Aspen native Ryan Smalls is in his first winter as Chairman of the Board of Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club, which provides on-snow opportunities to nearly 3,000 kids in the Roaring Valley. Fork and beyond. Alumnus of AVSC and local real estate broker, Smalls answered questions about his upbringing and what he hopes to bring to the club in his new role, where he replaced the professional big mountain skier and avid supporter of the AVSC Chris Davenport.
Q: Tell us about your background and how you first got involved with AVSC?
A: “I was lucky to be from Aspen. I am the product of a few ski enthusiasts. My parents came here in the 60s. My dad was teaching skiing by day and fixing frozen pipes by night. And my mom became a retail queen in Aspen – she had a lot of stores here. I never really appreciated how lucky I was to grow up here until I left. I started at AVSC when I was 9 years old. It was a little different then. Tiny little clubhouse at the top of South Mill. Probably only a few hundred kids in the club at the time.
Q: What was your favorite discipline within the AVSC?
A: “I was an alpine runner. The club was just alpine and nordic at that time. Now it’s a much bigger and better organization with freestyle, snowboarding and even mountain biking in the summer. For me, I was all about ski racing. AVSC has played this incredible role in my life. It was a dream factory…there was nothing I wanted more than to push the sport as far as possible.
Q: You have been on the AVSC Board of Directors since 2002, but this is your first term as President. What made you want to take on this role?
A“My motivation for speaking out at this time is to honor the memory of my parents and to pay tribute to the coaches, staff, donors, volunteers and especially the children and families who have made this club great since 1937.
“We are currently experiencing some of the greatest challenges in the club’s history with pandemics, housing shortages and mountain towns experiencing an identity crisis. Winter sports are expensive, but combined with the rising cost of life and homelessness, it is increasingly difficult to allow children access to the mountains.At the same time, ensure that those who are committed to transforming the lives of children through sports winter have a place to call home and a career at AVSC.
Q: As Chairman of the Board, what do you hope to accomplish?
A“Our board simply needs to tackle these threats head-on to secure the future of the club. This requires fundraising to house our coaches and staff who continue to inspire and impact lives by getting over 3,000 children on skis, boards and bikes every year. The only way to achieve this is to provide as many scholarships as possible and to offer extraordinary, subsidized programs to each participant. Our role as a board of directors is to work with administrators and coaches to bring their vision and goals to life. We are guided by the same core values that we instill in our athletes: commitment, teamwork and integrity.
“There are big goals on the horizon: making snow for Nordic, a dry track training center for freestyle and snowboarding, with improvements to the Stapleton training center site for Alpine skiing. And the big cake in heaven’s dream is to work with the City of Aspen and the Aspen Skiing Co. to bid for the World Alpine Skiing Championships. I’ve watched those iconic films of the 1950 World Championships all my life and in my opinion, there could be no better way to honor our past and work towards the future than to bring this event home.
Q: While the return of the World Championships is far from over, what does it mean that the men’s ski racing World Cup returns to Aspen Mountain in March? These will be the first World Cup races in Aspen since the 2017 Finals.
A“I’m just a kid who went through the program and I can look back on my time at AVSC and point to everything. I owe almost everything in my life to skiing. My house, my livelihood, my wife, my children, all of this, in one way or another, is linked to the experience I had at AVSC and in large part at the Coupe du world.
“When you’re sitting in sophomore one day and the next day you’re looking over the Aspen Mountain fence and watching Franz Klammer, it makes a big impression. And you can see that in the club and our athletes and their successes In the absence of World Cups here, we had the X Games, and it was amazing. I think it’s no coincidence that Alex Ferreira, Hanna Faulhaber and Torin Yater-Wallace – all Olympians – came to make it center stage. It was the same when Gretchen Bleiler was leading the snowboarding charge. So having that here is a really big deal for the kids and the club.
Q: The Audi Ajax Cup, AVSC’s biggest fundraiser, returns to Aspen Mountain on December 30th. How important is the event for the club?
A“We were, like so many non-profits, having gala dinners, silent auctions, trying to find ways to raise money for the club. We were just like, ‘Man, we’re a ski club. We need to do something authentic for ourselves and create an event where our donors can go out and have a good time. So the Ajax Cup was born out of that idea. Looking a little further afield club history, when Mark Tache was the manager, he and Kristin Cooper had a celebrity pro-am fundraiser that was similar, so we kind of built from that plan and created the Ajax Cup.
“We are really excited. We’ve hosted the event in Aspen Highlands at our venue for the past two years, and this year it’s returning to Aspen Mountain. So we’re happy about that. It’s great when your main fundraiser and the one the club relies on so dearly becomes a big party and a thing to do and something people really enjoy and look forward to.