Ladies of the Valley
Women from our Valley’s past and the present who continue to make our home the incredible place that it is.
Here are just some of the ladies, from the past and the present, who have helped to make the Roaring Fork Valley what it is today.
Spence, a mother of two sons and a survivor of breast cancer, says she loves reading about, listening to, and working with “high-drive women” in the outdoor industry. “The women I work with on the patrol are outstanding and each bring so many talents.” Reflecting on having been the only female on the patrol team at one point, Spence says “it is nice to have four others on the Aspen Highlands Patrol currently, and we hope to hire more.”
For anyone thinking about becoming a ski patroller, Spence has simple advice. “Explore the job by shadowing ski patrollers at every mountain—each mountain is a little different. If you love being active and outside in the elements, and like helping others, it could be a great career for you.”
“At the last legislative session, we passed the Outdoor Equity Grant Program as well as the Environmental Justice Act, but much is still to be done. Historically, our communities have been sacrificed and overburdened with pollution and lack of investment,” says Soto. “As we are crafting a clean energy economy, no communities should be left behind regardless of language, ethnicity, class, or political power.”
Soto became an American citizen in 2020 and that same year ran for Garfield Count Commissioner—and nearly won. When it comes to her devotion to the Roaring Fork Valley, it’s endless. “I love the people. We have amazing people from across south and central America, every corner of Mexico, not to mention from all over the country,” she says. “The Ute are contemporary people who still have ties to the Roaring Fork Valley, and as we are facing more extreme wildfires, drought, biodiversity loss, we must acknowledge we don't have all the answers. We must not only tap into the knowledge of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, but support Land Back, and share power and resources so we can all benefit from their knowledge.”
Photo credit: Aspen Historical Society, Cassatt Collection
Paepcke, along with her husband Walter, championed Aspen in its transition from a mining town to the thriving ski town we know today. In an effort to create a gathering of diverse thinkers (especially after the atrocities that had occurred during WWII) Elizabeth Paepcke helped bring the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation to Aspen and started the Aspen Music Festival and School in 1949, with the hopes of having people from various countries and backgrounds give lectures, attend round-table discussions, and perform concerts—and even offering to lodge people of color like Dorothy Maynor (the eventual founder of the Harlem School of the Arts) when there was no other place in town for her to stay.
Paepcke also saw Aspen’s potential as a place that could bridge modern society with the natural world; in 1968, she donated her 25-acre property in the West End of Aspen and founded the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), creating a sanctuary for wildlife and those who visit.
Elizabeth “Pussy” Paepcke was a thought-leader ahead of her time—she skied, enjoyed spending time in nature, and spent most of her life as a philanthropist, openly rejecting the influence of extreme wealth in Aspen later in her life and living in the area into her 90s.
Photo credit: Meredith Ogilby/Wilderness Workshop
These ladies, dubbed "the Maroon Belles," started the Aspen Wilderness Workshop and began working to more than double the size of the preserved area. Through two decades of tireless effort, they helped expand the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, making it the fourth largest protected area in the state of Colorado. Everything from Mount Sopris in Carbondale to the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness outside of Basalt—as well as the Collegiate Peaks, Raggeds, and West Elk Wilderness areas—fall within this designation.
Thanks to these three ladies, who worked in these communities and raised their families here over several decades, one-of-kind places integral to the beauty of our Valley remain protected today.
“As I have moved into different leadership roles, I have not always had full confidence in myself, so listening to the confidence that others have in me has helped me have the courage to take on new roles,” says Ertl, who believes the key ingredients to good leadership are emotional intelligence and being brave enough to admit when you don’t know the answer. “Self-awareness can help in the process of listening, supporting, and moving forward with a team. I believe strongly in servant leadership and having the courage to hire people on the team that are smarter than I am. This brings a balance and diversity to the group.”
She’s called the Roaring Fork Valley home for many years, and can list several reasons why it’s so special to her. “I love the rich history of this valley. The mining, the potatoes, the skiing, the Institute, the Music School, and the heritage. The grit that it took to start these towns in the valley is immense and we all benefit from their vision,” she says.
Photo credit: Aspen Historical Society, Eve Homeyer Collection
During her two terms, Homeyer’s two penny-sales taxes helped purchase Jenny Adair Sawmill Park, and she helped raise nearly $90k in just ten days to purchase Rubey Park. Homeyer always promised that if she was elected, she’d never own or drive a car—and for 35 years she kept her word, truly walking the walk (and sometimes taking the bus).
“It may not seem like much now, but at the time it was a very big deal to break into that boys' club,” recalls Halperin. She went on to win the town downhill, beating out her male patroller peers on the men’s course by four seconds.
