He was hired out of Hiram College in Ohio because of the well-known Midwestern work ethic, which was presumably better than the Colorado ski bum’s powder-day-religion principles—at least that’s what the Crested Butte ski resort owners at the time thought when they hired on a gaggle of them for their student employment program. Dano Marshall was one of those who gleefully took a semester off to work as a lift op.
“I came for a season and worked the lifts at Teocalli and East River,” Dano says, and fondly recalls the clan of other Midwestern students living in Marcellina’s employee housing. It was a full 40-hour week with a portion of their pay held back as a savings program… and the bonus was a ski pass.
“When you returned back to school, the money they took from your paycheck was sent directly to the college for tuition,” he tells of the involuntarily frugal practice, supposedly so students wouldn’t spend it all—most likely at the bars. It was the mid-1980s and Dano was living the dream. He returned to the resort to work the following winter and never left—except to get himself to Denver’s Regis College where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration/marketing.
“After being a lift op for 11 years, I taught skiing and then became a ski school supervisor. I was hired by Robel Straubhaar, I loved that guy!” Dano echoes the feelings of many who had the privilege of working with Robel, grandfather of the international freeskier Aaron Blunck.
“He’d line us up once a season and he’d shake your hand to make sure you were introducing yourself correctly. He’d make us do it twice, the first time our way and then his way. He also said you only wear two types of pants, black and black.” Dano claims the practice was one of a true Austrian. “I worked my way up the ranks from teaching never-evers to being a supervisor.”
Many of the mountain trails weren’t as accessible in those days. Dano remembers, “Back then, you hiked up from where the North Face lift is now… there was no lift, no Third Bowl, mostly just the Glades and the Face for us. Headwall wasn’t open because it wasn’t controlled. Those were some true powder days because you worked for every turn just getting up there. It was a challenge to see how many runs you could do in a day.”
Dano moved on, leaving the ski supervisor job in the ‘90s. “I knew I didn’t want to teach skiing forever and so a good friend of mine, Maggie McGrath, brought me into the Chronicle & Pilot,” he says of his switcheroo to the newspaper graphic design biz. “Maggie taught me production, utilizing my graphics skills.”
Dano’s design talent was self-taught. In the meantime, “I was also doing what everyone does… bartending at the Talk of the Town, and waiting tables at Timberline,” he says. Dano describes the work ethic of anyone living in a ski town with priorities of outdoor adventure as opposed to hoarding real income in some other locale of a lesser paradise.
“It was my first night at the Talk of the Town and it was Todd Roccio’s last night there,” Dano’s eyes gleam as the tale unfolds. “Knowing that people were going to buy him shots all night, we filled a Rumple Minze bottle with water, so he drank water all night and kept the money. His buddy brought his horses in and the horses were drinking out of the pitchers of beer. Then they started to poop everywhere and people were flinging road apples at each other and all over the bar. There was a pay phone at the back door where a guy was talking to his friends in Telluride telling them, ‘I was gonna move to Telluride but I’m staying here… this place is awesome!’”
Dano recalls at the end of the night, “We had to pay someone an extra $100 to clean up the horse manure but it was worth every penny, it was so much fun.” He rattles off the nightly crawl. “They would just migrate. Happy hour would start at one bar and end at Kochevar’s, hitting every bar—the Talk, the Grubstake, the Wooden Nickel.”
Dano feels he turned the page of the next chapter in his life when he met Shari Sullivan while he was slinging drinks at the Rafters, which was a large rowdy concert hall bar in the now demolished slopeside Gothic Building. The job came with a ski pass and the opportunity to meet women.
Shari was an educator living in Minnesota. Dano wooed his St. Pauli Girl long distance until one day he found an ad for a teacher position at Crested Butte Community School. She interviewed, nailed it and they were married in 1995.
During the 1990s, Dano had also been coaching high school track and teaching computer skills and graphics. This spring he’s excited to return to coaching middle school track. “At that age you just try to make it fun. This town produces great track athletes.” He confirms that U.S. National Steeplechase winner and Olympian Emma Coburn was one of his students.
