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Colorado’s Local Heroes

Colorado is full of people in the outdoor space who unite and uplift its communities. These local heroes may or may not get praise on the big stage but they work tirelessly to make a difference. They are advocates, athletes, baristas, artists, guides, teachers. ski bums. The thing that sets them apart is the change they create out in the world. with that in mind, we asked you, our readers, to nominate your local heroes—and here they are, 21 Coloradans who give back, shine, and work to build a better world starting at home.

Winston Walker

Beckwourth Doers, Westminster

The Ultimate Doer – Winston Walker got people of all backgrounds out on the trails. Photo by Ruan Copeland

Winston Walker moved to Colorado in 1989 and immediately fell in love with the mountains. In 1993, he founded the James P. Beckwourth Mountain Club (later called the Beckwourth Doers) to honor the pioneering Black mountain man and inspire people of all backgrounds to get out and explore on the trails. “I found out about the James P. Beckwourth Mountain Club and their outdoor activities through the Black America West Museum here in Denver and went to the designated meeting place for a hike,” says Carrie J. Austin, a Texas transplant who started hiking with Walker in 1996. “He organized hikes from easy to difficult; my very first camping trip was one he organized. I developed a love for camping (although my camping tends to be a little on the glamping side). The Denver alumnae chapter of his alma mater organized a ski trip, which got me interested in learning to ski. He was confident, adventuresome and willing to try most anything without being cavalier or careless. He researched all aspects of these outings so you could assess the risks for yourself before going. Even though he used those long legs to climb up very steep hikes and go bouldering, he never left anyone behind. His outings piqued my interest in photography and conservation. My interest in being outdoors in natural surroundings whether in Colorado or elsewhere in the world was redoubled.” Winson Walker passed away in December. We were lucky enough to let him know his community overwhelmingly praised him and that we were going to honor him in this magazine. We know his gentle love of wild places and getting people of all backgrounds out in them will live on and grow. As the reader who nominated him said: “Without Winston many of us would be sitting at home eating cupcakes instead of filling our lungs with good clean air.”

Lisa Branner

Venture Snowboards, Silverton

“Lisa Branner is changing the small town of Silverton, Colorado,” says the reader who nominated her. She is the community relations manager for the Town of Silverton and co-founder of Silverton-based craft manufacturer Venture Snowboards. A Silverton resident for more than a decade, Branner’s career includes work with natural science organizations like Mountain Studies Institute, Durango Nature Studies, and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. She has also headed up sales, marketing and public relations for Venture Snowboards since the company’s founding in 1999. Branner is currently responsible for spearheading the Kendall Mountain Recreation Area master planning process and the Silverton Area Trails Plan—both focused on economic expansion and year-round population growth through outdoor recreation. She has also served on the board of Snowsports Industries America (SIA) and is currently a board member of the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce and San Juan Development Association. Branner also recently joined the Advisory Council of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC).

Anne Keller

The Hot Tomato, Fruita

Photo by Devon Balet

“What truly stands out about Anne, is her devotion to improving access to public lands and hard labor to maintain local singletrack trails,” says the reader who nominated the co-owner of The Hot Tomato pizza shop. “Anne is a leader in the Fruita Trails Initiative which is a partnership of local businesses, the City of Fruita, Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association and the Bureau of Land Management, in which each partner annually allocates funds to build and maintain trails. Anne worked with the City of Fruita to study other areas, go on field trips to learn from other areas and research best practices to utilize funds most efficiently all on her own time. This has led to new trails at the Kokopelli trail system, a master plan for the North Fruita Desert 18 Road Trails and the first fulltime maintenance crew that improved trails at Kokopelli and 18 Road trail systems last year. While the funding paid a trail crew through the Western Colorado Conservation Corps, it was Anne who helped develop the plan of attack and who donated her time to be out with the crew most days working along side them. She will probably kill me for nominating her as she is the epitome of doing with purpose and passion with no ounce of limelight sought. We could all use more Anne Kellers in our communities!”

Amanda Jameson

Backpacker Magazine, Boulder

Photo by Louisa Albanese

Amanda “Zuul” Jameson served as Boulder-based Backpacker magazine’s thru-trail correspondent and she’s lived in six different U.S. states and four different countries in the last 10 years. That didn’t stop our reeaders from nominating her as a local hero, since Coloradans consider our trails home. The American Long Distance Hiking Association West (ALDHA-West) board member has completed the Colorado Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and shared the love of these hikes through her writing, advocacy and enthusiasm.