Halperin was on the ski patrol for five years and left a lasting impact across four mountains, which slowly started to hire more women in the years to come. “I've always felt Aspen was my destiny. Seriously, where else do you ski on the world's greatest mountain right into your backyard?” she asks.
After becoming a mom and working at the Aspen Times and as Publisher of Aspen Sojourner, she launched Aspen Peak Magazine, leaving her impact on the community through local journalism. “I'm so proud of all the young women who worked for me as interns, sales assistants, photographers, and writers; and went on to successful careers in publishing and media,” she says.
Today, Halperin is still a staple in the community, spending her days focused on permaculture gardening, cross-country skiing, biking, publishing Purist Health and Wellness magazine, and helping with her son-in-law's salmon catch company, Sammy’s Wild Salmon.
Rivera is currently in the running to become National Teacher of the Year and is the first National Finalist from Colorado in almost 30 years. In 2019, she helped a group of students rally around the preservation of the local Sweetwater Lake and in 2021, Governor Polis announced the lake as the newest Colorado State Park. “Allowing students to have a voice and pursue what they are passionate about is something I will never forget,” says Rivera.
Rivera says the Roaring Fork Valley is especially unique because of the level of support teachers receive. “I have worked in the city, and the support from the community was just not the same,” she says. “This has been the hardest year for most people in education. Teachers have spent the past two years doing everything they can to support their students while also learning how to teach online, in-person, and sometimes both at the same time. Remembering to humanize our teachers is important.”
There are currently six Buttermilk Biscuits (female ski patrollers) saving the day on Buttermilk for the 2021-2022 winter season. These patrollers wake up early and manage extreme weather conditions while assisting with on-hill injuries and terrain mitigation, and all are trained in everything from lift evacuation skills to snow safety. There’s Vicky Huergo, who has worked as an EMT for five years, Liz Bergdahl, who has been on the patrol for almost 20 years and is also a mountain rescue volunteer and EMT. There’s also Rachel Thomas, who spends her time off the slopes as a firefighter EMT and a business owner in Rifle (she’s also Denali the patrol pup’s handler!). And don’t forget Whitney Whickens, who recently became an EMT and is also a whitewater raft guide; Lisa Hicks, who is passionate about earning her turns and is also a paramedic while currently in school at Yale to become a Physician Assistant; and Summer Flack, who has been on patrol for 15 years and is also a nurse and is known for her positive attitude.
"The Biscuits are my family away from home and who I go to when I need anything. They are knowledgeable and kind, and always have my back,” says patroller Victoria Huergo. “We teach each other and try to be better every day. We are drama free with no competition. They are my friends, my constant support, and my lift up. Also, the most fun times on patrol are when we work together. We never have a problem, never an argument because we all want what’s best for each other. The Biscuits are an emblem of what I want for the rest of my life and what I look for in a job. They have taught me so much, especially, how to be a good friend."
Once a Biscuit, always a Biscuit and many incredible women have come before the current roster of hardworking women. These ladies support and lift each other up both on and off the mountain. And outside of being patrollers, these women can be found hiking the Highland Bowl with their kids or uphilling to stay strong, and they continue to contribute to the community as nurses, firefighters, paramedics, raft guides, moms, and more.
“Having been exposed to—and impacted by—loved ones’ experiences with mental health issues over the course of my life, I have a deep-rooted interest in this particular field and I am so grateful that Aspen Hope Center serves as an incredible resource for those who need support,” she says. “On any given day, my job covers finance to human resources to marketing and so much more. I know when I'm completing tasks and helping to create efficiencies and streamline processes in the day-to-day operations, that frees up the time of our clinicians so they can focus their efforts where they are needed the most, like out on the frontlines, working to ensure the safety and stability of individuals in our communities.”
Photo Credit: Summers Moore
Boxtel is also responsible for helping to co-found Challenge Aspen, a non-profit that provides year-round adaptive experiences and life-changing opportunities in the outdoors for folks living with physical and/or cognitive disabilities.
“I envisioned a way to bypass the medical healthcare system by enabling access to physical therapy and advanced technologies to get our entire community up and walking again. Our scholarship program and charitable organization are founded on the principle that access to consistent and quality physical therapy, and advanced technologies, is affordable for all,” she says.
Boxtel has received global recognition for her work and has been featured as a speaker at numerous conferences and venues around the world including TED and Singularity University’s European Summit, where she presented the first hybrid 3D printed exoskeleton in the world, and was also honored as one of CNN Heroes Top 10 finalists in 2018.
“I’ve always believed that the Aspen area enables dreamers to dream big and manifest those dreams to life,” she says. “And that has propelled me to pay it forward.”