Friends, family pay tribute to ski industry icon Chris Diamond
Those who knew Chris Diamond describe the former president and chief operating officer of Steamboat Resort as devoted, caring and passionate, and say those qualities reflected in his leadership during his time in Steamboat and throughout his four decades in the ski industry.
“It started with his passion for the industry, his love of this community and his dedication to this resort in terms of staying true to our 60-year history of being western, family friendly and genuine,” said Rob Perlman, president and chief operating officer at Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.
“I think he honored the rich history here in the Yampa Valley community, and with the resort, he continued to carry on the incredible brand and set it on its trajectory that we’re now experiencing to be one of the top resorts in the world,” Perlman continued. “I feel blessed and honored to carry on his legacy, and to have worked alongside him is truly an honor. I feel blessed.”
Diamond died peacefully on Jan. 12 at his home. He was 76.
For Perlman, Diamond was a mentor and friend for more than 20 years.
“Chris Diamond was a legend in the industry,” Perlman said. “I had heard his name before I met him more than 20 years ago and knew he was a well respected pioneer of the industry and about all of his contributions, whether it was from his days out on the East Coast to his time here in Steamboat or his involvement with the Vermont Skiers Association, the Colorado Ski Country, USA Trade Association or the National Ski Areas Association. He was a huge contributor to our industry.”
Diamond was also a friend to many in Steamboat Springs.
“He was just a really good friend,” said Bob Dapper, who worked closely with Diamond when Dapper was the director of mountain operations for Christy Sports. “I got to watch him roll, and he got to watch me roll, and somewhere along the line, we really liked each other, and that’s the part we focused on — the friendship — and it worked well.”
Dapper said he shared a love of road biking with Diamond and liked to spend time with his friend riding the many loops in the Steamboat Springs area. The two were also part of a group of friends that would spend long weekends enjoying the outdoors in Pingree Park.
“I’m gonna miss (having) someone that I could talk to about anything, someone that could see the big picture, had great wisdom, and his laugh,” Dapper said. “He could laugh with the best, I’ll tell you that, and I’m going to miss that.”
Diamond was born in Danbury, Connecticut, but spent his childhood in Easthampton, Massachusetts. His father, James Diamond, was a World War II veteran who landed on Omaha Beach, and his mother, Mary Diamond, was a social worker who played a lead role at Children’s Aid and Family Services in Northampton.
After graduating from Williston Academy in Easthampton, Diamond earned a scholarship to pursue his undergraduate degree at Middlebury College, where he served as the social chair and paid cook for his beloved fraternity, Alpha Sigma Psi. He graduated from Middlebury with a commission from ROTC, and he received his notice to report for active duty in January 1970.
He served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant and became platoon leader for a joint force from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the 510th Signal Company. As a result of his service in Vietnam, he was awarded the bronze star and commendations.
After returning from Vietnam in 1972, Diamond completed his master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst before taking the role of assistant to Killington Mountain Resort founder Preston Smith.
In 1977, Diamond became the general manager of neighboring Mount Snow, which was later acquired by S-K-I Ltd. in 1986. Diamond served as vice president of corporate development for the parent company from 1994 to 1996.
Les Otten acquired S-K-I Ltd. in 1996 and formed the American Skiing Company, and Diamond returned to his role as general manager of Mount Snow. When American Skiing Company acquired Steamboat Resort in 1997, Diamond assumed the managing director’s role at the resort.
“Chris was an icon in the ski industry, not just because he was a good president in Steamboat,” Dapper said. “He was thought of as the cat’s meow in the entire industry.”
During his career, Diamond also served as the chairman of the National Ski Areas Association and of Colorado Ski Country USA. In 2013, he was recognized with an NSAA Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame in 2017.
In 2015, the Steamboat Pilot reported that Diamond was at the forefront as the ski area armored itself against climate change with a new era of efficient snowmaking guns. He served on the airport board as Routt County modernized and greatly expanded the airport terminal, and Diamond campaigned for passage of a general sales tax to keep Steamboat’s ski season flight program competitive in an era of airline mergers.
The ski area leveraged the public improvements at its base during Diamond’s leadership, with a music performance stage and a large sandstone barbecue deck overlooking the newly snow-melted pavers adjacent to the gondola building.
The first six-pack chairlift helped move beginner skiers up the mountain early in the day to reduce congestion, and that same six-person ski lift helped usher in the era of night skiing at Steamboat.
Keenen Diamond recalled that his father arrived just as the Steamboat Grand was being completed, and at a time when American Skiing Company was financially challenged and facing backlash from the community. But Keenen said his father endured the early criticism and worked hard for the community he loved.
“He was someone who gave everything he had to the community of Steamboat Springs,” Keenen said.
Keenen said his dad faced the problems at the ski area head on and made hard decisions to ensure Steamboat prospered even as its parent company struggled. He said that despite the less-than-warm welcome, his father was able to gain community support and knew that Steamboat Springs would be home.
“It was so bad and the relationship was so damaged, but you fast forward a couple of years, and he’s Yampa Valley Man of the Year and the resort is doing well. The evidence and advocacy of his management is all in the skier visit numbers and the valuations over the years through the sales and financial success of the resort and of the town,” Keenen said “He put everything he had into Steamboat Springs, and not just Steamboat Resort.”
Diamond also served on numerous boards including the Routt County Airport Advisory Commission, the Steamboat Chamber (past president), the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and Strings Music Festival.
Diamond retired as president and chief operating officer of Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. in June 2015, but that didn’t mean he was done serving Steamboat, as he continued to give his time to local efforts including the Strings Music Festival.
“I served with him for many years on the chamber board,” said Betse Grasby, executive director for the Steamboat Art Museum and co-founder and executive director of the Strings Music Festival until her retirement in 2013. “I served with him for many years. … We’ve lost a respected leader who loved this community and understood this community.”
She said Diamond often worked behind the scenes and out of the spotlight to support many community organizations. She said he loved going to Strings Music Festival events and was on the board until his passing. He was also a patron of the Steamboat Art Museum.
Keenen said his father also remained involved with the ski industry, whether it was advising resort managers who reached out to him, consulting or writing books based on his wisdom and contacts from four decades in the industry. He was also working as part of a group to help Middlebury College better run the small Snowbowl ski area that it owns and operates.
He was the award-winning author of “Ski Inc.,” a book that gave insight into his journey in the ski resort business. He followed it up with “Ski Inc., 2020,” which explored Alterra’s rise in the ski industry as the company began to challenge Vail Resorts’ supremacy.
“He spent 50 years of his life on the East Coast,” Keenen said. “The community that he feels most attached to, of all the communities he’s resided in over his life, is Steamboat Springs. This community is what mattered to him the most.”
In addition to Diamond’s passion for skiing and the ski industry, he was an avid cyclist and sailor. He took up sailing in his 20s and went on to compete successfully nationally and internationally.
Diamond is survived by his wife of 44 years, Eileen Diamond; his sister, Barbara Diamond; his two children, Keenen Diamond (Mandy) and Elizabeth Diamond (Peter); and two grandchildren, Kaden and Makayla.
The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Strings Music Festival or the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Colorado.
“I’m going to speak at his memorial, and it’s going to be about a guy that loved skiing, who during a less than perfect upbringing found a passion to be on the snow,” Keenen said. “He was not a great skier, but a guy who just loved it and thought that other people should love it and have a chance to do it. Luckily, he was able to turn his passion for skiing into a career and found a community that he really loved and was able to bring the same passion and energy to all aspects of that community.“
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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