When longtime Aspenite Susan Saghatoleslami took up snowboarding 27 years ago, it was like a fish taking to water.
She had learned how to ski when she was 10 years old, after moving here with her family from Maryland. But when she saw her first snowboarding competition at Aspen Highlands in the 1980s — the Grand Prix — Saghatoleslami said to herself, “Wow, I can do that.”
She fell in love with the sport the minute she had a board under her feet. She spent the first 10 days learning how to shred at Highlands and the next eight on Independence Pass — after the ski area had closed for the season.
On her 19th and 20th day snowboarding, Saghatoleslami entered her first snowboard competition at A-Basin and placed third overall.
For 17 years, she competed in super G, GS, slalom, halfpipe, boardercross, and the extremes at Crested Butte.
The season after she learned the sport, she was asked by Jeff Grell, director of the Aspen Skiing Co. snowboarding school at the time, to teach the sport. Fourteen people tried out — Saghatoleslami was the only female — and seven were hired.
In the mid-1990s, she was the head coach for the Delaney Adult Snowboard Camps in Aspen before becoming the director of snowboarding for John Clendenin’s Ski & Board Doctors. She’s been doing that and more for the company for the past 18 years.
With 26 years of instruction under her belt, she is still teaching snowboarding and said she doesn’t grow tired of it.
“For me, it’s so exciting to be out here,” Saghatoleslami said. “[A few of years ago] my dad was like, ‘when are you going to quit that snowboarding and get a real job?’ I was like ‘dad, look at my office.’
“For me, taking somebody and teaching them, whether they are a beginner, getting that first turn, that breakthrough ... at any level … to see that excitement on their face is so rewarding,” she added. “It’s so exciting to turn somebody on to the passion I have for the sport.”
Saghatoleslami is based at Aspen Mountain, the ski area that she helped push the SkiCo to open to snowboarders in 2001.
This past week she spoke about teaching the sport during the Aspen Historical Society’s Time Travel Tuesday, and was part of the historical society’s “Pioneers of Shred” panel at the Wheeler Opera House a couple of years ago, which honored her for paving the way for snowboarding.
But Saghatoleslami isn’t just about shredding — she’s a “Jill of all trades or a master of many,” she said. She played women’s pro football for a couple of seasons in the ’90s, and prides herself on her foosball abilities. She has played in national championships and holds a long-standing weekly tournament, which originated at the old Cooper Street Pier and is now held at the Eagles Club, the establishment she plays softball for.
“I’ve been playing foosball longer than I’ve been snowboarding for sure,” she said, adding that she started playing at 14 at a place called Pinball Palace, which was located where Meatball Shack is now.
She’s also known also as “Sag,” “Saginator,” and more recently, “Saggy the Elf” — her snowboarding Avatar character in the cookbook “Angelic Healing Soups,” to which Saghatoleslami contributed recipes.
Saghatoleslami’s father, Sirous, owned the old Copper Kettle and Tippler nightclub at the base of Aspen Mountain. He also owned the old Bentley’s from 1981 to 1989 and the Italian Caviar below the Tippler.
Asked what it was like to grow up around one of the hottest and best bars in town, Saghatoleslami said it was fun — when she could get in.
“It was the only bar I couldn’t get in to with my fake ID when I was like 19,” she said. “I could get into a few other places but I always got kicked out; even in full makeup and costume, the doorman would be like ‘Susan, out.’”
She doesn’t see herself as a “ski bum,” however. Saghatoleslami has figured out how to live, work and play in a place that she’s been fortunate enough to call home for decades.
“I think this is just a way of life, and longevity of life is keeping active and if you are on the mountain every day or almost every day it is so gratifying spiritually to be out here in nature,” she said. “I’m going to be 93 and still riding in the backcountry; Klaus Obermeyer is my inspiration.”
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