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Avid backcountry skier Murray Cunningham retires after decades leading Aspen Mountain Powder Tours

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Eleanor Bennett
/
Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Mountain Powder Tours director Murray Cunningham was all smiles during one of his last guiding trips on April 13. Cunningham is retiring this month after 33 years leading the tours.

Carbondale resident and avid backcountry skier Murray Cunningham has been leading a mix of locals and visitors from all over the world on Aspen Mountain Powder Tours along Richmond Ridge off the backside of the mountain for more than three decades.

He turned 70 this spring and is retiring as director of Powder Tours at the Aspen Skiing Company at the end of this month.

“You find something in life that you love to do and the time just disappears,” Cunningham said. “I’ve been interested in skiing, in general, and powder skiing, in particular, for most of my life.”

2MurrayPowTours2022.jpg
Eleanor Bennett
/
Aspen Public Radio
Murray Cunningham shows Powder Tours guests how to ski 14 inches of fresh snow on the backside of Aspen Mountain on April 13. Cunningham, who grew up in Denver, spent his summers fishing in the Fryingpan Valley and moved to Aspen in the early 1970s.

Cunningham’s first job in the ski industry was selling lift tickets on the ski train from Denver to Winter Park on the weekends when he was in middle school.

“That provided me with the opportunity to get a lift ticket myself and lunch money,” he said. “What better deal than that? To start as a ski bum.”

His first short stint working for the original Powder Tours was with the backcountry ski operation Deep Powder Inc. in 1978.

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Eleanor Bennett
/
Aspen Public Radio
Powder Tours guests load into a snowcat on Richmond Ridge off the backside of Aspen Mountain on April 13. The tours attract a mix of locals and visitors from all over the world.

“Oh, my God, has it been an evolution,” Cunningham said. “If I recall correctly, when I started the cost of a Powder Tour was $45 a person. It’s gone up multiples of that now.”

After a few years away, he returned to the job in the late 1980s and has worked there ever since.

“I hope that Powder Tours can exist with the same spirit and essence of how it began, which was enjoying the backcountry and the solitude and peace of that ridge,” he said. “And no one should take those things for granted.”

4MurrayPowTours2022.jpg
Eleanor Bennett
/
Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Public Radio reporter Eleanor Bennett interviews Murray Cunningham, director of Aspen Mountain Powder Tours, on the backside of the mountain on April 13. Cunningham says he hopes the Aspen Skiing Company will keep the original essence of Powder Tours alive after he retires.

Aspen Public Radio joined Murray Cunningham, his fellow guides, and a group of guests on a spring powder day last month for one of his last tours on the job.

Listen to the story above.

Eleanor is an award-winning journalist and Morning Edition anchor. Eleanor has reported on a wide range of topics in her community, including the impacts of federal immigration policies on local DACA recipients, the Valley’s COVID-19 eviction and housing crisis, and hungry goats fighting climate change across the West through targeted grazing. Connecting with people from all walks of life and creating empathic spaces for them to tell their stories fuels her work.