The Señor Kess Shrine (Buttermilk)

"Señor Kess" is a life-size model dressed up in a ski instructor's uniform, and mounted on a platform in the trees on Buttermilk.  Thanks to Lisa Pizza for telling the author about "Señor Kess" which was the nickname of Robert D. Kesselring, who died on September 14, 2003.  See the Aspen Times article below for more information on him (


Robert D. Kesselring

Aspen Times--October 6, 2003

Robert D. "Kess" Kesselring died on Sept. 14 after battling prostate cancer for 10 years.

He was born on Nov. 2, 1937, in Oakland, Calif., the son of the late Don and Jane Kesselring. He graduated in 1959 with a degree in finance from San Jose State University, where he competed on the alpine ski team.  He also was a member of the ATO fraternity.

Following graduation, Kess, Dick Dahlgren and Craig Hooper spent six months in Hawaii surfing, beach bumming and living on sailboats, with a steady diet of hamburger patties, a 100-pound bag of rice and leftovers from beach buffets at the Royal Hawaiian.

Kess and Dahlgren went on to Mammoth Mountain, where the two were hired on as rope tow operators, skiing half the day and working the other half.  Later, the two, along with John Harmening, Dick Kassebaum, Phil Kerridge, Paul Steinhauser and Earl Morse, became members of the first full-time professional Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol.

The long Mammoth ski season traditionally was broken in May for a three-day weekend of tequila shooters and margaritas at Cinco in Ensenada.  Then it was back to Mammoth to finish the season.  Kess was on ski patrol for three seasons with later additions of Ron Young and Tad Lathrop.

In 1962, Kess spent a year in Europe with Dahlgren and Ron Young, beginning with the FIS Championships in Chamonix, France.  They skied the winter mostly in Austria and chased the bullfights in the spring, starting with the spring fair in Seville, Spain, and ending with the running of the bulls in July at Pamplona.  Europe had yet to recover from World War II, and the dollar was powerful.

Kess fondly referred to those times as "The days where 25 cents bought a case of beer, 10 cents rented a hotel room, barrera seats at the bullfights cost 15 cents, you could ski for a month in Austria for a $20 bill, and a five-course meal with a liter of wine cost less that half a buck."

In November 1963, Kess set his sights on Aspen, where he was to spend the remainder of his life.  He had a passion for skiing and spent 40 years teaching with the Aspen Skiing Co. at Buttermilk.

Kess could be heard around the locker room saying things like "One month to St. Patrick's Day," "Two Weeks to Hump Day," "Only 67 days until Cinco de Mayo" and "No Mas Mosquitoes Day" to name a few.  Kess spent the 1964, 1965 and 1966 ski seasons teaching and patrolling in La Parva, Chile.  He also spent time in Portillo.

He met his roommate upon arriving in Portillo and shortly thereafter, he stepped outside the hotel.  As he did, an avalanche let loose and wiped out the opposite end of the hotel where his room was.  Kess never spoke of the experience of digging out his dead roommate.

He began sailing Fireballs around 1970 and had a very successful racing career.  In 1973 he traveled to Ireland to represent America in the Fireball World Championships. Kess was instrumental in building the clubhouse at the Aspen Yacht Club.

Kess loved to fish as a kid with his uncle in mountain streams near Lake Tahoe and continued that passion for fishing.  His last "trip" the week before he died was to take in a day of the Denver Fly Fishing Show with friend Mark Borderick.  He spent many years as a fly fishing guide for Aspen Rod & Gun and Aspen Trout Guides.  As Scott Nichols said, "Kess was one of a few who took fishing seriously as a life-long learning experience and would share his knowledge of fishing and the local outdoors with his clients like no other."

Kess had a facility for learning languages, and was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.  He used both languages in teaching skiing, and loved being able to converse with our south-of-the-border neighbors.  He spoke enough French, German and Italian to "get around" in those places.  Mexico was his favorite destination during off-season, and he loved the Pacific Islands, particularly Tahiti where he spent his 50th birthday.  Kess also spent time in Australia in 1997 where he attended his nephew's wedding.

He is survived by his sister, Joan K. Larson of Medford, Ore., nephew Erik Larson of Aspen, niece Heidi Fouser of Portland, Ore., great nieces Emily and Olivia Fouser and Anja Larson, and great nephew Luke Larson.

In lieu of a memorial service, a party to celebrate his life will be held on Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. at Bumps Restaurant at the base of Buttermilk.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Kess' name to the Aspen Valley Ski Club.

See this article by David Wood in the March 14, 2012 issue of the Snowmass Sun newspaper, "Buttermilk shrines honor two longtime local ski instructors"  (This article is set out in full below at the bottom of this page.)

