It was well after midnight in November 1983 when a band of students committed their first infraction of the day – breaking and entering.

Known as the Leadville Powder Guild, the group crept into the ski area operations shop at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. Their goal? To temporarily redecorate the yard of faculty member Curt Bender’s family house.

The Powder Guild in 1983 graduating from CMC.

Powder Guild members graduated from Colorado Mountain College Leadville in the mid-80s. Here at Leadville’s ski area operations graduation of ’83 are, from left, Curt Bender, Sean Prue, Debbie Smith, Phil Braudt, John Staats, John Slater, Dana Ernest, Phil Sande, Jim Usatis, Dean Perkins, Dave Norris, Yoichi Amano, Dwayne Madder, Jim Obertier, Kent Bridges and Dave Seal. Prue, Smith, Ernest and Madder were not Powder Guild members, but were fans of the group. Photo courtesy John Staats

“They collected tables, chairs, my desk, the blackboard and the CMC bulldozer and drove it the two miles to our house where it was reassembled on our front lawn,” said Bender, who was the lead instructor of the college’s ski area operations program at the time.

In the early 1980s, a lifelong bond formed within a group of students in CMC’s ski area ops program. Called the Powder Guild, these students were brought together to learn and turn their passion for skiing into careers.

“Back in the day, our motto was, ‘We’re young, good looking and do what we want’,” said Powder Guild member John “Staatzy” Staats, who now lives in Tucson, Ariz. “Now it’s ‘We’re old, out of shape and do what our wives tell us.’

“Just kidding,” he added. “We’ll never grow up.”

Jackson Hole to Japan

The 12-member Powder Guild came from all over the U.S., Canada and Japan, and ranged in age from 18 to 32.

Honorary Powder Guild member Dave Montanari managed the ski ops program from 1977 until 1983. Bender stepped up as lead ski ops faculty until he retired in 2009. He too became an honorary Powder Guild member.

“Skiing together, often both for course labs and recreation, initiated the bonding,” said Bender, who was 25 years old when he began teaching at CMC in 1981.

After leaving Colorado Mountain College, the Powder Guild returned to the area for events like the annual Tomato Wars in Twin Lakes near Leadville, where hundreds of Coloradans and Texans throw ripe tomatoes at each other.

Over the years, members have also made trips to ski and for celebrations and weddings, meeting in Jackson Hole, Hawaii, Colorado and even Japan, to appease Japanese member Yoichi Amano.

Milestones and memorials

Inevitably, milestones like weddings and births have been replaced by funerals for fallen brothers, such as the late Kent “Kento” Bridges, a master snowcat operator and ski racer, and Phil Sande, who enjoyed a successful career marketing ski racing and sports clothing lines.

Bender remembers Bridges’ wild spirit on a 1980s adventure. The group took a college van to Grand Junction for a field trip, and on the ride home, they stopped in Glenwood Canyon to wait for I-70 construction traffic to clear.

“When we loaded up and started moving again,” recalled Bender, “I noticed that I did not have the right number of students in the van. I pulled over at the next exit to discover Kent Bridges had climbed into the rooftop carrier and was happily riding up there.”

Lifelong connections

The saying “Time flies when you’re having fun” has embodied the Powder Guild from day one.

Photo of the Powder Guild in 1997-98.

The Powder Guild has stayed close, reuniting for ski trips, weddings and journeys to warmer climates. Here, during the 1997-98 ski season in Jackson Hole, are Powder Guild members, from left, Phil Braudt, John Slater, Kent Bridges, Dave Seal, Jim Usatis, Yoichi Amano, Phil Sande, John Staats and Larry Meltzer. Photo courtesy John Staats

“The students making up the Powder Guild were all free spirits and continue to be to this day,” said Bob Hartzell, who taught ski area operations from 1979 to 1981 and became another honorary Powder Guild member.

“It was a chance gathering of guys from all over the globe that loved to ski and be free,” said Staats. “We bonded as no other group of people that I’ve ever met or heard of.”