Tom Winter

Freeride World Tour, Boulder

For the past three decades, Tom Winter has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote and build the freeride ski and snowboard community in Colorado and around the world. He’s created numerous events (often working unpaid), including some of the first freeriding competitions held in Colorado, first at Berthoud Pass and then at Snowmass and, farther afield in Taos, Chile, Argentina and Italy, where he recently launched the Hard Snow festival to benefit the search and rescue work done by the Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico Piemontese (CNSAS) as well as create opportunities for local businesses in the town of Exilles. Tom’s event production work has always focused on creating community and building relationships while also organizing fun, relaxed and open-to-everyone events that promote competition for all, with success being ultimately measured by how large the smile is on an athlete’s face and how much will the local community benefit from an event. Tom’s most recent project, Hard Snow, was inspired in part by the work that the CNSAS was doing in rescuing African migrants who were traveling in winter by foot across the snow-covered mountains of the Alta Val di Susa, Italy. Originally founded to assist hikers, backcountry skiers and other adventurers, the mainly volunteer organization has seen its resources become increasingly stretched as migrants—most without proper equipment or clothing—attempt to make the perilous crossing from Italy to France through the Alps in winter. Hard Snow serves as a fundraiser to help defray the unexpected costs related to Europe’s migrant crisis and to ensure that the CNSAS can continue to serve the community as well as have the resources needed to assist migrants in trouble.

Vik Raol and Gregory Keogh

Volunteers, Eagle

Vik and Greg have spent four days a week, every week, for the past two summers cleaning up tires and trash from the Eagle River. Their stack of tires from summer 2018 totaled over 150, and this most recent summer they removed about 200 tires (plus additional trash). “They are passionate about keeping our rivers clean,” says the reader who nominated them. “The beauty of their work is that it’s unseen. When you are hiking along the river, you can’t see the tires and trash hiding at the river bottom. They seek out the trash and remove it to have it properly recycled or disposed. They have rallied other volunteers to help in their efforts, and the community sings their praises about the incredible hard work. Not only is it strenuous, but there’s nothing glamorous about old, disintegrated tire muck splashing all over you. They love cleaning the rivers and they don’t do it for any glory or fame, they do it for a passion for nature.”

Ryan Van Duzer

Athlete and influencer, Boulder

The Duzer Effect – Want to be inspired to find adventure? this is your man. Photo courtesy Ryan Van Duzer

“Ryan is a local icon here in Boulder,” says the reader who nominated him. “He not only embodies the love of adventure and the outdoors that Boulder is known for, but he gives back to his community through volunteering, fundraising and inspiring young folks. Ryan is one of a kind. He is clever, funny, genuine, and has more integrity than anyone I know.”

Matt “Steiny” Steinwand

Trail builder, Crested ButteMatt Steinwand, a.k.a “Steiny,” has been an integral part to the development, protection and stewardship of the local trails of Crested Butte and Gunnison for many years. He has built downhill trails for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the trails in and around CB for the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, he has managed trail crews of the Crested Butte Conservation Core (CBCC) and currently builds and maintains trails for Gunnison Trails. He has sat on the board of CBMBA for over fivve years and has attended and managed hundreds of community trail work days. “He has such an immense passion for trails that he even carries shovels and chainsaws with him on his days off, just in case he encounters something that needs attention,” says the reader who nominated him. “Steiny has helped mitigate erosion, fixes drainage issues, clears deadfall, repairs tread, picks up trash and toilet paper (and even human feces!), directs trailhead parking during busy weekends, and provides a boots-on-the-ground presence aimed at improving the backcountry for locals and visitors alike. The trails in the Gunnison Valley would not be what they are today without Steiny.”