Photos of  "Señor Kess" are below.

If you have any photos of or information about this item that you would like to share for use on this page, please send to the author at

This memorial is covered in the book, "Sanctuaries in the Snow--The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass."  The book may be purchased on this page on this site:


Click on images to enlarge.

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This letter was published in the Aspen Times newspaper of October 10, 2003:

Guest opinion: Memories of Kess will burn brightly, forever

Editor's note: This letter was written by Lavelle Saier to her lifelong friend Bob "Kess" Kesselring, who taught skiing at Buttermilk from 1963 through last season. He died from cancer this summer.

Dear Kess,

We have been comrades in the ski school just a year short of 40 years for me. We have gone through Darcy, 20th Century, that rich oilman (can't think of his name now), and the present owners. Ah, the things we have seen and shared together. We have been through Curt, Dick, Jan, Tim, Victor, Jerry and now Hans. Have we not seen it all, the good and the bad?

I will always remember you as a supervisor and the real old locker room in the basement under the original restaurant. The door opened onto the T-Bar Hill. We had some good parties there, shared with a mouse or two and the hay bales, which I sat on most of one morning throwing up, after Sue Kern and I took Curt out to get him drunk and he turned the tables on us. There were probably not more than 20 of us then. After teaching, we would all go upstairs and party almost every night, or at lest imbibe one drink.

Then, the best locker room was on top of the rental shop, where we shared many an early morning, shoveling the snow off the steps, as per Curt's demand. Keep tidy! We had many early morning laughs, jokes. You introduced me to Phil Errante there because we both flew. School was so small then and close. That locker room was so much fun and light. Nothing too serious. You, McTarnighan, Bob Knight, Red Soderstrom.


The tequila parties at Wilfred and Gillian's condo. You guarding the door - making sure everyone had to take a shot of tequila at the door before anyone could go inside. Me trying to sneak by.


Curt jumping off the balcony because he was so drunk. So many great times and memories. We had the good, fun years, Kess. How lucky we were.


The Boombass Parties with Big John and Mike Howdon. The Pemoe parties at the Red Onion - party, party, and we were pretty good at it. The polka parties with Steen playing the accordion, Hjordis and Ulfar dancing. Parties at the Tippler with Freddie Fisher coming in and playing the clarinet. All this we shared.


The old ski school parties at the Jerome, with Curt and you supervisors presiding.


The years we had to march in the Wintersköl parades. Teaching lessons, then a mad dash to walk in the parade behind the horses in our ski boots with skis over the shoulders, then right back to keep teaching. Wow, we were awesome, were we not? We used to bitch and moan because of the horse manure and having to miss lunch. Problems so simple then, but we thought they were immense.


The year you broke your ankle at Vail. Coming to see you. You were so strong and really needed very little help. Going up and down those stairs of Stein's on crutches.


Your St. Patrick's Day hat, your countdown to the hump party, Cinco de Mayo, and the end of season.


Your love of sailing, fishing, skiing and teaching. Knowledge of equipment and forgetting more about skiing and teaching than I or others will ever learn. One of the few people I consider a true professional instructor.


My special visits to your condo, in the spring, to have one of your terrific margaritas. The interesting conversations. They were too few, but I sure enjoyed them. Learning what a bright person you are, your knowledge of art and Indian jewelry.


Your wonderful pin collection - coming up to me and saying, "Betcha you don't have this one, La," and of course I didn't, or "Have you see this one, La?" Of course I hadn't, most of the time. We shared a love of pin collecting.


The Spanish classes you taught. Many laughs there. Your love of that culture and complete command of that language and several others. Your patience with my poor language skills.


Our nice afternoon this spring, going to the top of Independence Pass. Your knowledge of the pass that I never knew and sharing it with me. I felt fortunate to have the history and geography lesson that you shared with me.


I wish I could have had you take me fishing once, would have been such fun and educational. I am sure I would have definitely tested your patience. A few laughs would have been had, though. Never stayed long enough in the spring to bug you to take me. You were saved that experience.

Your skiing down the Ridge on an early morning fresh with powder, with a student; you riding a nice clean edge with that special big smile on your face.


Your incredible, resolute loyalty to Buttermilk. Your love of Buttermilk and knowing it is the best of anywhere for teaching. Always wanting the best for it and constantly fighting for its true place in the ski world. You never faltered on upholding its great attributes.


The wonderful concern, care and love you showed to your father throughout his life and at his end. You were always there for him. You were so proud of him, respected him and loved him; one could always see that. What a treasure and a wonderful feeling for your Dad to know he was so loved and cared about.


