Tom Fox will greet his last guests at Buttermilk on Wednesday, as Aspen Skiing Co.’s oldest ambassador heads into retirement.
The 85-year-old, eight-year veteran of the volunteer program is moving to an assisted living facility in Boulder.
Fox came to Aspen nine years ago from Madison, Wis. not knowing a soul here. He became an ambassador a year later, putting himself in front of thousands of guests and bonding with fellow locals.
He was able to skirt the three-year residency requirement, because of his charm and ability to connect with people, according to fellow ambassadors.
“I am a people person,” Fox said.
Before he made Aspen his home, Fox had been coming here since the 1960s, so he has plenty of local perspective.
“I love the spirit of Aspen,” he said.
Chris Kelly, who oversees SkiCo’s ambassador program, said Fox was a natural from the beginning.
“It’s a special job and it requires a special person,” she said. “We’ll miss him; he’s been a special part of the program.”
Most ambassadors in SkiCo’s program are retired but Kelly said the pool has become more diversified in recent years — the youngest is 22.
Locals who serve as ambassadors show up to their posts at one of the four mountains once a week, handing out coffee, power bars and whatever other schwag is available, as well as taking guests on skiing tours of the mountains for an hour or two.
In exchange for working eight-hour days for 20 weeks, they get a full-season pass.
Fox has been at Buttermilk for the past eight years, mostly greeting guests as they arrive via bus, and sending them off at the end of the day.
“I’ve never met an unhappy guest,” he said.
He recalled a ski tour he gave to a family from California. They were so impressed by the personal service that the father wrote a letter to SkiCo CEO Mike Kaplan saying “Tom Fox is a keeper.”
“From then on I knew I had a job,” he laughed on a recent morning at Victoria’s coffee shop at a retirement party with fellow ambassadors.
The program aims to achieve that kind of impression with every guest, Kelly said.
“We’re here to enhance the guest’s vacation, give them memorable stories and have them come back,” she said. “It’s that distinguishing characteristic, that little story they take home.”
The program is finishing its 19th year, and was created by former SkiCo CEO Pat O’Donnell. O’Donnell had seen a similar service at Whistler in Canada.
SkiCo beefed it up by offering ski tours on intermediate terrain.
“I don’t think anyone does it like we do,” Kelly said, adding that Europeans are “blown away” by the free coffee and cider on the mountain. “People do frequently tell us that we have outstanding service.”
There are 140 ambassadors in the program and Kelly said between 85 and 90 percent return each season.
Fox would like to return but he knows when it’s time to hang it up.
“My body tells me a lot of what I do,” he said. “I like to leave before they kick me out.”
Kelly said she is currently taking applications for next season and will review them in the fall. Anyone interested in becoming an ambassador should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .