Remembering Gary Shimanowitz: Beaver Creek mourns the loss of a strong leader

A recent photo of Gary Shimanowitz at Beaver Creek, where his family say he spent his most precious moments.
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Beaver Creek is grappling with the loss of one of its strongest leaders, both literally and figuratively, following the sudden death of Gary Shimanowitz, the resort’s longtime operations manager, on Friday, February 25.

Shimanowitz’s death came after skiing an early morning First Tracks session, his family confirmed.

“It was very sudden and shocking, but we’re happy he’s in the place he loved the most in Beaver Creek,” Shimanowitz’s sister Sandy Krieski said.

Born in New Jersey in 1964, Shimanowitz moved to Colorado at age 7 with his parents and two sisters and attended Cherry Creek High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Shimanowitz was the youngest of three siblings; Krieski said the family immediately moved to Colorado and Gary developed a love of the mountains from an early age.

“He learned to ski in college and he got really good when he was in college,” Krieski said.

Gary Shimanowitz skied in his youth.
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After earning a college degree in economics and working in Denver for a few years, Shimanowitz moved to Vail in 1990 to pursue his true calling with Beaver Creek Ski Patrol.

“He was a big, strong guy, an outdoors guy, and the job suited him just fine,” longtime friend Darren “Barney” Epifanio said.

Shimanowitz, at 6ft, 7in tall, made an interesting pairing with Epifanio, who is 5ft, 1in. The two met during Shimanowitz’s first year in Vail and have remained friends ever since.

“For many Halloweens and parties, we always dressed up as the Jolly Green Giant and Little Sprout, or Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito,” Epifanio said. “He was a great guy who loved the mountains and loved his job.”

Addy McCord, ski patrol manager at Beaver Creek Resort, said when she hired Shimanowitz as a rookie ski patroller, he was a talented, confident and loud young man.

“He was one of a kind,” McCord said. “I knew from the moment I met him that he would have an impact on Beaver Creek and this industry.”

Gary Shimanowitz, left, in his early days with the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol.
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Business acumen

Krieski had two children, who would also become children for Shimanowitz.

“He was like a second father to me,” said Shimanowitz’s niece Rachel Margolis. “He never missed a birthday party, never missed a recital, he was always there.”

Margolis and Shimanowitz shared a bond in their professional lives – both were immensely dedicated to their work.

“We were two businessmen in the family,” Margolis said. “We really bonded and connected about what it means to be with a company for a long time, to watch it grow, to be part of the change, to help that growth, and to look back and say, ‘ Wow, we did it.’ We weren’t working for the company, but we connected thinking back to a long career dedicated to a company and what could be achieved.”

Gary Shimanowitz with his niece, Rachel Margolis, when Margolis was a child. The two would later bond through their shared dedication to their respective careers.
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John Garnsey worked with Shimanowitz when Garnsey was with the Vail Valley Foundation and Shimanowitz was working on the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races. Garnsey became Chief Operating Officer of Beaver Creek and helped expand Shimanowitz’s career by giving him more opportunities in mountain operations.

“He said, ‘I don’t know much about snowmaking,’ and I said, ‘You’re a smart guy, you’ll figure it out’ and he caught on pretty quickly and did a great job. ” Garnsey said.

“He was a real doer, a big thinker and loved coming up with new ideas and he was also a lot of fun. He was very proud of what he had done and he was always trying to make Beaver Creek a better place,” said Garnsey.

Shimanowitz left Beaver Creek for a stint in Breckenridge in the mid-2000s as vice president of mountain operations, spending eight years there and working on the Peak 6 expansion. He returned to Beaver Creek in the mid-2000s. 2010 where he worked on another land extension at McCoy Park.

Shimanowitz also competed at two Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and Turin, Italy, and his contribution to building the Birds of Prey World Cup course has left a permanent mark on ski racing.

In total, Shimanowitz has spent 31 years with Vail Resorts.

“I learned a tremendous amount from him,” said Dan Ramker, director of mountain operations at Beaver Creek Resort, who considered Shimanowitz a mentor. “He was my advocate and my champion, my teacher and my mentor, he kept me grounded during incredibly difficult times, but most of all, he was my friend. I will cherish every minute I spent with Gary.

