From business to the arts to the environment, these 19 Roaring Fork Valley millennials defy stereotype as they pursue the peak of professional success.
Aspen’s millennials rarely play by the rules. Whereas grads usually scurry off to cities, polished résumés in hand and fancy work attire on, hoping to scrounge up any possible paying occupation, Aspen’s Generation Y behaves a bit differently. We trade towering skyscrapers for far-reaching mountain peaks. We ditch the briefcase and invest in a pair of skis or in a mountain bike. And we routinely get out of the conference room and hold our business meetings in the gondola.
In Aspen, we millennials are less conventional, but that does not change our ability to make a difference. We are not typical ski bums. We are entrepreneurs, innovators, artists and athletes who work hard for what we want.
Generation Y is often described as entitled, self-centered, lazy and even overconfident. In fact, those accusations hold true for Aspen’s millennials, and we own them fully. We are entitled to good snow conditions. We are self-centered when it comes to finding the best runs on a powder day. We are lazy by après-ski time. And we are overconfident, possibly even arrogant, because our lives are most people’s vacations.
Despite the readily available adventures, however, we also put our nose to the grindstone when duty calls, because we want to establish a place in the community in which we see ourselves for years to come. —BP
Andy Curtis, 31, producer/editor, Aspen 82
Entering its third winter season, Aspen 82 launched two new shows in December for a total of five original programs for the locally based TV station. Two of those shows—The Lift and The Lift at the Wheeler—are live, and as the station’s director of live programming, Andy Curtis is the man responsible. “I love taking a mess of information and interview footage and creating something poignant to watch,” says Curtis. The Cape Cod native moved to Aspen in 2007 to learn the ropes of video production through an internship with Plum TV. His flair for pleasing viewers goes beyond TV; he also made the last two winning videos at The Meeting’s annual NEPSA Snowsports Film Festival. Notable nugget: Curtis plays guitar at the Red Onion and piano at hotels around town. –TW
Beth Slater, 33, executive director, Chris Klug Foundation
Beth Slater has been active in Aspen’s nonprofit world for more than a decade. After college, Slater nabbed an internship with Challenge Aspen. She left town for a brief stint to pursue her M.A. in English literature at the University of Vermont, returning as soon as she finished her thesis. A summer volunteering at the Aspen Institute helped her land a full-time position. For the next four years she worked at the Institute, honing her nonprofit and event management skills under the mentorship of Cristal Logan. In January 2014, Slater was named to her current position at the Chris Klug Foundation, which was founded by Klug to promote tissue and organ donation after he had a lifesaving liver transplant. “Sharing Chris’ story gives many of the 123,000 people awaiting organ transplant hope,” says Slater. Notable nugget: Slater is an NPR podcast junkie, listening when she hikes, cooks, cleans, drives and even skis. –LF
Emily Taylor, 27, executive director, Woody Creek Community Center
Two and a half years ago, Emily Taylor headed to Aspen just for the summer and, like many locals, never left. She landed a job as a bartender and barista at the rustic, homey Woody Creek Community Center and, once she planted permanent roots, was promoted to cafe manager that fall and executive director a year later. The Atlanta native is armed with a major in studio art from Pomona College with a focus on community-based interactive sculpture. That arts background helped her quickly inject much-needed life into the center, adding a full calendar of performances, lectures and gallery shows that have made the once-foundering venue a hive of activity. “It’s such an amazing space, and I am constantly surprised that people in town don’t know about it,” she says. Notable nugget: Taylor is also a jazz vocalist and has been featured on an album of original songs. –KS
David Segal, 34, rabbi, Aspen Jewish Congregation
