As you watch groups of men and women ski down Aspen Mountain, giant rainbow flag in hand, hundreds of onlookers cheering them on, you might think Aspen has always been the inclusive, LGBTQ-friendly town that it is today. But Aspen hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when gay men could be thrown out of bars for dancing together and it was legal to deny a person goods and services because of their sexual orientation.
Those things began to change in 1977, thanks in part to Jon Busch, the founder of Aspen Gay Ski Week and an early advocate for LGBTQ rights in Aspen. Jon came to Aspen in 1964 to study bassoon at the Aspen Music School. He returned each summer for the next few years; he settled in permanently 1969.

During his first job working at a record store called The Hi-Fi Shop, in the building where Mi Chola now operates, Jon lived in an attic space above the store that was so small that he couldn’t fully stand up. But all that crouching paid off. Thanks to his connections at Hi-Fi, Jon was given the opportunity to help launch a brand new radio station, KSPN, which would be located inside Hotel Jerome.

After establishing KSPN’s groovy airwaves, Jon was offered a position managing film programming at the Wheeler Opera House, his gig for more than four decades, until 2004. Generations of Aspenites and visitors have the same memory etched in their minds: Jon Busch, looking petite under the spotlight on stage, the Wheeler’s resplendent velvet curtain behind him, taking a few minutes to introduce that night’s film. It became such a favorite part of the experience that Jon often received quick rounds of applause.
Jon Busch 1979
Jon Busch 1979

Photograph of Jon Busch in The Aspen Times on November 22, 1979. Photo courtesy of Aspen Historical Society.

In 1977, Jon learned that his hometown of Portland, Oregon, had adopted a gay rights ordinance. This momentous legislation inspired Jon to push for the same tolerance and inclusivity in Aspen. He proposed a groundbreaking ordinance that forbade discrimination based on sexual orientation to the Aspen City Council. It was unanimously approved and became the first of its kind in Colorado. Boulder and Denver soon followed.
Gay Ski Week historical photo
Gay Ski Week historical photo

Photo courtesy of Aspen Historical Society
Meanwhile, two LGBTQ ski groups from California—SAGA Los Angeles and SAGA San Diego—made their first trip to Aspen in the winter of 1977 and invited the local community to participate in their parties. Jon and his friends were a little embarrassed about the visiting ski groups being the ones hosting all the parties. They wanted to reciprocate their hospitality. In 1977, Gay Ski Week was born.

Aspen Gay Ski Week was the first of its kind in the country. The second, Telluride Gay Ski Week, arrived almost 20 years later. For the first few seasons, Aspen’s celebrations were held in condominiums with only a hundred or so in attendance. Now, the week attracts thousands. Aspen Gay Ski Week incorporated as the nonprofit Aspen Gay and Lesbian Community Fund in 1996. Today known as Aspen Out, the organization promotes tolerance through programming, fundraising, and grants for the LGBTQ community in addition to hosting Aspen Gay Ski Week in January every year.
And that’s all thanks to Jon, whose legacy will always include Aspen Gay Ski Week. In January 2019, he will be inducted to the Aspen Hall of Fame for his contributions to the fabric of our town.

Published November 2018
By Regan Hann