by Dawne Belloise
Preceded by her spunky persona, Janet Biggers leaves an almost visible wake of color and a dab of pizzazz as she walks through the door. Today, as she’s done most of her winter days, she’s heading up to the mountain, this time for a late-afternoon ski. Her polka-dot glasses, bright yellow parka and red plaid ski pants are almost no match for her effervescent smile.
As an Oklahoma cattle ranch girl, Janet started skiing at Crested Butte with her family when she was 10. Her father was buddies with the original owners, Fred Rice and Dick Eflin, who started up the resort back in the early 1960s.
“Dad said to mom, ‘We’re loading the kids up in the station wagon and going skiing,’” Janet laughs, remembering the mountain when it was a sparse little resort with just the tiny warming house, the J bar and the gondola, Klinkerhaus and a couple of the condos. They slapped skis on her and put her and her siblings in ski school. “We had a blast when it wasn’t cold.” Janet recalled a day so cold that her fingers were frostbitten. After their first visit, she said, “All our family vacations revolved around skiing twice a year.”
Janet confesses that she was kind of a wild child growing up in Bartlesville, Okla., just north of Tulsa. “I just liked to have fun, go to parties, and I had lots of friends. We lived 30 minutes from town so for me to get to town and have fun was a big deal.”
Her parents sent her to boarding school in Colorado Springs from tenth grade through graduation, but it was Janet’s choice. “I thought it’d be cool, like college, and sort of like being on your own. We chose the school because of its proximity to the mountains.”
She signed up for the Broadmoor Ski Team because, she grinned, “If you could get on the ski team, you could ski train at night, you’d get out of the dorm and you’d get to go hang out with the boys. Plus, we got to travel and go to the ski races for the weekend. We went all over, including Crested Butte. I loved skiing and I was totally hooked by then.” She graduated in 1978.
But she didn’t much like school and like most teenagers, she had no idea what she wanted to do. So she enrolled at Western State College, basically to ski. “I did what I had to do to ski,” but her father intervened with the ultimatum, “This out-of-state tuition and you not going to class is not working out,” so he gave her a choice: she could either go home and attend college in Oklahoma or find a job in the Gunnison Valley.
“I found a job. I started working for Robel Straubhaar teaching in the ski school in 1980. Robel did put me through the ringer. I was sort of a spoiled brat probably in the beginning. He always thought I was gonna break but I never did. If I didn’t do a turn right he’d make me hike back up and perfect that turn. While in a training class, we’d have to demonstrate our turns and how we taught. Robel was tough but sweet.”
The year Janet started was a year of basically no snow, she recalls. “We had to take beginners up to the stables because that’s the only place there was snow. There was no snow at the base area. We didn’t have much work that year, so we skied what we could. They were putting hay down that year, people were skiing through the mud but we still had a good time.”
To this day, Janet still runs into adults on the mountain who she taught when they were kids back in the early ‘80s. “Molly was only 7 years old when I first taught her,” she says, as she remembers a child student. “She showed up in a cute fluffy pink outfit. They’re still coming here and now. Molly’s kids are in ski school, and I get to ski with them [although Janet no longer teaches]. There are still people from back then who I taught that I get to see.”
In the summers Janet would head back home to Oklahoma, staying with her parents and being a lifeguard at the pool but when the seasons changed, she would return to the slopes to teach in Crested Butte’s ski school. In 1982 she met Austrian ski instructor Franz Wiesbauer. They married the following year and spent their summers in Austria.
“It was beautiful there. I did what I could with the language, but it was my first time abroad,” she says of the learning curve of picking up enough German-Austrian to get by. The couple returned in 1986 to live year round, working in Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s marketing department covering the Oklahoma territory and living between Oklahoma and Crested Butte. When they divorced a couple years later, Janet stayed in her home state, although she would come back to ski and spend a month in Crested Butte every winter.
Back home, Janet got involved in teaching aerobics, which was a popular fitness fad in the era. She also went big, as she tells it, and started doing many triathlons. When she returned to Crested Butte to race as part of the Tulsa Ski Club, a faction of the larger Flatlanders Ski Club, she just never returned to Oklahoma.
It was 1990 and she spontaneously decided to stay. It was a good move and she met the love of her life. “I stayed through the rest of the winter. Johnny Biggers was on ski patrol. I was with my girlfriends and we were getting on the Silver Queen when Johnny saw me and asked if I wanted to ride the chair up with him while he ate his lunch. We had known each other at WSC, back in the day. The rest is history,” Janet grins. They married in 1993.
She started teaching skiing again while Johnny was building houses in the summer and patrolling in the winter. After he retired from the ski patrol in 1999, he and Janet started their business, Crested Butte Builders. The company did well, with Janet handling planning and interior design. In between work, they’d hike, bike, and boat but mostly Janet was still into running and spent a lot of time in the gym as well. She proudly takes credit for getting her husband into water skiing, trekking off to Lake Powell whenever they can.
These days, Janet and Johnny have settled into their busy lives, recreating whenever they can get away, but fully taking advantage of the outdoor life of Crested Butte that they love. “We have our small houseboat at Lake Powell,” she says, and they have a home in Grand Junction because Janet loves the heat and longer summer days where she can garden and there are loads of biking and hiking trails.
The milder seasons of the southwestern slope also mean she gets in a lot more golfing and more important, waterskiing.
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“My life is all really happy. We have the best of all worlds. I see still being here in Crested Butte for skiing and our business is here. We’re having fun here as well as Grand Junction, being on the water and enjoying life. Johnny’s family is in Australia, so we go once a year. We’ll be going to Sydney in May. My family is still in the same house I grew up, with lakes and fishing and swimming and I still enjoy my roots in Oklahoma. We’ve got all these great things to do when we spend time with our families. Between all the stuff we do here and running the business, we’re pretty much booked up.”
Janet feels that Crested Butte is truly her home though, having been coming here since the first decade of her life and the beginning of the town as a ski resort. “What I like about Crested Butte is that it’s a small town and I’ve had good friends here for years. This place feels like home since I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. This is home.”