The Aspen Jewish Congregation has endured some periods of difficult transition over its 40-year history, but thanks to Rabbi David Segal, it’s finally seeing the light. His arrival almost seems like kismet: The Houston native spent many family vacations in Aspen. He now lives in Basalt with his wife, Rollin Simmons, who is the congregation’s cantor, and their two children. A Princeton alum, Segal was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2010 and immediately headed west. “Today, and especially among our demographic, it’s clearly harder to engage people in religion,” he says. “People don’t move here to become religious, but they do move here to become spiritual.” Named one of America’s most inspiring rabbis in 2014 by The Jewish Daily Forward, Segal engages locals with regular music-focused services, a monthly slopeside Shabbat at Snowmass and expanded programming. Notable nugget: He took a stand-up comedy workshop while living in New York and has performed shows there and in Aspen. –KS
Lauren Glendenning, 34, executive editor, The Aspen Times
Lauren Glendenning was first introduced to Colorado when she was a teenager. Her childhood nanny, who lived in Aspen, toured the young Floridian around the state, which ultimately influenced her decision to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder. After graduation, a brief stint in Washington, D.C., was followed by a move to Vail, where Glendenning spent seven years rising through the ranks at the Vail Daily and parent company Swift Communications before helping out at The Aspen Times last year when staffers were reeling from the deaths of two long-time employees. Her leadership skills recognized, she was named executive editor in November. “Right away I felt like I was in the right place,” says Glendenning. She’s always had a particular fondness for print journalism. That, combined with her interest in the ski industry, makes the Times an ideal fit. Notable nugget: Glendenning is a die-hard Formula One fan and has traveled far to see some of the tracks. –BP
Jimmy Dula, 26, founder, Colorado Soil Systems
Six years ago, a summer internship during college with Basalt’s highly regarded Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute gave Jimmy Dula a mission for mushrooms. “Fungi act as decomposers, breaking down dead organic matter in order to provide nutrients for new life,” he says. Dula moved here full time in 2012 after graduating from the University of Texas and started Colorado Soil Systems, a business that helps grow the local food economy through alternative landscape practices. He does this, in part, by providing clients, some of them high profile, with organic amendments that recondition the soil—Dula jokes that he is the organic fertilizer server to the stars. Most recently, he’s focused on fundraising for the Heritage Fruit Tree Project, which maps fruit trees in the Roaring Fork Valley to help renew the population and increase food production, and is working to lease land in the midvalley’s new Glassier Open Space for agricultural study and use. Notable nugget: Dula keeps a gratitude journal, writing down three things he’s thankful for every morning. –BP
Evan Soroka, 29, studio director, O2 Aspen
All it takes is one yoga class with Evan Soroka to realize why she is one of Aspen’s most beloved teachers. Her technique is spot on, her method inspiring and her wisdom belies her young age. Soroka holds E-RYT 500 certification and currently teaches at O2 and the Maroon Creek Club. She also organizes international yoga retreats. “I have been instructing since 2007, but [only] now [do] I feel like I can call myself a yoga teacher,” says Soroka. “It takes time and a deep personal practice to teach.” This summer she will have earned her yoga therapy certification, making her the only yoga instructor in the Roaring Fork Valley to have it and one of only a few in Colorado. “Yoga practice is important to restore physical and mental balance so we can continue doing everything else from a place of authenticity and compassion,” she says. Notable nugget: Soroka is fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese. –LF
Skippy Mesirow, 28, co-chair, Next Generation Advisory Commission
The City of Aspen couldn’t have hoped for two better guests at the table two years ago during one of its informal quarterly community lunches than Skippy Mesirow and Christine Benedetti. City Council was hoping to better engage Aspen’s 40-and-under demographic, and Mesirow and Benedetti emerged from the meeting leading the charge with a plan for an official committee. After six long months of planning, more meetings and presentations before city officials, the Next Generation Advisory Commission was born in January 2014 to advance the policy interests of 18- to 40-year-olds who live or work in Aspen. Mesirow has a background in running political campaigns, and his world revolves around community. “I love Aspen and recognize that it’s as amazing as it is because of the generation of people who came before me and worked very hard to form it. So it is incumbent on us in this next generation to do the same,” he says. Notable nugget: In the past four years, Mesirow has been to 36 countries, including Iran, North Korea and Cuba.
