Profile: Todd Riceman

If it weren’t for his ever-present smile and warm demeanor, Todd Riceman’s six feet seven inches would be an intimidating presence behind the bar. As it is, you feel very much welcomed as he slides you a perfectly mixed cocktail.
He’s been a career mixologist in resort towns for 20 years, working to support his ideal living of skiing, biking and general outdoor bliss. “Bartending is fun and pays well. When I first started working, I realized that I could make a lot of money working in bars instead of spending money in them, which is why I’ve stayed with it all these years,” grins the man who was officially voted Best Bartender in Crested Butte a couple of seasons ago.
Yes, Todd was a tall kid, and his father forced him to play basketball for a couple of years, but he started skiing at the young age of three in the unlikely area of mostly flatland, Moline, Illinois. “There are places in the Mississippi Mountains, Snowstar, where the lodge and parking lot was on top and you skied down to the Mississippi River,” he laughs about the whole 200 feet of vertical he cut his edges on. “It doesn’t snow like here but it’s cold in the winter and they make snow. Some years the resort would be open for a month, other years it would be open for three or four months. When I wasn’t skiing I was skateboarding or riding BMX bikes.”
When he was five years old, Todd vividly recalls, his family took a vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park, above Estes Park, that left such an impression on him that he knew, even then, he wanted to live in Colorado.
He graduated from high school in 1985 and attended college at Illinois State for a year before making a life-changing decision. “I was going to take a year off to be a ski bum in 1986. I went to Breckenridge and never went back to school,” he confesses. “I was a lift op and worked security at the legendary bar Shamus O’Toole’s,” Todd says of his five-year stint.
“Basically, I was working and skiing and living the dream. In the summers, I paddled boats and kayaks down rivers and mountain-biked. I became a raft guide and spent my summers living on the rivers in Rancho Del Rio, a campground on the Colorado River between Eagle and Kremmling,” he says of the river rat haven at the confluence of Muddy Creek, Blue and Colorado Rivers in Grand County, about 100 miles west of Denver.
Todd says, “I moved from Summit County to Vail for a real job. I was working for a mechanical engineering firm doing drafting,” which he learned in high school. “I did the drawings for the infrastructure. This was before CAD computer programs—we were using pencils.”
However, a couple of years flew by and he determined that the real life of an office job was not his destiny. He went screaming out of there back to a lift op job in Vail, where he once again loved his life. Over the next several years, he hopped around from Grand Lake and Frasier to Winter Park ski areas bartending, managing and driving airport and town shuttles.
Then in 1994, Todd’s path took a sharp turn as he faced recovery from a serious accident. “In August, I broke my neck in a kayak as I rolled under, but I don’t remember it at all,” he says. He sustained multiple compression fractures and herniated discs, which restricted him to a brace for four months. “I was immobile so I went to hang out at my parents’ home on the beach in Florida. I wound up staying for many years. A year after my injury, I had a head-on collision in Florida and it re-injured my neck,” he says. He was in a small vehicle and his head hit the roof and his body kept moving forward.
“So I was in a brace again for a few months. It’s amazing I’m alive, still walking and able to ski. I decided to stay in Florida, although I didn’t really want to be there but I was stuck. I had a great job, my family, friends and a girlfriend. I got over the injury and went to work bartending and managing a bar on Siesta Key off Sarasota for seven years. Brian Johnson from ACDC and Dicky Betts of the Allman Brothers were regulars at the bar and always entertaining us. Brian would show up and sing ACDC songs for an hour with one of the hired bands,” Todd says of the exciting times at the bar off the west coast of Florida. He adds in sincerity, “The whole time I was there I wanted to be back in Colorado, but I didn’t know where.”
Todd started an online business selling GPS systems, “basically, everything you’d need for a boat. I had 10,000 products that I sold. It was lucrative and I could do it from anywhere.” He dreamed about returning to Colorado but his girlfriend at the time kept him tied to Florida. He traveled to boat shows all along the southeast coast and was able to slip away for a few summers back to his mountain towns.
Two of those summers were in Crested Butte, where he had skied in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Smitten with this town and free of his girlfriend, by 2005, Todd was committed to being in Crested Butte year-round and moving his online business,, with him.
“It felt like home. I already knew a bunch of people from trips here. And it’s the only place that ever felt like home. The difference between here and other resort towns is the tight community. People were born and raised here but Vail was built as a resort and Breckenridge was more of a transient resort,” Todd notes.
Last year, he officially closed his online business, citing the reason as too stiff competition from cheaper online megastores like Amazon and eBay. He worked part-time at Kochevar’s and drove the airport and tipsy taxi (the Alpine Express late-night taxi) for a couple of years.
Driving the lost and inebriated home through the wee hours of the night is a hero’s job, especially in the winter, but Todd earned his superhero status one night a couple of years ago at Kochevar’s in a deal gone sour that was reminiscent of the saloon’s notorious wild west days.
“It was Thanksgiving time and some guy shot another guy in the crotch. I had to disarm the shooter. I’m tall and 250 pounds and the assaulter was maybe 120 pounds and much shorter. I grabbed the gun barrel and took it away from him,” says the brave barman. “It happened so fast. I chucked the gun through the kitchen pass-through window and called 911. The shooter bolted.”
Our local marshals caught up with the easily found assailant and after a trip to the hospital, the lucky-to-be-alive injured patron posted many photos to Facebook, later returning to the bar to show off his scars. Todd was touted as a current-day Wild Bill Hickok, who incidentally, like Todd, was also a stagecoach driver and originally hailed from Illinois.
Todd volunteered at Adaptive Sports for four seasons, helping the physically challenged learn to ski. “It was awesome and was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Todd feels of his years at Adaptive. In 2012 he found himself behind the bar at the Avalanche in Mt. Crested Butte, where he gets 10 weeks to breathe when off-seasons hit during the spring and fall. “Normally, I go to the desert to mountain bike and travel to Florida to visit friends and family.”
As to the big drinking holiday of New Year’s Eve, known as Amateur Night in most bartender circles, Todd claims, “I usually work on all the holidays but if it happens to fall on my day off, I don’t go out anyway. As bartender on New Year’s Eve, it’s complete chaos serving up thousands of drinks. With tourists who aren’t used to alcohol at altitude, we push a lot of water on them. At the Avy for New Year’s, it’s mostly tourists so I don’t dread it. The total drunk happens more in town than up here. If people celebrate up here, they have dinner, watch the ball drop and we put them on the bus and send them downtown where there’s more going on with bands and DJs.”
Although Todd would like to do another online business of his own, he would still work in the bar industry because, he smiles, “I like the social aspect of it. I get to see old friends and new faces everyday. I have ideas…” he says mysteriously. “My brain never stops,” he smiles and mixes up another renowned “Avalanche Warning” and a couple of “Pain Killers.”

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