LOUISVILLE, Colo. — If a skier like Pietro Simonetti ever feels lost, a chairlift will take him home.
"I love Europe, but A-Basin will always have a special place for me as well," Simonetti said.
He gazed at the slopes of Arapahoe Basin through his goggles as he rode a lift up the mountain.
"Skiing in the mountains has always been such a huge part of my life," he said.
Simonetti grew up in northern Italy but grew his family in Colorado, where he has lived for 27 years.
"My second home, for sure," he said.
The mountains provide Simonetti most everything he needs – except a roof over his head. Last December, the Marshall Fire took what the mountains can't replace.
“When the fire happened, we were in Austria, so we found out on our way back," he said.
Simonetti, his wife and 14-year-old daughter returned from their European vacation with two suitcases and without a home.
“It was a beautiful little home," he said, picturing the view he used to have from his driveway. "It wasn’t huge, but it fit us perfectly, and we put a lot of love and care into this place.”
An idea from the ashes
The Marshall Fire consumed the Simonettis' home and the family's entire neighborhood. Concrete foundations, columns of brick and blackened trees were all that remained.
“I mean, it’s almost like looking at a new reality that doesn’t match what this place looked like months and months ago," Simonetti said during a recent visit to Louisville.
Lost in the ashes were Simonetti's 1987 Vespa, furniture from Italy that was more than 400 years old, and at least 15 pairs of skis.
The fire took it all, but the ashes sparked an idea that could only come from the mind of a skier.
“I knew that this pile of ashes meant something," Simonetti said. "I thought, 'How do I take this and create a memory out of all this?' And because of my passion for the mountains and the skiing, the thought came pretty quickly that I need to incorporate the ashes into a pair of skis.”
Simonetti pitched his idea for a special pair of skis dubbed, "The Phoenix," to Ted Eynon, owner of Meier Skis in Denver. The ski shop takes a lot of custom orders, but Simonetti's was different.
"It's definitely more impactful," Eynon said. "It just has that much more meaning."
Eynon was sold on Simonetti's idea. He looped in Boulder artist Phil Lewis, who shared artwork he created featuring the phoenix, a mythological bird that symbolizes rebirth.
Lewis provided the design for the skis, and Simonetti provided the ashes.
A vision come to life
“This is really what’s left of our house in Louisville," Simonetti said, gesturing to a plastic bag full of ashes that he brought to Meier Skis. Eynon invited him to the shop to help build the first pair of "Phoenix Skis."
Simonetti sprinkled a pinch of ashes into a batch of epoxy. A worker mixed them and began laying out layers of the "Phoenix Skis."
“I’m not comparing it to the birth of my daughter, but pretty close,” Simonetti said. “It’s unreal because, you know, I had the idea, but without Ted and his company, it would have stayed an idea.”
“It’s gratifying to see Pietro’s vision come to life," Eynon said. “To bring it to life within a couple of months is pretty cool."
After pressing and heating ski layers together, a worker removed them from the press.
"Wow," Simonetti said, taking in the skis and colorful artwork. “Now, it’s here and it’s real, so it’s really special."
Giving back to fire victims
The first pair of Phoenix Skis went to Simonetti, but Meier Skis plans to make more skis and snowboards using ashes from Simonetti's home. For each pair sold, Meier Skis will donate 20% of proceeds to Community Foundation Boulder County through the end of April.
"This is a small thing that at least Meier Skis is able to do to try and help give back to all the victims that were impacted," Eynon said.
During a recent trip to A-Basin, Simonetti's Phoenix Skis touched snow for the first time.
"They're special because it's not just a piece of wood and a cool graphic," he said. "It's the history, the memory that's embedded in the ski that's making today just an incredible day."
Skis can't replace a house, but the pair underneath Simonetti's feet made him feel at home.
“All the moments, all the previous skis, the adventures – they're all here with me, so that’s just a great feeling," he said.
'Memories were still there'
Simonetti penned the following essay about the experience of losing his home and creating the Phoenix Skis:
"After the Marshall Fire, I remember walking into a dear friend’s house with framed pictures and posters of a lifetime of travels, the favorite worn-out slippers by the door, the fireplace glowing, with the stacked firewood smelling of sap and pine cones, the leather couch sagging on a certain spot – the owner’s favorite side, clearly – the aroma of fresh brewed coffee in the air, the scattered multitude of artifacts collected during years of trips around the world, special and simple, books on every shelf, of every subject and kind, and then it hit me. It felt like a slap in the face.
This is what a home feels like. This is how our home was. The same feeling when guests arrived and were greeted by a familiar, warm, welcoming atmosphere. Like a grandparent’s embrace the moment you stepped in. And then, the thought went to our pile of ashes. What is the purpose of that devastation? Of life? Of the future?
As I contemplated their significance, images of pristine white valleys, of my childhood mountains in Italy, of my daughter on her first pair of skis came to light. Somewhere in those ashes, those memories were still there. They were not gone, they didn’t disappear in the oblivion of nothingness.
I could sense that they had altered their state, but they were still there, and they were ready to resurface. The Phoenix Skis. The rebirth of this mythological beautiful animal, that is reborn every 500 years from its ashes, each time becoming a more splendid specimen. Phil Lewis, the artist, and Ted Eynon from Meier Skis executed it perfectly, and then the skis and the ashes turned from an idea to a reality.
Clicking into the bindings at A-Basin was like leaving Earth on the Apollo 11 moon mission. You could feel the baggage of history and work and sacrifice that many put onto this project to be there, in that spot at that moment.
I felt a surge of energy rising from those wooden boards. Was it just my imagination? Or was I really carrying pictures, paintings, hundred-year-old furniture, memories, feelings, love and sadness? Was I really skiing alone? It didn’t feel that way. The Phoenix was restless, and it was slowly rising underneath me."
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