Chelsea Dillon, 31, owner, Gold Leaf Event Design and Production
Chelsea Dillon worked in public relations, marketing and events for only four years before launching her own business, first co-starting another Aspen-based events company before teaming up with Kate Ryan, 28, to form Gold Leaf in 2013. Dillon quickly became one of Aspen’s go-to planners for everything from exquisite weddings to nonprofit galas like the annual Buddy Program Bash for the Buddies to events for corporate clients like Ferrari. Case in point: Gold Leaf was just named among the country’s top wedding planners by Martha Stewart Weddings. For Dillon, the best part of her job is waking up excited, as every day brings something different. “I love the creative aspect of event planning mixed with coordinating many moving pieces at once,” she says. She is also a member of the Buddy Program’s junior board and the board of the Marshall Direct Fund. Notable nugget: Dillon lived in Brazil for a year and speaks fluent Portuguese. –LF
Zane Kessler, 33, executive director, Thompson Divide Coalition
In the past 2 1/2 years, Zane Kessler has rallied an unlikely fellowship of citizens—ranchers, mountain bikers, Democrats, Republicans, sportsmen and environmentalists—to protect 221,000 acres of wild and roadless land west of Aspen from oil and gas development, helping to quadruple the number of supporters who favor preserving the land. As a result, the six-year-old Thompson Divide Coalition celebrated a major victory in December with the Forest Service’s decision to close the majority of the area to new oil and gas leasing. Born in an Oklahoma City oil and gas family, Kessler moved to the Roaring Fork Valley for the job after working at a clean-tech firm in Boulder and in the U.S. Senate on energy and natural resource policy. Ensuring that recreation, hunting, fishing and ranching can thrive along the divide is important, he says, “because those jobs feed families in the same way that oil and gas jobs feed families.” Notable nugget: This summer, Kessler hopes to retrace on horseback the route of President Teddy Roosevelt’s bear hunt from New Castle into the heart of the Thompson Divide. –TO
Angie Callen, 34, executive director, Red Brick Center for the Arts
When Angie Callen landed her position at the Red Brick a year and a half ago, she didn’t have far to move—just across the hall, actually, from her previous role as events manager for Aspen Film. Under Callen’s direction, the Red Brick, a 40-year-old Aspen institution, has gone from mere office and studio space for local nonprofits and artists to a bustling hub cultivating a larger creative community. Drawing upon her skills as a civil engineer in Boston and Breckenridge, Colo., before she relocated to Aspen (for love), Callen transformed a vacant space into a multipurpose Art Factory, home to new programs like Masterpiece Mine, a popular painting-and-wine venue. She’s far from done: A new website, reinvention of the annual fundraiser and a retrospective on belove, late journalist/photographer Stewart Oksenhorn are on tap for 2015. Says Callen, “There’s so much potential here. I never imagined I could love a job this much.” Notable nugget: Callen loves to carve up the slopes on her hard-boot snowboard setup. –KS
Spencer McKnight, 31, co-founder and co-owner, Aspen 82
Spencer McKnight says the attribute that’s helped him succeed the most in the broadcast industry is his willingness to take risks. He took a risk when he moved to Aspen in 2005, and when he co-founded Aspen Media Productions in 2010. He then co-founded Aspen 82 with David Cook in 2012, and the next year it became the first station to broadcast live from Snowmass, in addition to Aspen. “We challenge ourselves to come up with something new and different so that each time a visitor comes into town, they see something new,” says the Aurora, Colo., native. A former Big Buddy and Spring Board member, McKnight now helps out other valley nonprofits with low-cost production work. He’s looking forward to expanding Aspen 82 (which also absorbed McKnight’s original production company), specifically with a regional show. Notable nugget: In addition to skiing in winter, McKnight is an avid curler. –TW
Matt Cudmore, 35, founder, Meier Skis
In 2009, Matt Cudmore’s neighbor wandered over with a couple of beers and a link to a website teaching the art of ski building. It took him all winter, but Cudmore, a former aviation consultant turned civil engineer who lives in Glenwood Springs, built a pair of skis in time for closing weekend at Sunlight Mountain Resort. “They weren’t beautiful, but they were beautiful to me,” he says. More importantly, he adds, they skied “like butter.” Cudmore continued to build skis in his garage for friends, using locally harvested aspen and beetle-kill pine, with a clear top sheet that exposes the ski’s unique wood core. Word spread, and he landed stories in newspapers throughout Colorado and then in Time magazine. Now in its fifth year of production, Meier Skis operates out of a 3,000-square-foot factory on Highway 82, where Cudmore and five other employees handmake 700 pairs of skis per year (10 different models in 27 different sizes). Notable nugget: Cudmore has made custom skis for everyone from former Sen. Mark Udall to The String Cheese Incident, not to mention his 4-year-old daughter (a Frozen-themed pair). –TW
