Franci’s Fond Farewell
Goodbye to Cooper’s Ski School Director By Kathy Bedell
Today not only marks the end of Ski Cooper’s season, but it’s also the end of an era with the retirement of Franci Peterson, Director of Snow Sports. To say that Franci is part of the fiber that holds together Ski Cooper’s past and present is no understatement. For example, Peterson’s first pair of skis were old Army issued 10th Mountain Division skis, a gift from a family friend when she was just a girl.
Franci’s love of skiing took off from there. In fact, her biography recorded in the adjacent link to the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame, highlights many of Peterson’s accomplishments in the sport. It’s an impressive story.
In fact, it’s always been Peterson’s dream job to run a ski school. “I worked for Bill Copper who was the director of the ski school, starting in 1974,” says Peterson in an interview with Leadville Today. Eventually she stepped into the lead role at the ski school in 1986.From Pando Commando to The Panda Patrol.
In 1991, Ski Cooper’s children’s ski school was started: The Panda Patrol. And the story behind the name – like so many things Ski Cooper – is tied to its Tenth Mountain Division heritage. As Peterson explained, there was an old Camp Hale newsletter entitled The Pando Commandos. While the Commando is clearly a military reference, the Pando lineage stems from an old train station junction by the same name, adjacent to the former Camp Hale military site.
“The cartoon at the top of the newsletter was a picture of a panda bear on skis, carrying a machine gun,” recalls Peterson. And while the weapon of war did not seem appropriate for a kid’s ski school, the panda did. So when it came time to name the new ski school in 1991, a quick stroke of the brush by local artist Ted Mullings, turned that machine gun into some ski poles and The Panda Patrol Ski School was born!
In 2001, Peterson was inducteed into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Certainly an admirable feat, but not what Peterson considers to be her most important accomplishment, that came one year later. “In 2002 I was made an honorary member of the Tenth Mountain Division. It was one of the biggest honors I’ve ever had,” states Peterson.After 27 years on the job, Franci Peterson will hang up her poles as Cooper’s Ski School Director. Happy Trails!
The most significant change that Peterson has seen in the sport during her nearly four decade career has to do with equipment, hands down. The cumbersome, rudimentary equipment that the sport started out with in the 30s and 40s required skiers to be incredibly strong. “The new equipment has allowed people to ski into their later years, making the experience easier and safer,” said Franci. “And the teaching has progressed along with the equipment.”
As for The Panda Patrol Ski School, Peterson dearest hope is for it to keep “the same flavor, to feel like you’re part of a family, celebrating triumphs and problem solving as a group.” A worthy vision in an industry where the rules generally come down from the top down, with employees on the slopes not having much of a say. “We’ve been real lucky that no one has taken that attitude with us,” added Peterson. “I am genuinely fond of everybody at the ski school. It’s been an ‘all for one’ effort.”
And while Ski Cooper wraps up the season today, Sunday April 7, marking Peterson’s last day on the hill . . . as Director of Snow Sports, you’ll still see Franci around the slopes. “I’m looking forward to skiing with my friends, discovering some new areas I haven’t skied yet, more time to explore,” says Franci anticipating the next stage of her life.
“It has been an incredible ride – I’ve worked for, and with, some great people. And the guests? I can hardly think of a sour note in the whole group.”
Thanks for all your years of service to Ski Cooper and the Leadville/Lake County community, Franci. Happy Trails!