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