It is funny - I was so upset when you left our locker row - was another change at Buttermilk - missed seeing you there in the mornings. Another change because the school was becoming so big, crowded and impersonal. Wouldn't we go back to the camaraderie of the locker room above the rental shop? In a New York minute!

Your loyalty and enthusiasm for La Cocina. Your countdown to fall opening and to spring closing.


You always calling me "La." I will miss that so much.


Kess, these are JUST A VERY FEW of the things I shall always remember sharing with you. Would take a book for me to put everything down.

I wanted you to know how special you are, and what knowing you and our friendship has meant to me over the years. You have been in my life during all my working years - how many people can say that? Not many, I think! You were a constant, dependable, professional image - you were solid, you were there.

The example you set of being independent and loving your life as you led it. This spring, sharing with me what a great life you had - how you would not change one iota of it - how many can say that? Not many, I am sure.

Your understanding of self; you knew who you were and never doubted yourself. Never got caught up in acquiring material things; just loving the simple things in life. Never being influenced by others in your thoughts, your actions or deeds, because it was thing to do; you thought for yourself. You exemplified the proverb, "Unto thy self be true" How many can say that? Not many, I think.

You lived a simple life with dignity, with a great appreciation of nature, art and life.

When I ski on days with the sun out and on that perfect snow on Ridge; you will be with me always. I will see you zooming along on Ridge, riding that wonderful edge with that special big smile. Hope you will be with me riding on my shoulder. I can always use a few pointers as well; so a whisper in the wind would be wonderful.

Shall I ever forget you? Not in my wildest dreams! I love you, Kess, for all the things we shared together. You, my friend, will always be with me.




The article below was written by David Wood about the Robert Kesselring Shrine and appeared in the Snowmass Sun newspaper.

Buttermilk shrines honor two longtime, local ski instructors
David Wood
Snowmass Sun, March 14, 2012

Buttermilk has the fewest shrines of any of the four mountains of Aspen/Snowmass, but that doesn't mean it's lacking in quality shrines. Two outstanding shrines are at Buttermilk and are dedicated to deceased ski/snowboard instructors.

The Shrine for Chris Polk

On March 5, 2009, Chris Polk, Buttermilk snowboard instructor, died after colliding with a tree on the Columbine trail at Buttermilk. He was 30 years old.

His death was the first on-mountain fatality at Buttermilk ski area in more than 25 years. Polk always wore a necktie under his snowboard instructor uniform “as a mark of professionalism and for style points” according to a tribute that appeared in the Aspen Journal.

His shrine was created by his fellow instructors using his own neckties. These instructors all placed ties in the branches of the small tree island just to the right of tower 11 on the Summit Express lift where the accident happened. The shrine was created the very same day Polk died, which makes it unique among Aspen/Snowmass shrines.

Polk was born and raised in San Jose, Calif. He enlisted in the Navy after high school and served in Operation Desert Shield. He had a passion for snowboarding that led him into teaching. He taught in Yosemite, Calif. ,and then at Buttermilk. In addition to Polk's ties, his shrine also contains a small wooden cross, a photo of him, and a laminated copy of the poem, “Do not stand at my grave and weep,” written by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

The Shrine for Señor Kess

Another Buttermilk shrine dedicated to a deceased instructor is a shrine for Robert D. Kesselring, who died on Sept. 14, 2003, after having battled prostate cancer for 10 years. He was 65 years old at the time of his death.

Kesselring's nickname was “Señor Kess,” and in his shrine is a life-size model dressed up in a ski instructor's uniform, mounted on a platform in the trees near Fort Frog at Buttermilk.

He came to Aspen in November 1963, where he spent the remainder of his life. He had a passion for skiing and spent 40 years as a ski instructor with the Aspen Skiing Co. at Buttermilk.

He could be heard around the locker room saying things like “one month to St. Patrick's Day,” “two weeks to Hump Day,” “only 67 days until Cinco de Mayo,” and “no mas mosquitoes Day,” to name a few of his sayings.

He had a facility for learning languages, and was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, both of which he used as a ski instructor.

David Wood ( is the author of the best-selling book about the Aspen shrines, “Sanctuaries in the Snow — The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass.” He donates all of his profits from book sales to a local charity, The Trashmasters Scholarship Fund. The book can be purchased in Snowmass Village at Snowmass Sports, the Stew Pot, Sundance Liquor and Gifts, the Village Market, and 81615, as well as at various locations in Aspen. To view previous articles visit:
Sanctuaries in the Snow
The Shrines of Aspen/Snowmass
(Including plaques, memorials, displays And miscellaneous items)

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