The Life and times of Jeff Schneider
When Jeff Schneider started building his house on Teocalli and First Street in 1978, the upper west end was just an empty space with no trees. It was just mine tailings and open views south to Gibson’s Ridge, north to Paradise Divide and the old dirt trail road leading to Peanut Lake curved up at the end of his street. The house took Jeff five years to build, while he lived in a van parked outside. He feels it was one of his great accomplishments—and that’s saying something for The Schnoid.
So, what the hell is a Schnoid? Jeff thinks his local given nickname was fashioned from Mr. Snoid, a character created by the artist R. Crumb of the early 1970s psychedelic Zap Comix era.
“I had a sarcastic sort of humor that’s been curtailed more because some people don’t quite get it,” Jeff says with a surprisingly mild-mannered demeanor for someone claiming to be snarky. “It’s a sarcastic remark that comes out of nowhere and you don’t realize you’ve been Schnoided until ten minutes later,” The Schnoid grins.
Born in the Midwest and raised in Minnesota and Illinois by his mom, Jeff was an only child. What he remembers about Minnesota was, “Boy, it was cold, waiting for the school bus when it’s 40-below and way more humid than here.”
After graduating from high school in the thick of the Vietnam War in 1969, he enrolled in Southern Illinois University, mostly to qualify for a student deferment to render him ineligible for the draft. “I was very preppie with penny loafers and was a straight arrow. They put me in a dorm room with a guy with the exact same name as mine,” he says. Jeff recalls that his perspective was about to flip a 180 and fly off into the left lane.
Although his dorm mate had the same moniker, the guy was on the antithetical side of conservative. “He was [like] one of the Furry Freak Brothers [another of R. Crumb Comix personalities]. The guy was total opposite of me—he bought Ripple wine for 49 cents and there were a lot of bongs,” said the newly converted Schnoid, who somehow then wound up in the notoriously radical Students for Democratic Society, SDS, and that got him thrown out of college in his first year.
This was right after the murder of four Kent State students in 1970 by the National Guard during a Vietnam War protest. Jeff watched as the National Guard rolled onto his own campus trying to squelch the demonstrations about the Kent State killings and the ongoing Vietnam bloodshed. That’s when he got caught flinging a Molotov cocktail.
“I’ve been throwing bombs for a long time,” notes the former Yippie who later turned ski patrol, ironically licensed to toss explosives. As a lucky fluke, he pulled a high number in the draft lottery that year, avoiding Vietnam altogether. The Schnoid thought it best to head for the hills, “I saw it as a window and said, ‘I’m moving west and go skiing.’”
Having traveled with his high school ski club on a spring break to Vail one year, he was stuck on the mountain imagery. Besides, there were too many people in the Midwest. It was the end of October, it was snowing, there was no heater in his van, and the window wipers didn’t work. When he finally landed in Vail he realized it wasn’t what he was looking for. So he left the next day. “I had $150 in my pocket. I had a small postal carrier step van so I could sleep in that,” he reasoned, and he headed over the mountain to a more down-home town he had heard about, called Aspen.
“It wasn’t the glitzy Aspen, there wasn’t even a sign that said Aspen. It was really quiet in 1970 Aspen,” he recalls. “I found a crash pad,” a crowded house used mostly for sleeping. “How many mattresses can you get on the floor in one room? There were four in one room and the other had two. In those days you moved around a lot—a month here, six weeks there—that’s the way life was in earlier Aspen,” he says of the town that was much more like Crested Butte in its early ski bum days.
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Jeff worked numerous jobs, whatever employment he could find that allowed him to hit the slopes as much as possible. “You’d hitchhike all the way down to Glenwood Springs because huge jars of peanut butter and Kool-Aid were on sale,” he laughs about the frugal lifestyle of a young ski bum. “When you’re only making $2.50 an hour, that wasn’t a long way to hitch for food.”
But he was livin’ the dream and smiles when he remembers those days when he just skied and skied endless powder and mostly ungroomed trails. He was working at a ski area restaurant called Merry-Go-Round as a diver and noticed these regulars in red jackets with white crosses. They were the American Red Cross First Aid, which predated EMT training, and they got to ski every day.
“All they did was ski. And got paid for it. And I thought, that looks good,” he smirks. He chopped off his long hair and enrolled in the first-ever EMT class in Aspen in 1970. That summer he joined the trail maintenance crew for Aspen Highlands, and by that winter he was hired on to the Aspen ski patrol. He spent eight seasons with them. Then, one year, at a state-wide ski patrol party, he met the scruffy dozen from Crested Butte.
“Most of the ski industry at that time were in ski pants, Demetre sweaters and clean shaven. The Crested Butte guys were these wooly-faced total characters, with wooly pants and wooly hats. I thought, this is where I want to go,” and his decision in 1978 came as Aspen transformed into jet set and expensive. He had already traversed over Pearl Pass, skiing to see friends, and felt Crested Butte was more his kind of place with its dirt streets and “real, friendly people.”
Jeff was the first person ever hired from out of town and that didn’t go over well with the locals who figured he was just some Aspen rich kid. Ski Patrol positions were coveted back then, sometimes taking years to get in. “There was no North Face, High Lift or Painter Boy so there were fewer ski patrollers,” he says. However, it didn’t take long before others realized he was kindred soul and not Aspen wealth. In 1994, Jeff was voted Ski Patroller of the Year for all of Colorado.
He got into a summer groove, using his time off to trek the Andes, Nepal, Canada, and Alaska. He climbed Peak Communism in Russia, hanging a plaque for beloved patroller Steve Monfredo, who died on that mountain. For two seasons, he worked in Queenstown, New Zealand, as a heli-ski guide. Jeff felt that back-to-back winters were getting to be a bit much and, he realized, “It was a great novelty, a good experience, but the stress level wasn’t worth it.”
To date, Jeff has summited 20 peaks over 20,000 feet and mountaineered every Colorado peak over 13,000 feet, all 650 of them. When he wasn’t climbing, he was working construction.
“But,” he observed, “when you get up into your 50s, plywood gets heavier and ten hours of construction didn’t leave much energy to bike ride or do anything else.”
Answering an ad for a bus driving position for Mountain Express in 2006, Jeff started as a fill-in driver during winters, adding summer shifts as they became available until enough shifts opened to where he could drop construction entirely. By the time he retired from ski patrol last year with 35 years at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, there were enough winter bus driving shifts open for him to be full time. “It’s great—I was a bus rider long before I was a bus driver. Public transportation is really essential in this valley,” he feels.
The Schnoid has a plan. “I’m looking to enjoy myself, I’m not gonna go off and become a brain surgeon now. I’m going to ski as much powder in the back country as I can and continue to climb peaks,” he laughs. But he and Karen Saeger, his wife, whom he claims has incredible patience to have endured him all these 42 years, have thought about the inevitable: what to do when they no longer have the desire to shovel snow.
After carefully considering all the warmer options, they’ve decided to stay put. “Look at the people here, and how beautiful is this valley? They call it Red Lady for a reason,” he says of Crested Butte’s west sentinel, “when you first hit her bowl in the morning and you see that red line of light coming down. It’s been the mountains. They’ve been really good to me. I feel very fortunate in the things the mountains have done for me,” he says, without the least bit of sarcasm in his voice. Regardless, you can now consider yourself Schnoided.