Aaron Carlson

Friends of the CAIC, Evergreen

Photo by Liam Doran

“Aaron has been working tirelessly for years to bring the Colorado backcountry community together to support the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and avalanche forecasting in Colorado,” says the reader who nominated him. “The Friends of CAIC and CAIC partner on the Know Before You Go avalanche awareness program here in Colorado,” Carlson told us. “Those programs are put on in a variety of venues throughout the state and are offered for free to anyone who requests one. The awareness program is great even as a refresher for those of us who have been traveling in the backcountry for some time. It’s always good to bring it back to the basics. The Friends of CAIC are also putting together a Snow and Avalanche Workshop in Golden during the second week of February. We are excited to give recreational users a more in depth look into avalanche problems and how to use them in their decision making, weather forecasting in Colorado, and an update on the current avalanche conditions around the state. Our vision is to be able to raise $1M annually so that we can support 10 backcountry forecasting position as well as further improve the CAIC’s web and mobile technology products and continue to push avalanche safety forward in Colorado. We invite everyone, any time of year, to help us realize that vision.”

Chris Wiegand

Adaptive Adventures, Boulder

A selfless and truly inspiring advocate for physical activity despite physical disabilities. Weigand, who works as the National Paddlesports and Cycling Manager at Adaptive Adventures. may be the most active person across the country providing classes and instruction of how to access outdoor sports,” says the reader who nominated him. “I’ve been just one of thousands this year that he has gotten beyond my suicidal ideation and perceived abilities in life.” Wiegand was voted Elevation Outdoor’s Ultimate Colorado Badass last year by our readers, too.

Earl Richmond

Buena Vista

Long-time Buena Vista resident Earl Richmond founded Colorado Kayak Supply (CKS) and is currently the Buena Vista Recreation department director. He  spearheads local park/town clean-up initiatives and promotes all things outdoors in the town. He created a bike library, allowing kids of any social economic status to access a bike, works closely with BVSC (Buena Vista Singletrack Coalition) to build and maintain local trails, coaches youth sports and promotes and supports Arkansas River activities. Richmond spearheads the annual ski movie fundraiser that sends BV special needs students to Breckenridge to participate in an Adaptive Learn-to-ski program. “Earl is truly a local hero,” says the reader who nominated him.

Gary Neptune

Neptune Mountaineering, Boulder“Gary has done more for the outdoor community in Colorado the anyone I know,” says the reader who nominated him. “He’s a supreme athlete (climbed Mt. Everest when it was still an adventure), started one of the first outdoor specialty stores (Neptune Mountaineering), and has mentored hundreds, if not thousands of young athletes and outdoor adventurers. He is still climbing and skiing at a phenomenal level—he just skied across Baffin Island. And he’s the most humble, nicest person around.”

Emma Shinn

Transending, Boulder

Transending the Norm – “Being a visible leader helps others who are struggling,” says emma shinn. “Representation and inclusion is vital for minority communities. By seeing people who look like us overcoming obstacles, it shows us that we can overcome them too.” Photo Courtesy Emma Shinn

Over the past two years, Emma has sat on the Board of TranSending, consolidated multiple LGBT climbing groups in Colorado into a single group with over 300 members and 501c3 status, and successfully worked to implement name-change laws that support trans families. She is also on the board of SPART*A, an organization advocating for trans military members who lost their jobs in 2019. “Community involvement is crucial, she says. “It is where we draw strength from and share both our triumphs and trials, while learning from others’ successes and failures.”

Nathan Fey

Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, Denver

“Over the past couple decades Nathan has played a very quiet, but notable role in the conservation of public lands and waters in the West,” says the reader who nominated him. “He has helped craft federal legislation, from opening new access to protecting Wilderness here and in neighboring states. He has created new outdoor recreation economies in local communities around the region that every enthusiast now enjoys, from river parks, to trailheads, to state and federal parks and protected areas. He has educated a new generation, and served as a guide to visitors and residents. Nathan is now the Director of The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (see our Q and A with him on here), where he is taking the industry to new heights. His role is not to be in the spotlight, but to quietly lead the industry on economic development, conservation, public health and education and workforce development. He has a proven success record, and a passionate dedication to Colorado. The industry can take this opportunity to recognize his years of leadership.”

Randi Hitchcock

UpaDowna, Colorado Springs

Raising the Bar – Randi Hitchcock makes everyone feel welcome. Photo Courtesy UPADOWNA

“Randi works so hard to make UpaDowna a successful nonprofit and I admire her so much,” says the reader who nominated her. “She coordinates so many different outdoor activities and events and makes people so happy. She is all-inclusive and tries to get as many people to participate as possible no matter their ability level. She is such a wonderful woman. I worked with her this past summer and the care and compassion that she shows to every single person even though she is busy is amazing.”

