Lodge Owner, Ski Humorist
Martie Sterling, owner and operator (with husband Ken) of the Heatherbed Lodge in Aspen, Colorado, and one of skiing’s most prolific writers and humorists, died September 29, 2010, at her home in Aspen. She was 85.
Born Martha Whitcomb, Martie was the daughter of a concert pianist (mother) and Firestone tire dealer (father). She was born and raised in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, a town from which, she said, “I’d been trying to get out of since age five.” She went to Duke University for a year, but her life in skiing began upon her transfer to Syracuse University in upstate New York. It was there she met her husband-to-be, Ken, a died-in-the-wool New Hampshirite whose proclivities for wintry extremes earned him the name “Iglook.”
Martie’s honeymoon, at Quebec’s Mont Tremblant in 1958, gave her first taste of skiing. Within a year, Martie had won enough money on a national quiz show to finance their dream of rearing a family in ski country, and the couple decided to head West for whiter pastures. They stumbled into Aspen in 1959 and decided to build a ski lodge at the foot of Aspen Highlands. (Their stories, in abridged form, appeared in the June 2009-September 2010 issues of Skiing Heritage.)
An enthusiastic and energetic writer, Martie secluded herself in a closet to produce two books—Oh Be Joyful and Last Flight From Iran. But it was the Sterlings’ experiences in running the Heatherbed from 1959 to 1968 that gave rise to Martie’s opus Days of Stein and Roses, a zany account of a thoroughly engaging family. Martie and Ken reared between seven and 23 children depending on what year you counted—and interacted with a cast of improbable and whacky characters that made for nostalgic but hilarious reading. In 1983, Martie co-founded the Aspen Writers’ Foundation and became a long-time director.
Martie went on, from 1977 to 1991, to write magazine articles on skiing, travel, humor, and history. She was a contributing editor to SKI Magazine, and for five years wrote the back-page humor column for called “Last Run.” She and Ken moved to Tucson, Arizona, in their later years, during which Martie wrote a third book, the Aspen historical novel Pearly Everlasting. In their final years, Martie and Ken returned to the Aspen area and their family of longtime friends. Ken died in 2009.
The novelist Leon Uris, himself a frequent Heatherbed guest, wrote: “Humorists are among the rarest of the race in the writing community. Martie Sterling is the outstanding one. You have to go back to The Egg and I for a funnier misadventure than Martie’s Days of Stein and Roses.” —Dick Needham