Jack Copeland leaves behind Mammoth-sized legacy

Wendilyn Grasseschi
Times Reporter

Mammoth lost another icon late last month when longtime resident, former Mammoth Mountain executive and current Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra volunteer ski school instructor Jack Copeland died on Feb. 21.
Copeland, married to DSES founder Kathy Copeland, was 68 years old.
He left behind a legacy of excellence as a Mammoth Mountain manager and executive, a stalwart supporter and contributor to DSES, a beloved friend, mentor, husband, teacher – and a man who will be equally remembered and appreciated for his boundless compassion, his genuine love of people, his deep patience and his smile.
Copeland grew up in Pennsylvania and move to the Eastern Sierra in the mid-70s, according to one of his best friends – and a fellow golf and skiing enthusiast – Mammoth Mountain Ski Area executive Clifford Mann. Mann said Copeland started with the Mountain as a lift operator in 1973 and moved on the newly formed MMSA race department in 1975, moving on to management positions at the Mountain over time as the ski school director, the executive director of human resources and later, in 2010, the vice president of human resources, which he held until he retired in 2012.
In present times, he was a volunteer DSES ski school instructor.
Mann said losing Copeland has hit him very hard.
“I don’t think I ever heard Jack says mean word about anyone and I mean that,” he said this week. “I never, ever heard it. He didn’t make excuses for other people, but he did always have a way of seeing where they were coming from and why they might do what they did, that others would not take the time to understand. Others were quick to judge, but not Jack. He was, I don’t know how to say it right, he was extremely caring, gentle, kind, he was empathetic to other people’s problems. As an HR person, you run into people at their worst... and he had an ability to see the other side of people’s issues, to see them as human. He was also like that to his friends. He was a very good friend,” he said.
They shared more than skiing and creating the ski hill business that would become the behemoth that is Mammoth Mountain today.
“I actually, we started out with this thing we called the Derelicts,” Mann said with a laugh. “It was a group of guys that began going down (south) and doing some golfing, down there, starting with four and then eight of us. We started a little tournament that we did every year. This year will be out 38th year... unfortunately, he was the first one of the originals that has passed away...”
As one of Mammoth Mountain’s main snow making experts and groomers, Mann worked a lot, but he said Copeland was one of the few people in his life who was always, always up for an adventure, even at the very last minute.
“I would work a lot, but I would come up with things to do, and I’d call him and say, “Jack, what are you doing Friday, let’s go to the Dodger baseball game,”” Mann said. “He was an avid Dodger fan and so was I and so, off we would go, driving through the night to the game then driving back to be here in time for work the next day.
“We would go, and we would go do those kinds of things,” he said. “It was quite the golf group.
“I also knew Kathy, even before I knew Jack,” he said. “They had just celebrated their 40th anniversary this past summer... they had a big old get together. It was an absolutely perfect blend. Jack was so steady, Kathy was just going to have a good time, so outgoing and together, they were a perfect balance.
I will miss him more than I can say.”
“My heart aches,” said Craig Albright, Mammoth Mountain Vice President, Skier Services. “It will continue to ache, but it is also filled with gratitude. Jack was my mentor, my teacher, my friend and this places me among those most blessed.
“Jack was so influential in so many people’s lives,” he said. “Whether his circle of influence was Ski Instructors training for exams, or with Professional Ski Instructors or America (PSIA) Leadership navigating the churning waters of non-profit certification politics, or Ski School Supervisors and Managers learning the ins and outs of profitably running a top tier ski school, or helping steer and guide the employees and leadership of Mammoth Mountain through the myriad of thorny personnel issues as the Vice President of Human Resources at Mammoth Mountain, and likely in the countless other circles of influence at: the Mammoth Hospital Board, Mammoth Lakes Foundation, Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce, etc., Jack’s influence has been felt in almost every social circle in our community.
“Since meeting Jack as a rookie ski instructor in my early 20’s he has provided me four decades filled with endless coaching and mentoring on skiing, career and life,” he said. “He seemingly saw potential in me, a skinny surf kid from Southern California, that I was slow to recognize in myself.
“He not only believed in me, but invested in me in countless little ways. A handwritten note, a carefully selected book left on my desk, a text inviting me to make a couple runs on the mountain to ski and talk, a nod of approval during a performance at a PSIA exam, time together with friends on long spring ski trips in the Sierra backcountry, encouraging me to apply for jobs I didn’t think I was quite ready for, and Jack and Kathy being the longest standing adult friends of my now adult daughters. Simply put, Jack’s fingerprints are all over my life.