Eric Mamula

Mayor, Breckenridge

Trail Boss – Breckenridge mayor Eric Mamula is the classic mountain townie. Photo by Matt powers

It’s a common saying among residents in Breckenridge, Colorado, “I came for a winter and stayed for the summer.” Even the Breckenridge mayor, Eric Mamula, himself got sucked up by the charm and found himself here almost 32 years later after he ditched a law school acceptance letter for the mellow mountain vibe. Eric has kept Breckenridge’s soul and quality of life alive and thriving for residents while welcoming guests from all over the globe in this world-class mountain destination. In 2018, Breckenridge  Town Council approved investing $8 million in fiber infrastructure that will position Breckenridge for the future of digital communications. The project is designed to meet the connectivity needs of area  homes and businesses well into the foreseeable future.

Leo Tsuo

Weston Snowboards, Minturn

Boards for All – Leo TSuo has made weston snowboards a brand of the people. Photo courtesy Weston

“A dirtbag snowboarder at heart, Leo bought Weston first and foremost to spread the stoke about snowboarding, and give people the tools they need access the backcountry safely, both with snowboards and education,” says the reader who nominated him. “The brand that he and the Weston crew has created is unlike any other. Rather than dumping thousands of dollars into big-name athletes and content production, Weston invests its money back into real everyday riders, the ones who have to work a job or two to make it work so they can live there dream of living in the mountains and riding as much as humanly possible. The education pipeline that they have created including Splitboard 101s that are hosted at local shops and breweries, to on snow events like their Introduction to Splitboarding Courses and Splitboard Specific AIARE courses that they team up with local guide operations to run. Last year they did over 100 events, a majority of them right here in Colorado. This education pipeline that was pioneered here, is now being carried out across the country with Weston scheduled to host over 200 events nationwide this year. In an era of a lot of brands selling on the trend of backcountry, Leo and Weston take the responsibility of making sure that people are doing it safely seriously, and the community built up around that brand is something truly special.”

Buzz Burrell

Ultimate Direction, Boulder“Buzz has an enormous legacy of being the ‘first’ to do things: running, scrambling, paddling…or most recently connecting 100+ miles of uninterrupted bike paths along the Front Range,” says the reader who nominated him. He recently retired as Brand VP of Ultimate Direction, a company he helped reinvent beginning in 2014.

Brian VanIwarden

FAR, Cañon City

In 2010, Brian VanIwarden and a group of friends formed Fremont Adventure Recreation (FAR), a non-profit dedicated to supporting the health and wellness of his community (the one he grew up in) and creating outdoor recreation opportunities for others. Starting with a small 5K, he built a calendar of events that allowed local runners to participate in events that celebrate both physical health and the incredible beauty of the area. Eventually, VanIwarden coordinated with other local talent to begin establishing trail systems in the area. In 2019, FAR now has an impressive resume of events, outreach programs, scholarship recipients and community-oriented programs that bridge the gap between outdoor education, mental health, community involvement and trail development. He also worked to establish a youth running program that coincides with Cañon City’s annual Blossom Day festivities, implemented a program designed to put area trail maps in the hands of every 6th grade student in Fremont County (traditionally under-served and with a high poverty level), and has been the financial manager for a successful 1% for Trails program that funds trails in the area. Due in part to his vision and leadership, Cañon City also now boasts a growing number of trail systems.

Trux Dole

10th Mountain Division Foundation, Lakewood

Living the Legacy – Trux Dole, dressed in original 10th Mountain attire, poses with Lt. Colonel Russ Mckelvey.

Trux Dole is Chairman of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation based in Lakewood, which preserves the 10th Mountain legacy and sponsors certification grants for ski/snowboard instructors and outdoor educator programs, supports the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, and creates cross-promotional partnerships with companies. Ever see those Colorado DMV 10th Mountain licenses plates? Those are a Foundation fundraiser. “These people helped shape the ski an outdoor industry, and today 10th soldiers are still hanging it out for us serving the country,” Dole says. This entry contributed by Jeff Blumenfeld.

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