John Fetcher started his working life as an engineer in Philadelphia before buying a ranch with his brother in the Elk River Valley in 1949. In the 1950s he and three partners began developing the Steamboat Ski Area, which they sold in 1962. Today, Fetcher is one of Routt County's leaders and a proponent of preserving family ranches from the forces of resort sprawl.
"Frankly, when we
moved here, neither of us knew which end of the cow got up
"We were gradually going down the drain
financially. The ranch simply wasn't big enough to support two
"I felt that there was more opportunity
with the people business than with the cow business, although I
prefer the cows, quite frankly. They don't talk
"So we got into the ski business. We didn't
make any millions, I can tell you that. But you don't look
"I suppose I would (build the ski area
again), because it was a way for us to save the
"The recreation industry has created
opportunity for local people. If you can visualize what it was like
here in 1950s, the offspring of our friends had no opportunity.
They had to move away.
"The bad side is it's
attracted deep pockets who buy 35 acres, put one house on it. They
don't take care of it, they let it go to weeds, they complain when
our cows get into their 35 acres. Of course, we had no idea what
was going to happen when we started the ski area.
"One day (in 1977, Jay) came up to me and said,
"Pop, I can run this ranch better than you can, so get out." We
have a pretty good partnership. Now, the ranch is really holding
its own. It's making a good living for Jay. The ranch is actually
in the black.
"Being an engineer, I like to see
things that are produced, instead of everybody in the service
business. My dad once said to me the important person in this world
is the person with a shovel in his hands. I mean that figuratively
speaking; he's doing something physically. Nothing happens in this
world until somebody does something with his hands."