice-
president of Keystone, but in 1987 decided to get his master’s degree in business through the Peaks MBA program Keystone officials set up with the University of Denver.
“I told them how much I wanted to do it,” he said. “I talked my way into graduate school.”
Being back in school was brutal – but invaluable.
Afterward, Rutter became involved in all aspects of the resort: snowmaking, development, real estate, building lifts and working with people. Under his direction, Keystone built the Outpost, the Outback, numerous high speed quads and, in 1990, forged a development agreement with Intrawest.
With that came the construction of River Run and Ralston Purina’s purchase of Breckenridge Ski Area.
Ralston sold Breckenridge and Keystone in 1997 to Vail Resorts and, after a judge decided Vail Resorts would hold a monopoly if it also held Arapahoe Basin, sold the little ski area to Canada-based Dundee Realty.
His biggest challenge has been “keeping it all together,” he said. “Dealing with yourself, staying in balance. Finding that delicate balance between yourself and the outside world. Keeping your perspective, and keeping it in high times and low times. You need to stay balanced, centered, grounded to what does really matter in life.”
Rutter said his leadership style is “situational.”
“You direct when you need to direct,” he said. “You delegate when you need to delegate. You coach when you need to coach. And you support when you need to support. The trick to the game is knowing when to do what.”
He has yet to determine what to do at Grand Teton Lodge Co.
“It’ll be interesting not to ski for a living,” he said. “I’m going up there to run a business.”
The Grand Teton area is a summer-oriented place, and Rutter plans to see if it can be made into a year-round vacation spot. It has more in common than not with Summit County.
“People there are grappling with change,” he said. “They’re savvy about growth, about the environment, about recreation. They’re community minded; they’re spirited.”
When asked what he thought Keystone might look like in 10 years, he said he didn’t know, and it all depends.
“It depends on the real estate market,” he said. “What it’s going to be like to invest in skiing. Keystone has tremendous assets just the way it is. In 10 years, it will be as great as it is today.”
The committed people who work there, he said, will continue the inertia of Dercum’s original vision. He will take the lessons he’s learned to Wyoming.
“I’m a real believer in “Home is where the heart is,'” Rutter said. “I’ve got memories – all that sad stuff that makes the tears flow. I don’t have cold water running through my veins. I thought it would be easy to leave. It’s got its moments of difficulty.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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