Legendary longtime Aspen local John Callahan, who led a life of adventure, dies at 95

John E. Callahan lived in Aspen and worked as a ski instructor, patrol and trail crew worker at Buttermilk. He died Jan. 1 at the age of 95.

Courtesy of the Callahan family

John E. Callahan, a longtime ski instructor, Mountain Rescue pioneer, and active community member, died at the age of 95 on Sunday.

“We’re all lucky. All four of us were there and held his hand as he passed away,” said Pat Callahan, 57, his son. His siblings John Callahan, Anne Marie McPhee, and Nancy Humphreys were with him. 

Callahan and his late wife, Cynthia, were inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame in 2017.

John and Cynthia Callahan in Wagner Park, circa 1965.

Courtesy of the Callahan family

The couple met on a ski vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1959. As the story goes, he asked her to marry him the night they met. They married soon enough in 1960 and moved to Aspen from Los Angeles in 1965, seeking a smaller town to raise their growing family. 

Callahan worked briefly in hospitality at the Applejack Inn and bartended at the original Little Nell. Then, he turned to the slopes to work as a ski instructor, patroller, and on the trail crew at Buttermilk. 

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One of the first ski instructors fluent in Spanish, Callahan encouraged Aspen Skiing Co. to recruit skiers from Mexico. His love for Latin America and speaking Spanish endeared him to many Spanish-speakers in the valley and became somewhat of a running joke in his family. 

“He was a legendarily bad shopper because he had to speak Spanish with every single person at City Market. And, it would take him two hours to get in and out of the grocery store,” Pat recalled about his dad.

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