Klaus Obermeyer offers me grapes that he picked this morning from his yard. They taste sweet, full of a too-hot summer. We are sitting in the office of the company he founded over 70 years ago here in Aspen. At nearly 99 years old he still shows up to work to helm a company that began when he was selling Austrian ties and traveling from Colorado to California with buddy Warren Miller, who had yet to make a single ski film. The legend goes that they lived off squirrels they hunted in a camp out in the woods. The shop owners Klaus talked to on those sales trips had never even heard of a town called Aspen, Colorado.
Klaus is incredibly sharp. We’ve met only one time before, at the 2016 Snowsports Industries America (SIA) show in Denver, but he remembers me, knows my face, knows this magazine. He comes to the office almost every day and still believes in the sport, in the mission of the business he built, and in the joy of powder turns. I guess his desire to keep at it is what keeps him so spry as he nears the century mark. It’s certainly an energy that makes me feel motivated to go out and live my own life to its fullest. We eat the grapes and talk about what he has seen and still believes. I have never met anyone Klaus’s age who is still so in the moment.
I have always enjoyed people who dig deep into the far fields of life, their vulnerability, those smiles that come from deep memories, their beauty. I had the pleasure of knowing my great-great aunt Imogene, born in 1889. Her grandfather fought in the Civil War for the Union and, according to family legend, he and one of his brothers used a stone from the then-under-construction Washington Monument (which sat unfinished for 23 years) to build the family home in D.C. She held my hand and told stories, her mind still active, connecting even at 98.
I later met my wife’s grandfather, who lived to be 97 and had worked on the Manhattan Project. He seemed lost in a the fog of age until we told him that we had climbed Longs Peak on a recent trip. Suddenly his eyes cleared and he was back in Wild Basin where he had worked in his 20s, explored and climbed. There’s an undeniable power to this connecting with people whose experience withstands history, but who lived it simply, going on with their lives.
A bit afraid of sounding cliche but honestly wanting to know, I ask Klaus about his first memories of skiing. He swooshed downhill in his backyard in Oberstaufen, Germany, when he was three. He and his father made the skis from the boards of an old orange crate. He had to tie strings from the tips to his knees to make the tips rise. A few years later, he was overjoyed to get a pair of Norwegian boards that actually had rounded tips. Here in the U.S., Klaus became one of the driving figures of the new sport: He was one of the first instructors at Aspen and his company, which still develops creative stuff made by people who consider skiing a lifestyle, developed innovations we all take for granted, such as ski brakes and hard-shell boots. His philosophy all along was simple: “Have fun and make it easier for people to have more fun.”
I think having fun and showing up to live out his passion in the office of this brand he founded as a ski bum, has kept Klaus so sharp so late in life. And, of course, the skiing itself—all those years of powder turns and waiting for it all to happen again, to be reborn in a sense, the next winter. We, the young, get so caught up in the hopelessness of our times. Those who have lived through holocausts and nuclear bombs and civil wars seem to know the secret to staying above what we can’t control. For Klaus, the secret is simply skiing. And suddenly, for the first time in my life, I want to live to be 100.