Gary Shimanowitz at work in Beaver Creek.
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Chris Jarnot, former vice president of mountain operations for Vail Resorts, said Shimanowitz has a strong presence in Colorado’s ski industry as a leader at Beaver Creek and Breckenridge.

“He worked with us in marketing/PR for several summers in the late 80s/early 90s while on workers compensation for injuries sustained while working on patrol, and we all loved him” , said Jarnot.

Nadia Guerriero, vice president and chief operating officer of Beaver Creek Resort, said Shimanowitz welcomed her with open arms when she joined the Beaver Creek team.

“He taught me so much about this resort and this community,” Guerriero said. “The time I spent with Gary was invaluable and I am grateful to call him a friend. He was a wonderful leader whose kindness and joy touched all who had the pleasure of working with him. His passion for the mountains, our sport and the customer experience will be felt for generations to come.

pleasure yachts

Shimanowitz, in the midst of his career advancements, could have afforded a luxury vehicle, but instead chose to hang on to his 1989 Nissan Pathfinder for as long as possible.

“He rammed this vehicle into the ground,” Sue Straub said. “We drove it to Mexico for our friends wedding, took the vehicle on a big ferry, and it got covered in pigs (feces)…he just couldn’t give up on that vehicle, he loved the memories .”

Gary Shimanowitz and Sue Straub spent decades as each other’s plus-ones at weddings.
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Shimanowitz lived with Straub for much of his life in Vail. They met in the late 1990s when they were both on ski patrol.

“We started dating in secret, of course,” she said. “We could never relate to him, but he would never take anything personally or get into drama, just a really nice person who loved his friends so much.”

Among Straub’s many memorabilia are several involving houseboats, some of which, like the Pathfinder, may have remained in the field for years past their rightful expiration date.

“Yachts of Fun was one of the boats that I remember that practically went down in the main channel during a storm,” Straub said.

In addition to downhill skiing, Shimanowitz is also known as a talented water skier.

“Just a gorgeous slalom skier, when he pulled a reverse turn he pulled the whole boat back, it was hysterical,” Straub said. “He loved being on Lake Powell.”

Gary Shimanowitz waterskis on Lake Powell.
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Shimanowitz loved motorcycles when he was younger and took a lot of desert trips with Jim Cloutier, whom he considered his best friend, Straub said.

Cloutier died in a plane crash in 2000, a loss Shimanowitz felt deeply.

“He was so full of love despite his loss,” Straub said.

family rock

Shimanowitz also lost his father in 1982, during his senior year of high school.

“He became our rock,” Krieski said. “He was always going to Denver, mowing the lawn and taking care of the house.”

Along with his sisters, nephew, niece and a great-nephew, Shimanowitz is also survived by his 92-year-old mother, Barbara Shimanowitz.

“We all took my dad’s death hard, but Gary stepped in and helped my mom all those years,” Krieski said. “He took care of her.”

As a gift for Oliver Margolis, who is the son of Rachel Margolis and great-nephew of Gary Shimanowitz, Krieski recently decided that a toy lawn mower would make the perfect present.

“We said now you can mow the lawn with Uncle Gary,” Krieski said.

Gary Shimanowitz with his great-nephew, Oliver.
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When Oliver was born in 2020, Shimanowitz was as excited as a father would be, Margolis said.

Oliver was not given a Hebrew name at birth and will now be given Gary’s Hebrew name, Gabriel Mendel.

“Oliver will know who Uncle Gary was,” Margolis said.

“To know Gary was to love him,” Krieski said.

A funeral service will be held Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the Feldman Mortuary Chapel in Denver.

A Beaver Creek Celebration of Life is scheduled for March 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Full capacity is expected, and attendees are encouraged to arrive early, allow time for parking, and be aware that you may be directed to a secondary space if the venue is full. The celebration of life will take place outdoors and will end with a fireworks display in honor of Shimanowitz.

Tricia Swenson contributed reporting.


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