Only in looking back do I realize that Jack was doing this with nearly everyone he met – because if Jack was anything, he was a natural born teacher. He had a way about him, with his relaxed sense of purpose and deep personal character that made everyone feel that they, and they alone, were receiving “Jack’s Secret Sauce.” I know he made me feel capable, of value and worth in a way that propelled me well beyond my natural talents and ability.
“The first time I rode T-bar 2 with Jack, I was so intimidated,” he said. “He was such an excellent skier, natural and articulate speaker, handsome, athletic and intellectual... We had the most awkward ride up the T-Bar track: me, a lost soul in my early 20’s, a product of growing up surfing in Southern California, looking to “find myself” in the mountains. Jack, ten years my senior, respected, established and refined. I tried to talk about ski technique and how “bitchen” I thought teaching skiing was, all the while trying way too hard to sound knowledgeable, cool, and worthy. Jack just quietly listened to my contrived attempt to be seen as a competent ski teacher… he knew I was full of it. But always the master teacher, Jack had the grace to show me this fact, rather than blow me out of the water by telling me to my face... Mastery of technique, technical understanding, equipment use, tactics, and most of all… how to inspire and effectively teach all these things to the young instructors in his care. By the end of our one-hour clinic, we were all in awe. Jack had what we so desired, but couldn’t articulate, he possessed mastery. That day he inspired us to strive towards what I now see he was striving for in every aspect of his life… personal excellence. It has been such an honor for me to follow Jack over the last four decades on his path of striving for personal excellence. He showed the way for me, and so many others.
“Jack Copeland was a great man, whom led a great life,” Albright said. “He was endlessly seeking to master the building blocks of personal greatness. He loved life, he loved his wife, he loved his dogs… he loved people, he loved learning, he loved sharing what he had learned. Thank you, Jack!”
John Armstrong, another Mammoth Mountain great, had this to say: “Jack Copeland has left us, much, much too soon. We wanted to have more of Jack and sadly we are not going to have more. However, he left us plenty and we have all been enriched and gladdened by having met him, worked with and for him. We somehow enjoyed the Eastern Sierra a lot more when we were around him. He knew things about this place, and indeed, about us, and when he pointed those things out, we grew just a little bit more and had fun along the way. Jack was a kind and generous person. He was funny, and warm and had a great smile. He was intelligent, sensitive, and had a talent for patience and for supporting those who needed a bit of a hand up.
“Jack was one of perhaps only a dozen people in the 30,000 members of Professional Ski Instructors of America who was Level Three Certified in Alpine, Nordic and Snowboard,” Armstrong said. “He also had accreditations in Children’s, Seniors and Adaptive teaching. He held a ski instructor certification in Canada along with a coach’s certification with the Canadian Ski Coaches Federation... He also found time to earn a pilot’s license!
“In recent times Jack worked with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra to train volunteers in teaching methodology and to work on their personal skiing and demonstrations,” Armstrong said. “He regularly took groups out for Operation Mountain Freedom during Wounded Warriors Ski Week. Public Service was a natural outlet for Jack Copeland,” he said.
“Jack Copeland was a wonderful man and a class act. We miss him immensely and will forever cherish the gifts he gave us all. And, Kathy, we love you very much and we will continue our adventure with you here in Mammoth.”
“The Southern Mono Healthcare District (SMHD), owner and operator of Mammoth Hospital and Clinics, has been very fortunate over the years to have many knowledgeable and wise leaders as members of the Board of Directors,” said former Mammoth Hospital CEO Gary Myers. “Jack Copeland... was one of our best. He served as a board member for eight years during a time of significant expansion and growth and development of the hospital. Jack’s amiable and collaborative style, business and leadership experience, and spirited generosity and optimism made him well suited for the job. He was a wise and stabilizing influence during difficult times and brought humor and his benign good nature to us all on a continuous basis. We honor his service and extend our heartfelt sympathy to all his family, colleagues, and friends.”
Mark Spieler is the Eastern Sierra Disabled Sports Ski School director and as such, skied with Copeland frequently.
“Jack was a volunteer ski school instructor with us and what I absolutely loved about skiing with Jack was his wonderful demeanor, along with his expertise,” he said. “The thing that stood out about Jack was his charisma, his connection with people, his compassion and his smile. We will miss him a lot,” he said.
Jack Copeland was a man of grace, humility and kindness. He will be missed. The Mammoth Times extends their sympathy to all who loved him.