From that job at the Chronicle & Pilot, Dano eventually became part of the startup at the Crested Butte Weekly, the entertainment paper that is now a seasonal edition to the Crested Butte News.
“At one point, we heard the same birds as morning dawned because we didn’t sleep for three full days as we put out the very first paper. Reaman [the editor at the time] kept nudging me to keep me awake,” he chuckles. “But it was awesome and they were fun to work with.”
In 2004 Dano landed a position at Gunnison Valley Hospital as director of marketing, community outreach, public relations and communications. He developed the Gunnison Valley Health Foundation in 2007 to raise awareness and funds to support the health system. “I was in charge of the health fairs, switching it away from the 9Health Fairs and branding it for the hospital. It makes healthcare affordable for a lot of people.” He was there until 2011 when he decided he could use a family break.
“After the hospital I took some time off to do things like hang with my family… go camping, fishing. It was great… until my wife said, ‘That’s enough, time to go get a job.’”
Off he went, commuting to Leadville to give a helping hand to their hospital’s marketing, foundation work, and business development. However, Dano realized, “It was very hard to be away from my family five days a week, only getting to return on weekends. On top of that, I was doing business leadership consulting on my own.”
Ready for a change, his timing was excellent as the Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce was looking for an executive director. “I’m the front desk worker, the cleaner, and the guy who answers the phone when it’s busy,” he laughs, under the watchful eyes of the large elkhead and its huge antlers (which was the largest rack on record in the world at one time and now hangs on the wall in the chamber lobby at the Four-way Stop).
He has plans, goals and ideas, the most obvious being to increase the chamber’s membership, but he acknowledges the challenge weighing on every local business’ mind: “To find more creative ways to work on economic vitality and then everyone wins. I think there should be a retail summit during an off-season, to sit next to those retailers and service providers and find out how to get them help. The reality is, summers are great but winters could be better. I think it’s time to fix that.”
For an example, he uses one of many concepts—hockey. “When you bring in tournaments, each team can be up to 16 people, mom and dad come as well as siblings so you have 16 times four and… you do the math. They have to get accommodations, they have to eat, they always forget something and so have to buy hats, gloves, sunscreen, Gatorade and pizza… kids love pizza. When you have a tourney you have multiple teams coming from all over and for full weekends.”
He talks about expanding the marketing for Crested Butte’s extensive and stunning Nordic trails. “They’re vast, well maintained and not promoted enough. There’s a tremendous opportunity.”
And, he adds, “If we can reach out to the different businesses and create partnerships, then everyone’s gonna win with a new way to bring in money for them, and a new memory for that tourist to walk away with. There are people who don’t ski who come with family or husbands on business trips. They want alternatives to the ski area. There could be classes, sushi rolling, cooking classes, pottery classes, history tours. There’s more here than people know, and there are other options out there beyond alpine skiing. The chamber is here for everyone.”
He mentions that well targeted group, Baby Boomers, as more of them retire and more of them seem to be returning as leaf peepers who perhaps prefer the less crowded time when kids are back in school. “September is picking up, the weather’s beautiful. It’s a great time of year to be out. Those Boomers are not tied down with kids in school.”
What keeps most of us lovingly attached to Crested Butte is exactly the thing that keeps Dano here with his family. “The people… what a bunch of great people, it’s a great community.” And it doesn’t hurt that all the things he loves to do are right here—skiing, fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking. The couple has two boys. Sully (Sullivan) is 13 and Liam Patrick counts in at 11 years and Dano proudly states, “I’m a hockey dad…and I coach Peewees.”
Between his rambunctious boys, his community, the outdoors and his work, Dano confesses, “They keep us busy. We love to be outside. During the big snow of 2007, while we were riding up Silver Queen, my son Sully turns and says to his friend Finn, ‘Don’t we live in the greatest place in the whole wide world?!’ It was neat for him to realize that. I think Sully’s right… we do live in the greatest place in the whole wide world.”