The Roaring Fork Valley is home to myriad forges, blacksmithing collectives and schools, so it’s a little ironic that Aspen native Weston Paas was first introduced to the craft on the other side of the planet.
“The Rocky Mountain Smiths do their meeting [at the Francis Whitaker Blacksmithing School in Carbondale]. It’s world renowned,” Paas said of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School campus’ forge. “I try to get back for their events. If I had been into this when I was younger, I would be so much further ahead than I am right now.”
As it happens, though, Paas discovered metal working later in life, almost on a whim.
“Going all the way back — back in 2007 — I took a one-day blade and knife making class down in a little town … in New Zealand,” he said.
At the time, his family owned the Limelight Hotel, which was under construction, so he took the year to travel and sell wine for New Zealand family winery Allan Scott.
It ended up being a period that would change Paas’ career beyond a yearlong wine-selling hiatus. Like many business proprietors at that time, the Paas family was planning for growth, hence the Limelight construction. But, like for so many others, their plans came to a screeching halt when the Great Recession hit the world economy almost overnight.
“We did the hotel thing until ‘08, and we lost it and sold to [Aspen Skiing Co.],” he said, adding that the knife-making class had made a lasting impression.
“That blacksmith side was always in the back of my mind,” he said. “One thing led to another, and I ended up making my first set of knives for my groomsmen for my wedding.”
Paas ended up connecting with another Aspen native, Spencer Trown, who owns Mountain Ironworks. Paas describes Trown as a sort of mentor.
“He taught me most of what I know,” he said.
Today, Paas has an address and his own operation — Heart’s Fire Forge — in Colorado Springs, but the two still collaborate in the valley often.
“I use his shop space, or he’ll hire me on jobs,” Paas said. “We do quite a bit of work together. I’m back at least once a month.”
Locals may recognize Paas’ work if they’ve spent much time at Casey Brewing Company’s Glenwood Springs barrel or tap rooms.
“The lens coating, the bar support and the footrail of the taproom is all my work,” he said of the brewery’s new taproom on Grand Avenue. “In the barrel room, where they do all their work, the whole 10-foot tall back bar, that’s my work.”
His work garnered a much larger audience earlier this month when Paas emerged as the grand champion on episode 22 of the seventh season of the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire.” In addition to bragging rights, he took home a $10,000 prize.
The reality show “tests some of the best in the field as they attempt to re-create some of history’s most iconic edged weapons,” according to the History Channel website.
In Paas’ case, he had to get through two rounds that required specific Japanese techniques to forge a classic Japanese knife known as a nata. In the final round, however, he had to step up his game, as the final challenge was to create a Zulu war axe in 35 hours.
Those first two rounds took place in New York City in August, and then the crew came to him in Colorado Springs to film Paas forging the axe. Then it was back to New York to face the judges, he said.
“It is a really intense competition and they take it very seriously,” Paas said of the experience. “I flew in one afternoon; the next morning, we competed in round one, and then competed in round two the next day, then turned around and flew home. The day after I got home, I turned around and started on the final build [for round three]. It’s quite intense, just going from one thing the next thing to the next thing.”
But while the competition itself was a whirlwind, getting on the show was painstaking.
“About this time last year, I started the application process,” Paas said. “By June, I was through it, [but then there’s] a written interview and a phone interview. They want to make sure you’ve made a blade of certain sizes. They try to pair you with smiths of a similar skill level.”
And in fact, it wasn’t the first engagement Paas had had with the show’s producers.
“About two years ago, I posted a flashback of knives I had done for another guy’s wedding on Instagram,” he said. “They reached out to me. At that point, I hadn’t done Damascus steel. A year later, I reached back out to them and said, ‘Yeah, my skills are where I want them to be.’”
His patience paid off, literally.