Former Winter Park Resort president gets inducted into Tourism Hall of Fame (with video)
DENVER — Businesspersons, politicians, socialites and the hospitality elites of Colorado gathered at the Seawell Ballroom in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night to celebrate the 2018 Denver & Colorado Tourism Hall of Fame inductees. Among those honored was former President of Winter Park Resort Gary DeFrange, who helped to shape the state’s ski industry and establish Winter Park Resort as one of the nation’s foremost mountain destinations.
Notable speakers at the event included Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who lauded DeFrange for his work during his time at the resort.
“It’s really pretty special because I grew up in Denver, and lived my whole life in Colorado,” said DeFrange. “It’s always great when you’re recognized by your peers and by the people familiar with what you’ve done.”
The hall of fame is the highest honor for the Colorado travel industry, celebrating the state’s top leaders and innovators in the field. Joining DeFrange is an illustrious 2018 class including the famed Broadmoor Hotel’s chairman Stephen Bartolin, Jr., Denver Councilman Charlie Brown, and a posthumous induction for freed slave and restaurateur Barney Ford.
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DeFrange is best known for his work in the ski industry, making a name for himself for his work with the National Sports Center for the Disabled, National Ski Areas Association and Colorado Ski Country USA on top of years of innovation with the resort. But he didn’t enter the industry until relatively late in life.
He worked in the banking industry for 27 years, serving as the chairman, president and CEO of First Interstate Bank of Denver, and area president for a three-state region. First Interstate did the banking for Winter Park Resort, allowing DeFrange to familiarize himself with the finances. When Jerry Groswold retired in 1997, DeFrange stepped in as the resort’s third president.
“It was a decision that in some ways was hard to make,” DeFrange recalls. “Then you sit down in the middle of the night, and realize that somebody just offered you the job to be CEO of one of the largest ski areas in the United States, and you’ve got to take that job.”
Over the years DeFrange made several lasting impacts on the resort, perhaps none bigger than restructuring the resort’s agreement with the mountain’s owner, the city and county of Denver, to lease it to Intrawest, a private company that could bring in equity to make new capital investments.
“By changing the structure, it really gave us the ability to do the things that we needed to do to stay competitive,” he said. “We upgraded facilities, we added lifts and new terrain. But we were also able to sell them that land that was owned by the city at the base of the mountain, which was used for development.”
With that new freedom Intrawest built the base village, Fraser Crossing Foundry Pointe, Village Cabriolet lift and more.
DeFrange also noted several improvements on the mountain as some of his biggest accomplishments, including the construction of the Super Gauge Express, Panoramic Express, the Lunch Rock Restaurant, and the opening of The Cirque and Eagle Wind territories.
DeFrange is also responsible for helping to revolutionize how the industry thought of ski passes. Winter Park Resort was the first to create discount season pass products with the “Friends and Family” four pack, four season passes for just more than the price for one. He also helped to create the first Rocky Mountain Super Pass with Copper Mountain.
“That was super unique,” DeFrange said. “But if you look at what’s happening today in the business, that really was the beginning of all these combined pass products. Now you’ve got 20 and 30 resorts all on the same pass product at both the new Alterra and at Vail Resorts, and in prices much different than they would have been if everyone just continued with their individual season passes.”
Other notable accomplishments include the creation of Trestle Bike Park, which has grown into one of the largest in North America, and the reintroduction of the Winter Park Express ski train. Before he left he also completed a new 40-year permit with the US Forest Service, assuring the future of the resort.
DeFrange said he biggest accomplishment during his time at the resort, however, was the team he was able to build around him.
“This would not have happened without all the really good people that I had working for me,” he said. “Because they came up with a lot of these ideas. Hopefully I enabled them to come up with a lot of these ideas, and we structured things together, but I just had a great team. And when we came up with an idea, we always found ways to overcome obstacles. We never gave up, and we ultimately got a lot of new things done.”
DeFrange may be officially retired, but that doesn’t stop him from keeping active. He served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Denver until his term ended in December, and still serves as the chairman of AAA Colorado. He sits on two different finance committees, chairing one, and works as a consultant for companies looking to invest in ski areas.
He and his wife, Michelle, split time between their homes in Denver and Winter Park, and he enjoys golfing and working on his car collection. He recently helped to start a small neighborhood volunteer group in Denver, which helps senior citizens with small tasks like changing high-up light bulbs and shoveling snow.
He’s slowly getting accustomed to his new life, but even a year removed from his responsibilities at the resort he’s still worried about the weather.
“We need more snow now that we’re getting into spring break. Even though I’m not there full time I still worry about it and think about it all the time.”
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