Hans Geier, 86, humbly reflects on his time building Steamboat Resort
Hans Geier speaks with a soft voice. His face blushes when asked about his life accomplishments. When asked what his role at Steamboat Resort once was, he quietly utters, “President.”
One wouldn’t know it based on talking to Geier, but he is responsible for much of the growth and progress at Steamboat Resort.
“He really put Steamboat on the map,” Geier’s wife Roberta said.
Geier chuckled and nodded his head as he sat at his coffee table and peered through the window Friday of his Steamboat Springs house, which has a direct view of Mount Werner.
“He is responsible for most of that,” Roberta added, pointing out the window.
Geier is a ski industry celebrity.
“It kind of feels as if I’m talking with royalty because (Hans has) done a lot for this town,” said Craig Wasserman, the Geiers’ neighbor and close friend. “He’s very quiet about it, but the fact is he took care of the mountain through its major iterations and very quietly made them occur.”
A life of skiing
Geier, now 86, grew up in Austria and planned to pursue higher education in the country, but Geier’s father died in World War II, leaving him to support the family at age 12. He got involved in the textile business, mixing chemicals and colored dyes. It was promised many times that he would be sent to chemical engineering school, but he never was.
“I was not a member of a prominent family in the town,” he said.
In winter 1960-61, a frustrated Geier immigrated to Canada to become a ski instructor, where he was able to take his exam in his native language. After two years of teaching at Gray Rocks in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, Geier spent a summer ski season in Chile. When he returned a year later to Canada, he worked as the ski area’s assistant ski school director.
From there, he became director of the ski school at Ski Roundtop in Pennsylvania.
“Before the season was out, I was made general manager, and from then on, I was always a general manager or president at the ski area where I worked,” Geier said.
He arrived in Steamboat Springs in the 1980-81 winter season on the heels of a discouragingly slow winter when Steamboat recorded just 133.25 inches of snow at mid-mountain. It was the era of Martin Hart, who was at the helm of the resort’s ownership group Northwest Colorado Ski Corp.
Geier was hired as president of Steamboat Resort — at the time called Steamboat Ski Area — in 1981. At the time, the ski area was small, had no snowmaking operation and no gondola.
Geier saw great potential and had high hopes of growing the resort so he quickly got to work. He traveled around Europe in search of the perfect gondola for the resort. After meeting with several different companies, Geier set his sights on the world’s first eight-passenger gondola.
“I asked, ’Why not build an eight-passenger gondola?’” Geier recalled. “Some of the lift manufacturers didn’t want to do it. A lot of people said it could be done, but it wouldn’t be simple.”
The new gondola wasn’t just bigger, it was faster, too. It increased Steamboat’s uphill capacity from 900 skiers to 2,800 skiers per hour.
Hans also oversaw development of the Sunshine and Storm Peak chairlifts, which he said were essential parts of expanding the skiable terrain, as well as the Valley View Trail. In 1984, Geier opened Sunshine Bowl, with 400 new acres of terrain, as well as the Rendezvous Saddle restaurant.
“You learn a lot over the years,” Geier said of his experience in designing trails and installing a gondola, despite not having a background in mechanics or engineering.
Notably, Geier also oversaw construction of Hazie’s fine-dining restaurant, one of the first restaurants in the country to be housed atop a mountain at a resort.
“Hazie’s wasn’t in our budget, but I knew that Aspen and Vail already had fancy restaurants on the mountain,” Geier said. “We had The Stoker at Thunderhead, and there was a deck on top of it at the time. I was looking at the deck with Bob Kuusinen (former ski area department head), and I asked him, ’How good is this deck?’ He said, ‘It was leaking,’ and I said, ’Let’s build a restaurant here.’ I think it turned out pretty well.”
The end of an era
Geier had a goal of skiing until age 90, but the goal was cut short at 85.
Geier and Wasserman had a tradition of skiing together nearly every day, even if only for a few runs at the end of the day. As the two were skiing down Heavenly Daze on a quiet afternoon last year, Wasserman noticed he had skied ahead, and Geier was no longer in view.
Wasserman turned around to find Geier lying down, passed out in the snow. When we awoke, Geier told Wasserman he was hit by another skier, and the two called ski patrol to help them down the mountain.
“We’ll get you in the toboggan and carry you down,” Geier remembers being told.
But he was determined — and a bit stubborn.
“I’ll get myself down,” Geier remembers responding.
After back-and-forth deliberation about safety, the three reached an agreement: Wasserman and the patrol officer would ski in front of and behind Geier, just in case he fell. After making it to the base, Geier was transported to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, where doctors told him he may not be able to ski again, as his balance would not be the same after the fall.
That incident put a cap on his skiing career. “But I got lots of good days in,” he said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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