A titan in the ski racing world, fifth-generation Coloradan and native Aspenite David Stapleton Sr., died Thursday at the age of 86.
Stapleton contracted COVID-19 in a rehabilitation home in Grand Junction while recovering from a broken femur, his son Dean said Friday. He had been in good health until about three weeks ago, when he fell at his home near the 13th green of the Tiara Rado Golf Course, the younger Stapleton said.
He visited his dad Thursday — donning a hazmat suit as a precaution — and felt his father was improving. Stapleton died just a few hours later. The family is comforted by their belief he is with Sigrid, his wife of 63 years who died in April 2019.
Part of the ranching family who homesteaded here in 1881 on the land that is today’s Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, David Stapleton Sr. took over his dad’s insurance business beginning the 1950s. But Stapleton’s legacy — in addition to his and Sigrid Braun’s five children and their grandchildren — are the contributions he made to the sport of skiing and ski racing.
Whatever his interest, Stapleton brought an intensity to the table and was always willing to work hard, whether as president of the Aspen Ski Club or technical delegate for the 1980 Winter Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.
“He was strong and sturdy and had a strong fist and a heart that was endless,” Dean Stapleton said. “He was like everyone’s best friend. Everyone loved him. Even here in Grand Junction, he knew everybody.”
But Stapleton had high expectations for others and was a stickler when it came to sport rules, whether on the racecourse or golf course.
“He would throw you off the course if you didn’t have your bib on right,” Dean Stapleton laughed. “But a side of him was so sensitive and loving.”
As a ski racer, Stapleton qualified for the 1950-51 U.S. Junior Nationals held at Stowe, Vermont, along with other native sons Max Marolt, Ted Armstrong, Tony Deane and John Thorpe, according to a biography written by Tony Vagneur for the Aspen Hall of Fame. As an official, Stapleton was involved in some level of FIS World Cup ski races from 1968 until 1991.
One of the many legacies Stapleton leaves behind is his work to improve racer safety, including racecourse netting and hay bales. Dean said his father’s innovations also influenced what is today’s Colorado Skier Safety Act.
“David Stapleton was an icon and pioneer in the ski-racing world,” said Tiger Shaw, president and CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard, on Friday.
“David led and inspired many locally in Colorado and around the world in the many roles he held growing our sport. A pivotal leader of the Aspen World Cup, David showcased one of the world’s greatest races serving tirelessly as chief of race, [chief of] course and as chairman. His impact was larger than life, and he will be dearly missed,” Shaw said.
Mark Tache, who raced with David Stapleton Jr. as a junior, then later on the U.S. Ski Team and on the pro circuit called the elder’s passing “sad news for sure.”
“Dave Sr. was so instrumental to ski racing … As a technical delegate, he tirelessly gave to the sport not only in local races, but nationally and internationally,” he said. “He was Aspen World Cup’s figurehead for so many years, representing Aspen as a true professional on the hill, earning respect from coaches, athletes and the FIS. He was so passionate about our beloved sport of ski racing, and he will be missed.”
No public gathering is planned for now due to the coronavirus. Stapleton’s final resting place will be in the Red Butte Cemetery, next to Sigrid, according to the family.
All in the family
Stapleton was inducted into the 2017 Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame and, along with Sigrid, was inducted into the 2008 Aspen Hall of Fame class.
Dean Stapleton said his father was crazy proud of his brother, David Stapleton Jr.’s induction into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame just three years after the elder Stapleton was honored by the organization.
Stapleton Sr. is also a member of the 2012 Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, and the Stapleton Training Center at Highlands was dedicated six years ago in his and the family’s honor.
Aspen Hall of Fame President Lorna Petersen was a neighbor of the Stapleton family when she was a kid.
“Everyone helped everyone out back then. The whole town was a ‘neighborhood,’” Petersen said.
Stapleton Sr. exemplified the characteristics that the AHOF seeks in its inductees, she continued.
“David had integrity and could always be counted on, doing more than he was asked,” Petersen said. “In the tradition of Aspen families, David and Sigrid picked up the reins where and whenever things needed to be done and got a lot accomplished.
“In the meantime, they raised five children and helped keep the family-owned insurance business going. It takes a lot of people to make Aspen the great community it is, but one cannot think about Aspen without acknowledging David and Sigrid Stapleton, both of whom have spent a lifetime displaying and living the indomitable spirit that makes Aspen a place to be proud of,” she continued.
Retailer and developer Jeff Gorsuch, like Tiger Shaw, called Stapleton “an icon of the Aspen community” who gave a lifetime commitment to the world of ski racing, culminating in the 2017 FIS World Cup Finals in Aspen.
“David was a mentor to me and someone I respected with great humility because he defined the meaning of integrity, vision and family. I never saw David when he was not smiling and ready to make the world around him come alive with possibility,” Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch said Stapleton, “carried the fire for ski racing, and he and his beloved wife Sigrid taught all the Stapleton children that the mountain and village raise the child.
“Wow, what a life and truly great man. He leaves a big hole for the community. A poignant loss,” Gorsuch added.
Dean Stapleton said that not everyone knew his dad was a veteran of the Korean War, nor that David Stapleton Sr. was one of the youngest Aspen City Councilmen ever elected. His volunteerism, in addition to AVSC, included terms on the Aspen Valley Hospital board.
His survivors include his two sons, Dean and David Jr., and daughters Stefanie, Dasha and Kim. Stapleton’s brother Darrell is deceased, while his brother Don lives in Tucson; sister Billie Lou resides in Grand Junction.