Life Lessons from a Skier Turned Farmer

Ski coach Willie Volckhausen teaches athletes to ski the way he helps crops grow

This story originally published in the December issue of POWDER (Vol. 45 Issue 4). PHOTO: Ian Fohrman

Name: Willie Volckhausen

Age: 33

Location: Aspen/Paonia, Colorado

Roots: Born and raised in Carbondale, near Aspen, Willie Volckhausen spent much of his youth celebrating atop ski-racing podiums. After one year of collegiate racing, he dropped out and began coaching at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, where he’s been the master of positivity for 13 years. “His greatest attribute is his embodiment of the spirit of skiing,” says childhood friend and Aspen ski-bum figurehead Pat Sewell. “He has this uncanny ability to foster a love of the sport in all his young athletes, which is so much more important than simply creating fast skiers.”

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Three summers ago, Volckhausen partnered with his dad, Phil, to develop an abandoned plot of land in Paonia into an organic hemp and vegetable farm. In the winter, he leaves the idyllic oasis to live in his slightly more civilized Woody Creek house and is on the hill in Aspen seven days a week.

I love when the weather is at its nastiest. Cold, blowing, windy, covered in what feels like armor. Your heart rate has been elevated enough that you’re pushing out against the world harder than it’s pushing into you. One hundred years ago, it would have been a dangerous place, but now we can seek it out and that’s powerful to me.

Important lessons: Don’t compromise what you want to do because of where you can afford to live.

Why hemp? Perfect timing. Booming market. All the farmers that know about it are dead or retired. I can write my own rules. Plus, it’s the most profitable thing we could grow.

The farm teaches you to observe and react slowly. This place is the best exercise in working slowly. Be patient. You can’t rush into decisions. The land won’t accept it.

I’m going to approach coaching the way I approach the ditch. I’m not going to force water uphill.

Likewise, I can approach athletes the way I approach hemp. They know how to grow. I just need to give them the opportunity and environment to grow.

Kung Fu means, “A skill learned over time.” We practice Kung Fu farming.

Live cheap. Don’t eat what you can’t grow. Don’t live beyond your means.

Be happy with what you have. Don’t think about what you don’t.

The grass is greenest on my side of the fence.