Telluride lost a beloved old timer Saturday afternoon when James Andrew Guest, 73, died at his home in Ski Ranches.
While there are no records kept for this sort of thing, Guest — or “Gus” as he was universally known — must have been among the first people, if not the very first person, to move to Telluride for the explicit purpose of skiing.
Gus rolled into town a few months before the first chairlift started spinning, in the summer of 1972. As he recalled in a short for 2014’s “Telluride in a Word” film series, “I’ll never forget riding into town on my motorcycle and seeing these two guys sitting in front of the old Roma … they’d dragged a wooden bench into the middle of the street and were sitting on it, drinking a beer while watching the sunset, and I said this looks like a nice place to be, so I stayed here.”
For more than 45 years Gus stayed. The word in the series that Gus (and only Gus) represented was “freedom.” “I like being free, and I kind of went out of my way to be free,” he says in the film. “I always felt pretty free to do what I wanted.” Gus then goes on to praise the joys of being a patroller — “It’s not like making widgets in Detroit in a factory” — and describes the resort’s early days, when he would ski around with a lit cigar for the purpose of lighting fuses for avalanche bombs.
Originally from Michigan, Gus moved to Colorado in the 1960s to attend college in Denver. His only child — James Guest, owner of Telluride Woodworks in San Bernardo — was born in 1967, when “my mom was 20 and my dad was 23. Having me probably kept him out of Vietnam,” James said Tuesday.
Afterward, “We moved as a family to Aspen, but my mom soon split with me to California, where I grew up in another ski town, Mammoth Lakes.” Gus, in turn, went to Steamboat to work patrol before his move to Telluride.
“I didn’t know him or remember him,” James said, “until he came to my high school graduation on a motorcycle.” They started staying in touch with each other, and enjoyed a memorable get-together in Steamboat “when it was absolutely nuking,” James said. “Gus was wearing a jean jacket and sunglasses in the powder; it was the first time we ever skied together.”
The next season, James visited his father in Telluride and said, “Hell, I have to move here. And that’s when I really got to know him, out here. I never felt it was a real father-son relationship; we were more friends than anything. But it was good, obviously, for both of us.”
Over time, the two built Gus’ house in Ski Ranches, shared a Friday afternoon bartending shift at the Sheridan Bar, and embarked on an epic, 30-day climbing and rafting expedition to Canada’s Northwest Territory. In truth, said James, “Ski patrol was his family; he just loved being outside doing bombing routes.”
Having patrolled embryonic Telluride in the early ’70s, Gus became an icon in the various patrol shacks dotting the ski area. Fellow patroller Jason Franck, who worked alongside Gus the last 19 years, called him “one of my best friends ever” and said “I will miss him for the rest of my life.”
Both Franck and James Guest said that Gus “was untouchable” as a patroller, and used his status to call out injustice in the shack and to look out for underdogs. James noted his father was instrumental in the successful effort Telluride patrollers made to unionize earlier this century.
That said, he possessed a wry sense of humor and loved to pull pranks on his friends. Franck remembered how Gus always called him “Raisin” due to some facial wrinkles. “In turn, I always called him ‘Prune,’ and we’d start jokes like ‘A prune and a raisin walk into a bar…’”
Gus, though, seemed to get the upper hand by repeatedly extracting all the raisins from his trail mix and placing them in Franck’s cubby at the patrol shacks or in his locker at Patrol HQ. “One time,” Franck exclaimed, “Gus even took the time to glue a raisin to a patrol shack mirror. We ran a lot of routes together and would always give each other a good heckling.”
Though he was often spotted tipping an elbow at the Sheridan Bar, Gus gave up alcohol many years ago, proving to Franck “you could be sober and still be a ski patroller. Gus became our designated driver and would drive everybody home, even though it meant he’d be hanging out at patrol parties after people started repeating themselves and talking with only one eye open. Gus would give us all a ride home, and patrollers would wake up the next day wondering how they got home to Ophir.”
A small, compact man, Gus was an amazing skier “who could control his speed even with his shoulders squared to the fall line,” Franck said. James Guest described his dad’s turns as “effortless — and very fast. If you ever tried to chase him through the woods, he’d be gone … and he’d be waiting for you at the bottom.”
Gus came down with bladder cancer about 15 years ago, and his body was never the same again, James said. “He never really recovered his plumbing function. His kidneys stopped working. He constantly had urinary infections, and he couldn’t eat right.”
On Saturday, before he died, Gus distributed several notes to his friends and family. “In the note he left for me,” said James, “he said ‘I’m not up for feeling like shit anymore. I’m not up for living in a home.’”
Of his friend’s death, Franck said, “I didn’t see it coming, but he was in a lot of pain. He was a good one, and he’s going to be missed by a lot of people.”
As James summed up, “He was done. We all wish we had more of him, but he was done.”
According to James Guest and Gus’ sister in Michigan, a memorial service for his father will take place once the summer crowds depart, either in late September or early October. A few months later, James plans to honor Gus’ wishes to “spread his ashes on Killer Slide on a warm spring day.”
Bill Jensen, CEO of Telluride Ski & Golf, issued a statement in honor of the resort’s beloved patroller. “On behalf of Telluride Ski & Golf we are deeply saddened at Gus’s passing. Gus was recognized last winter by his peers as one of only three TSG staff members who has worked every winter season since the mountain opened in December of 1972. Gus was an institution at Telski and his efforts and insights were valued and appreciated. We will miss him.”