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1970 grads reunite as Jackson Hole execs

Jay Kemmerer. Photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Though they both earned BSBA degrees from DU in 1970, the top executives at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Jerry Blann and Jay Kemmerer, never met on campus during their undergraduate years.

Blann was an All-American on the ski team that won three national championships during his four years at DU. Kemmerer, meanwhile, transferred to DU to study finance and hung out with friends on the hockey team.

Their collaboration at Jackson Hole began in 1995, when Kemmerer hired Blann to run the mountain resort his family had purchased in 1993. Sixteen years later, Blann and Kemmerer are still at it.

“Jerry is a leader and a great speaker,” says Kemmerer, 64. “I’m more behind the scenes, involved in strategic planning. Jerry’s out front, while I lie in the weeds.”

That arrangement has worked well for the pair, who have built Jackson Hole into one of North America’s top resorts — serving skiers and snowboard riders in the fall, winter and spring and providing a welcome destination for those who like to spend their summers high in the Tetons near Yellowstone National Park.

Kemmerer’s family, which had been involved in mining since the late 19th century, decided to invest in Jackson Hole after selling its Wyoming coal operation. At the time, the resort was enmeshed in litigation, and the sale to the Kemmerers helped resolve the dispute.

“We were quite fortunate to sell the coal business at that time,” Kemmerer says. “We had become involved in the state, and we wanted to try to give back. And we’ve continued to build the resort.”

That includes installing a new $31 million Doppelmeyer tram in 2008; it takes skiers and riders from its base to the summit — at 10,450 feet — in under 10 minutes. Kemmerer has invested an additional $11 million since 2008 in additional resort improvements.

“The framework was there when we bought the resort; we just needed to spiff it up,” says Kemmerer, who transferred to DU during his junior year from Clarkson College in upstate New York. “It was old and broken down. Then Jerry came in, and we’ve nurtured it along.”

Blann, 63, arrived in Jackson Hole to continue a career in skiing that began during his childhood at Mount Bachelor in Bend, Ore., where his father managed the ski area. At age 10, he was painting lift towers. By 14 he was cutting down trees along the trails, and before long, his summers were filled with blasting tree stumps, digging footings for ski-lift towers or painting chairlifts.

His love for ski racing brought him to DU, where he skied on the team that won the NCAA national championship in 1967, 1969 and 1970. He placed second in downhill and third in slalom in the NCAA championship at Steamboat in 1969.

“Skiing in college is a team sport, and it’s important you finish the race,” Blann recalls. “I seldom got knocked down.”

He majored in business, which helped launch him into the ski industry. He was accepted for a management-training slot at Aspen. He stayed there for 18 years, rising up through the hierarchy to become the resort’s president from 1984–88.

Blann spent the next five years as president of Bear Mountain in California before returning to Colorado to help launch Lake Catamount, a new resort slated for construction near Steamboat. But the plan fell apart, and Kemmerer recruited Blann to Jackson Hole in 1995.

2010 was Jackson Hole’s second busiest year, with about 480,000 skier days. That season’s snowfall of 558 inches, coupled with the resort’s dedication to improved guest services, also made it the resort’s most profitable year, Blann says.

Jerry Blann. Photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

“We found ways to be more efficient,” Blann says. “And good snow helps.”

Both Blann and Kemmerer say they find time for skiing, especially on those powder days when the light, white stuff sets up knee-deep on a crisp morning. Kemmerer, who calls himself a “C-plus skier,” will take the tram to the summit and make his way down to the Grand, which runs under the Thunder lift.

“It’s a very sweet run,” says Kemmerer. “Everybody has his own little stash.”

Blann, meanwhile, still has his carving chops from his racing days and likes the challenge of what he calls Jackson Hole’s “high-testosterone terrain.” From atop the gondola, he’ll take a run down Sundance, get on Casper and seek out his favorite powder stashes in the Moran Woods. Later, he may dip into Tower Tree Chutes or try his legs on the Alta Chutes.

Jackson Hole already has welcomed more than 16 feet of snow this season, with more to come before spring. Blann is gearing up for the fun.

“I ski three times a week, for an hour or two, to see what’s going on,” Blann says. “I still really like the powder.”

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