Max Marolt - Max Marolt, Aspen icon

Passing Date

By Jennifer Davoren

Aspen Times Staff Writer

Max Marolt — an icon of skiing and politics in Aspen — died after suffering a heart attack while skiing in Argentina.

Marolt, 67, was making his final run of the day at Las Leñas ski resort when the heart attack struck.

He died doing what he loved, his family said. "In general, his love of the sport of skiing" will always be remembered, said his son, Mike. "He told me about a year ago that he loved skiing more now than he had in his whole life."

Max Marolt was born in 1936 in Aspen, the second of three sons born to Bill and Celia Marolt. The Marolts were familiar faces in the skiing community — all three boys, Bud, Bill and Max, were there the day the Aspen Mountain ski lift first opened to the public. The brothers were also some of the first to join Aspen's fledgling junior racing team.

Marolt was one of Aspen's most promising young skiers. In 1951, a team led by Marolt and Dave Stapleton made the trip to the National Junior Meet in Stowe, Vt. Marolt captured third place and went on to join the ski team at Denver University. Using breakneck speed and startling skills, he earned a place on the U.S. Ski Team in 1954. Four years later, a daring run in the FIS Championships led to an invitation to the 1960 Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, Calif. The 24-year-old Marolt didn't fare as well as he had hoped, placing 15th overall in the downhill and giant slalom. Still, as the first Aspenite to compete in the Olympic Games, he paved the way for dozens of locals with dreams of gold medals. Marolt's younger brother, Bill, became the second Aspenite to compete with a trip to the 1964 Winter Olympics.

Though Marolt enjoyed skiing daunting peaks around the world, Aspen remained his home. He became a sales rep for several ski equipment manufacturers. He and his wife, Betty, raised their four children — daughter Marlis, and sons Roger, Steve and Mike — here, and helped foster their ski careers. The twins, Steve and Mike, also became adventurous skiers and recently returned from a summit attempt on Mount Everest.

Marolt was sidelined by a heart attack once before, his family recalled. In June 1975, his wavering health forced him to give up his seat on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners after five months in office.

He won a seat on the Aspen City Council in 1995 and ran for mayor in 1997, losing to incumbent John Bennett. Max and Betty celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary earlier this month with a visit from their entire family. The group had planned to get together again in October, when Marolt will be inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.

Max just loved to ski

By Roger Marolt

Max Marolt loved to ski. He loved to ski a lot. In fact, the only things he loved more than skiing were his wife, his kids and his grandchildren. If he wasn't gathered around a table for a good meal with his family, spending time with Betty, or playing with the youngest Marolts in the back yard, he wanted to be sliding down a mountain.

It didn't matter if the snow was drifted into slabs, rock hard ice or rotten slush. To Max, the conditions were always super. I guess this is not too surprising for a kid born in Aspen in 1936. The ghost town didn't have much else to offer. Skiing was a way to get out. And get out he did. He strapped on his first pair of skis shortly after he could walk and rode them around the globe several times, stopping along the way to compete in a couple of World Championships and the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif.

The regret of not winning a medal there nearly ruined it for him. The broken dream was tough to let go. But, despite this disappointment, he couldn't get it out of his blood. There were too many good memories there. Like the time he was in Aleyeska, Alaska. Some locals in a bar told him nobody could ski the imposing peak looming above town. They didn't know Max. The first pitch was so steep that he more dropped from it than skied it. He lit at the bottom and bent both skis into reverse camber. He descended the rest of the way on those bent skis only to discover that the locals that made the bet didn't have the money to pay up. He exacted a bigger price: that mountain still bears his name.

It wasn't all easy, though, and Max's skiing days almost came to an untimely end. A massive heart attack nearly killed him during the early years of raising his family. I think he made a deal with God back then. He begged the Lord to let him say a proper goodbye to his family and have one last ski run. He swore he would give up smoking, drinking and working so darn hard. Well, God acquiesced and then spent the next 30 years chasing him. The doctors called him their miracle patient. He made good on all his promises and showed his family how much he loved them every chance he got. Disease had taken one third of his heart, but he spent the rest of his life giving what was left of it away. And, he kept on skiing.

Toward the end, I think Max somehow sensed that God had finally caught up with him. He also knew that he couldn't fool God into granting him one last run again. So as God stopped for a moment to catch his breath, Max took the opportunity to finish two last pieces of business. First, he made reservations to go down to South America. Then he celebrated his 43rd wedding anniversary with Betty in early July. All his children were there. His daughter Marlis and her husband John made the trip from California. The grandkids teased him and made him laugh. The whole family got together several more times in the ensuing days. Max was as happy as anyone had ever seen him. He told Betty that he was proud of what they had accomplished together.

A week later Max got on a plane headed for winter. He arrived at the ski area late in the day, but wanted to make sure he got in one run before the lifts closed. He made a couple of turns before God welcomed him into his arms at last. Max made one last run after all. The day his heart finally gave way, a part of my heart broke forever. I will miss him dearly now as I wait in the late winter afternoons for him to come flying around the corner at the bottom of Lift 1A to ride up with me for one last run. The shadows of Aspen Mountain will seems a bit longer now. But if heaven is anything it's cracked up to be, you can bet that Max is taking a couple of runs today. I love you dad. Thanks for everything. Save some powder for the rest of us.

This tribute first appeared in The Aspen Times.