Pete Gaston and John Gaston (not pictured), 28, co-owners, Strafe Outerwear
Four years ago, twin brothers Pete and John Gaston were selling three styles of outerwear from the back of their car and using their guest bedroom as a warehouse. Fast-forward to present day and Strafe Outerwear sells more than 20 styles; employs a full-time staff of five, plus six sales reps; and encompasses two offices and a warehouse at the base of Aspen Highlands. “To be involved in an exciting small business located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains is something I never take for granted,” says Pete. The Connecticut natives grew up visiting Aspen regularly and attended the University of Colorado before moving to Aspen and launching Strafe in 2009. Both brothers are as serious about skiing as they are about technical apparel. “I just love seeing Strafe on the mountain,” says John. “It’s really rewarding to see people enjoying a product you’ve put so much work into.” Notable nugget: Pete is working toward certification from the American Mountain Guides Association, while John is the reigning North American Ski Mountaineering champ and a member of the 2015 U.S. National Team. –TW
Duncan Clauss, 30, co-founder, Aspen Brewing Company
Spend time in Aspen and chances are you’ll hear about Duncan Clauss. Since co-founding the Aspen Brewing Company in 2008—drawing on a business plan he made during his senior year at the University of Colorado—Clauss has developed a loyal following—A large photo of him and his dog, Otis, hangs in the bar at L’Hostaria. The brewery, which produces a dozen beers, also distributes on the Front Range. In addition to running the popular Tap Room, Clauss helps support numerous nonprofits by donating beer for their events. He recently submitted a proposal to fill the former Aspen Art Museum space with a brewpub, event center, studio for local station Aspen 82 and collaborative workspace. “Historically, breweries have been community centers,” he says. “That’s what we are trying to do here.” Clauss also actively fundraises for B*Cured, which is working to find a cure for brain cancer, a disease that took his mom 1 1/2 years ago. Notable nugget: Clauss was elected Aspen’s Wintersköl king in January. –BP
Christine Benedetti, 32, co-chair, Next Generation Advisory Commission
After Christine Benedetti helped launch the City of Aspen’s Next Generation Advisory Commission, deciding on the first issue to tackle was easy. “The high cost of housing was obviously No. 1—it’s increasingly difficult for people to stay here—so we’ve done a lot of work on research, with an extensive survey, and gotten City Council to re-examine some of the guidelines in that specific area,” says Benedetti. “Bringing that to the forefront of the council was a pretty big victory for us.” NextGen has also grown into a valued resource for local business leaders looking for insight and plans to offer a mentorship program that matches experienced workers with younger employees looking for career advice. Benedetti’s community involvement doesn’t stop at NextGen; in addition to working as the marketing director for the Aspen Historical Society and the arts and entertainment editor of the Aspen Daily News, she also serves on the boards of the Wheeler Opera House and Jazz Aspen Snowmass Advisory Board and tutors for English in Action. Notable nugget: An avid runner, Benedetti will tackle the Boston Marathon this spring. –KS
Darcy Conover, 32, and Adam Moszynski, 32, co-founders, Corbeaux Clothing
Darcy Conover and Adam Moszynski dreamed up the idea for Aspen-based Corbeaux Clothing while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on their honeymoon. The guides and porters they saw were ill-dressed for the elements, so the couple left most of their apparel behind and promised to send more when they returned home. The concept blossomed into a program called Join the Flight, which delivers gently worn sportswear to developing mountain cultures in places like Tanzania and Ecuador. It’s also the philanthropic cornerstone of their recently launched base-layer company, which stresses renewable resources (the pieces are made from bamboo), functional fit and American manufacturing. “It’s three times as expensive [to do it this way], but worth it to us,” says Darcy. Notable nugget: The East Coast natives met on a dance floor in Aspen nine years ago while both were living in Boulder. –TW