Get to know Ken Harper: A Kids Ski Instructor of 37 years

Apr. 8, 2015

Harper Ken in uniform
The Vail Ski and Snowboard School is renowned for its excellence, and the cornerstone of that reputation is the instructors themselves. From ex-NFL players to former Olympians to long-time Vail locals, in this series we introduce you to just a sampling of this widely diverse group of expert skiers and riders.

Ken Harper is from Pueblo, Colorado and works for Lionshead Childrens Ski School ages 7-Teen. 

Q: How long have you been an instructor for?

A: I have been an instructor for 37 years, and for eleven of those I served as a supervisor for LHC 7-teen (1987-1998). I took the year of 2000 off to ride my bike around the world.

Q: What did you do before you were a ski instructor?

A: I went to college at the Colorado School of Mines and majored in chemical engineering. Before I joined ski school, I was a general manager at the Hilton Inn (now the Evergreen Lodge). A group from California purchased the hotel and the new owner brought his own management team in and fired me. Since I couldn’t find another management position in the hotel business in Vail at the start of the season, a friend of mine convinced me to ski every day that winter. In the spring he asked me to go to the ski school new hire clinic with him so I said why not. We went and I was offered a job to teach kids, and as they say, the rest is history!

Q: What do you do in the summer?

A: Back then? Well, for the first ten years I was a raft guide on the Colorado, Eagle, and Arkansas Rivers. Then I became a ski school supervisor for LHC 7-12 for eleven years (1987-1998). In 1998 I went back to instructing because I wanted to do the bike ride. Now? In the summer my wife and I hike a lot and also volunteer with the US Forest Service as part of a wilderness volunteer group. I am the coordinator for the Eagle County Group, so we hike the trails and interact with the public, and we also do trail maintenance to clear the trail of windblown trees.

Ken Harper napping on the river.

Q: Do you speak any other languages?

A: I should know Spanish by now, but no, I don’t know any other languages.

Q: Why did you choose Vail as opposed to somewhere else?

A: It’s the only place I’ve ever lived. Well, I did live in Aspen in the early 1970s but I wasn’t good enough at skiing to even think about teaching yet. The opportunity presented itself here and I took it. I love it so much I’ve never thought about going anywhere else. I thought it was a super great mountain to teach on. You have such a variety of terrain here no matter the level.

Q: What is the most inspiring moment you’ve had while teaching?

A: I think one of the most inspiring things I’ve experienced is teaching kids that grew up and were so into skiing that they became instructors themselves. I have kids that I taught when they were 7, 8, and 9 years old and then they come back here and become instructors. To pass the passion on. This last week I had kids in my class whose parents came up to me and said when I was a kid you taught me. That has happened to me three times in the last two weeks. I think that’s the best part of teaching is just making such good friendships. You see the kids year after year all the way until they’re grown keeping up those friendships.

Q: What is the hardest part of teaching?

A: Sometimes saying goodbye to the kids when you get so attached. That can be really hard. The rest of it, for me, there isn’t a hard part. I don’t mind the big classes, the cold. Two years ago I had 22 never-evers and it didn’t phase me.

Q: What is the most interesting place a student has been from?

A: I get a lot of kids from the Caribbean. You don’t always think of kids growing up in the Caribbean as potential skiers.

 Q: What is your most memorable lesson or day?

A: The one that sticks out when I go over my memories with the kids is when I taught a boy with Down syndrome. He is probably in his 40s now, but anyway, on really sunny spring days we used to just ski down a run and then lie in the snow and look at the clouds and see what shapes we could find like Snoopy or an elephant. That was always fun!

Q: What is one tip you would give to all skiers?

A: Regardless of what happens during the day just enjoy your day to the fullest. And don’t get upset. I see so many people getting upset with other skiers or snowboarders. Life’s too short to get upset over a run-in with another person. Oh, here’s another one: never take your wife or girlfriend on terrain they can’t handle. It’s really, really mean.

Q: What is your perfect day at Vail?

A: Probably the same as most people: sunny, not too cold, a foot of new powder, and no people.

Q: What is your favorite run?

A: That’s changed over the years, but now it would have to be Magic Forest, Sherwood Forest, and Porcupine Alley with my kids. I really liked Forever on a spring day when it’s spring corn and you can just cruise down that puppy all the way to the bottom.


Other profiles in this series:
Get to Know John Donovan: Vail Resident, Business Owner and Ski Instructor Since 1963.
Get to Know Ben Donnelly: An Adaptive Snowsports Instructor.
Get to Know Kevin Bentley: Snowboard Instructor and Former NFL Player
Get to Know Gabe Del Rossi: Multi-Lingual Ski Instructor, University Professor, and Bike Tour Guide
Get to Know Laura Landre: Ski Instructor and Former Member of the US Ski Team


Explore Vail's Ski and Snowboard School