John Fetcher played key role in ski area

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— He has lunched with Supreme Court justices in Washington and exchanged gag gifts with legendary football player Doak Walker. He planned four of the area's reservoirs and designed world-class ski jumps from Howelsen Hill to Crested Butte. He designed and constructed many of Steamboat Springs' first ski lifts, not to mention the gondola that put Steamboat on the international map.

He was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and he refereed ski jumping at two Olympics.

And at 91 years old, John Fetcher still refuses to retire.

"That's the problem with engineers," Fetcher said.

They never want to quit.

Fetcher and his brother moved to the Yampa Valley with both their families in 1949. Fetcher quit his job as chief engineer at a Philadelphia company and purchased the Angostura Ranch, south of Clark, where he and his brother learned the art of cattle ranching together.

"We had to learn from scratch," Fetcher said. "I didn't know which end of the cow gets up first, and I didn't learn how to shoe a horse at Harvard," where Fetcher graduated with degrees in engineering and business.

Though he learned to ski while living in Switzerland as a teenager, Fetcher didn't become involved in the local ski scene until ski-jumping legend Gordon Wren needed Fetcher's help with a troublesome lift on Howelsen Hill.

Fetcher's engineering background proved a valuable commodity in Steamboat, and he eventually designed the ski jump on Howelsen Hill. Then, in 1959, Jim Temple approached Fetcher and sold him on Temple's dream of a ski resort in Steamboat.

A corporation was formed and the ski area opened with one Poma lift in 1961.

Profits were minimal and a new partnership was formed. Under Fetcher's guidance, construction of the resort's first chairlift commenced.

Despite numerous obstacles, the lift, originally named Bear Claw and later renamed Christie, was up and running by Jan. 5, 1963, and the ski are opened Jan. 12, 1963.

Fetcher was responsible for the design and construction of many of the resort's original lifts, including the six-passenger gondola.

He served as president of Mount Werner Ski Company from 1962-71, and he negotiated the sale of the resort to LTV Aerospace in 1969 when he realized the ski area had to be expanded if it was ever going to be profitable. Fetcher said he doesn't regret selling the resort and is proud that the resort's existence has produced a new economy for the area.

"It was too much (work) for me," he said. "We created a (local) industry from which there is a lot of opportunity."

Fetcher ran Mount Werner Water District for more than three decades before retiring in 1999. Currently, he serves as the secretary manager for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District,

Fetcher still finds time to hit the slopes, and he plays tennis every Wednesday. He celebrated his 91st birthday sailing the Caribbean on a 15-foot boat.

"We only hit ground once," he joked.

And when the snow melts this spring after another winter in the Yampa Valley, Fetcher's weathered hands will get back to work mending fences on his ranch and tending to his 300 or so cattle, much like he did more than 50 years ago upon his arrival in Northwest Colorado.

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