Jim Bob Moffett, who invested in Steamboat base area during ’70s and ’80s, dies at 82
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — James “Jim Bob” Moffett was a geologist, a former college football player and oil wildcatter, who built Freeport-McMoRan into one of the world’s leading natural resource companies.
“He was a larger-than-life character,” Steamboat Springs photographer Rob Hanna said of Moffett, who died Jan. 8 at 82.
This week, Moffett’s friends in Steamboat remembered him as a visionary with a unique charm and personalty.
Hanna described Moffett as a down-to-earth man who was open and honest. He still recalls how Moffett liked to imitate Elvis Presley, something Hanna got to witness firsthand at a dinner following a golf tournament that Moffett hosted in Steamboat.
Moffett had a humble upbringing and attended the University of Texas on a football scholarship where he played for Darrell Royal, the legendary Longhorn coach who became Moffett’s mentor.
After graduating college in 1961 with a bachelor of science degree in geology, Moffett began working in the oil fields as a roustabout until becoming a consulting geologist in the oil and gas industry.
In 1969, Moffett co-founded McMoRan Exploration Co., and in 1981, under Moffett’s leadership, McMoRan merged with Freeport Minerals Co., marking one of the largest corporate mergers in Wall Street history, to form Freeport-McMoRan Inc., one of the world’s leading natural resource companies.
His success allowed him and his partners to invest heavily in the base area in Steamboat, where he purchased the Ski Time Square shopping center and Thunderhead Lodge. He also helped form the partnership that made the Sheraton Steamboat Resort an anchor for the growing Steamboat ski area in the 1980s.
“It kind of was a transformational time as Steamboat moved from a somewhat regional ski area into more of a world-class destination,” said Chuck Porter, a longtime friend and former general manager of the Sheraton Resort. “He played his part in the transformation.”
When the ski area decided to step away from the hotel business, Moffett worked to put together a group of seven partners to add the west tower and the conference center to Sheraton Steamboat Resort.
“He first became involved up here in 1973 when he acquired a little ranch outside of Steamboat and had thought about actually developing a private ski area there,” Porter said.
Over the years, Porter built a working relationship and friendship with Moffett that lasted decades.
“I’ve been associated with him as partners, gosh, since 1980,” Porter said. “I was actually working for ITT Sheraton, and then Starwood when Starwood took over the properties. I retired from Starwood and worked directly for Jim Bob and the Moffetts since 2008.”
Porter said his friend brought his vision to the base area and made the investments needed to make the resort a vacation destination.
“At one point, he wanted to develop a master plan for that whole left side of the base area,” Porter said. “He envisioned kind of redeveloping that whole side of the base area. Unfortunately, the land that became Torian Plum got sold out before he could realize that vision.”
Moffett, however, did not let the setback dampen his entrepreneurial spirit or his love of Steamboat Springs.
“His company certainly had a presence here,” Hanna said. “I’m not sure when he and his partners bought into the Sheraton, but certainly, I think he was involved when they doubled the size of the hotel and built the convention center. That was an important part of the development of the base area.”
Moffett and his partners loved to showcase Steamboat to their customers and contacts when they had a chance and, for several years, hosted the David Graham Invitational Pro-Am Golf Tournament on the greens and fairways of the Sheraton Steamboat Golf Club.
As part of the tournament, Graham would invite other players, including Payne Stewart, Ben Crenshaw, Craig Stadler, Bruce Devlin, Fred Couples and Peter Jacobson, to come and enjoy Steamboat for a few days.
Moffett was a noted civic leader and philanthropist and received many awards during his career, including the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Award and the Norman Vincent Peale Award for exceptional humanitarian contributions to society. He also is a member of the University of Texas McCombs School of Business Hall of Fame and the American Mining Hall of Fame, Mining Foundation of the Southwest.
“It was a real honor and privilege knowing somebody like that and having kind of that inspiration,” Porter said. “When I first started working with him and his group, he told me, ’We work hard, and we play hard.’ Nobody worked harder or played harder than Jim Bob.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday to include comment from the president of Xcel Energy Colorado.