Hansi Brenninger: A champion at life
Johann Herbert Brenninger — known simply as "Hansi" — a devout family man, artist, sportsman, loyal friend, and world traveler, died in a tragic ski accident on Saturday, April 2, 2016. Hansi passed away while doing what he loved most, spending time with his family and skiing.
Born on December 15, 1967 in Cooma, Australia, Hansi grew up on a farm in Jindabyne, a charming small town in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. Skiing, building things from scratch, and a deep love of the land were instilled in him from a young age by his close and lov-ing family.
Hansi's grounded childhood helped shape the ethics that carried him into adulthood. Known as being honest, moral, kind, and strong, people often turned to him for advice and guidance to help iron out issues, which he did with grace and dignity.
One of Hansi's greatest gifts was his ability to connect with others. With his friendly smile and a deep sense of compassion, he put others at ease. His family called him "Chatty Daddy," because everywhere they went he would stop and talk with all the friends he encountered on their route (pretty much everyone!).
Hansi met the love of his life and future soulmate in Aspen in 1996 when he boarded a nearly empty RFTA bus and chose the seat right next to Kelley Croke — the rest is history. Married on April 25, 1998 at the Aspen Chapel, Kelley describes their ensuing partnership as "pure love." Their children were born at Aspen Valley Hospital: Emily on May 24, 2000 and Max on May 19, 2003.
Hansi's love for his family was well known. Hansi, along with Kelley, taught both children respect, compassion, responsibility, to play soccer, to ski, and, with the help of his father, to ride horses. He nurtured their artistic abilities and instilled in them a love for travel and respect for all cultures. His goal was to bring out their fullest potential and he couldn't have been more proud of the kind, caring, loving humans and global citizens they have become. Hansi's wife and children were the loves of his life. He and Kelley could often be seen laughing and dancing together, even in their own kitchen, where he made a mean curry. He frequently said the he was the luckiest man on Earth.
A highlight of their family life was the year spent abroad in the South of France, finding "home" in Le Tholonet, on the border of Aix-en-Provence. Hansi was especially adventurous with his culinary tastes, which began in his mother's kitchen. He referred to this year as a "truly inspirational time and thoroughly enriching experience."
He passionately embraced Kelley's foundation, Lucky Day Animal Rescue, and was often seen walking one of the foster rescue dogs or laying in the backyard with a litter of puppies on his chest, which he called "puppy therapy."
A true artist from a young age, he described himself as "very much at home as a creator/builder." He had an eye for beauty and possessed the enviable talent of being able to create stunning photography, bronze sculptures, and intricate woodworking. He loved wood and made everything: bowls, dining room tables, arm chairs, and even a wood shed to beat all wood sheds. While a dedicated and successful realtor, he was also ready to focus on being a full-time artist and had just launched Arthaus Aspen (www.arthaus aspen.com), which Kelley plans to carry on in his honor.
Sports were a huge part of his life. He was passionate about skiing. He thought of it as an inner art form, rather than a mere sport. He skied as he lived, by the German concept of "dien stil," or "your own style." On the slopes he was unmistakable, with many referring to him as the most graceful and talented skier they knew. He had a passion for racing and loved competing, beat-ing even World Cup skiers at times. His silhouette on skis was celebrated in his own signature logo.
Everyone he shared the slopes with caught his infectious love of the mountain — from his ski pro clients at the Aspen Mountain Ski School, where he taught for 20 years, to his fellow racers on the Aspen Town Race Series, to the lifties he would greet on his way up the hill. He loved play-ing soccer as well as coaching both his children through Aspen United Soccer Club. He was an accomplished horse rider and tennis player, loved playing hockey with his mates, and dabbled in water polo, golf, basketball — you name it.
Hansi's work ethic and energy were unparalleled. He provided for his family as a real estate broker at Douglas Elliman Aspen (formerly Joshua & Co.) for 14 years, where he translated the building gene that he inherited from his father into expertise his clients sought out. They — like his ski clients — quickly became and remained friends.
In countries around the world, as well as at home, his shining light touched many. He was referred to as a man with no boundaries. Hansi had the ability to fit in wherever he was. He spoke fluent German, his own version of French, some Spanish and of course English with that sexy Australian accent.
He will be forever missed by his family including his wife Kelley, daughter Emily (15), son Max (12), his parents Joan and Herbie, sister Nicola with brother-in-law Boyd, sister Vanessa with brother-in-law John Paul, in-laws Cyndy Powers, Tom Croke III, Ariel and John Brady, and Tom and Terra Croke, as well as his nieces and nephews: Lindsay, Charlie, Jonty, Imogen, Seamus, Elle, James, Haley, Tyler and Carter. His bright light will shine through in all.
The celebration of Hansi's life will be on Friday, April 15 at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain from 4-7pm, with ceremonies to begin at 4:30.
In the spirit of Hansi, a champion at life who lived to the fullest every day, guests are invited to wear comfortable clothes and, if you want, a crazy hat!
In lieu of flowers, online giving is available at: http://www.crowdrise.com/emily-and-max-growing-up-fund/fundraiser/EmilyMax. An account has also been set up for the children at Alpine Bank.
See this Aspen Times article of April 4, 2016, by Lauren Glendenning: http://www.aspentimes.com/news/beloved-aspen-man-dies-in-park-city-skiing-accident/
A beloved Aspen man died Saturday morning after a skiing accident at Park City Mountain Resort in Utah.
Hansi Brenninger was on a ski trip with his son, according to local friends. The Park City Police Department released a statement Sunday that said a 48-year-old Aspen man was skiing on an advanced trail with family when he collided with a tree. Police, fire and Life Flight responded about 10:20 a.m., where the ski patrol was already on the scene providing emergency medical care, "but the man ultimately succumbed to his injuries and was not transported to a hospital," the statement said.
Brenninger was a full-time ski instructor at Aspen Mountain. Andy Docken, Aspen Mountain's ski school manager, said Sunday that the news of his death has already resonated loudly. People have been reaching out to the school from all over the world to express their grief and condolences, he said.
"Hansi was just a good person," Docken said. "He treated everyone with respect."
Docken said there's a saying in the ski industry that some people teach others how to ski, but people like Hansi taught people how to be skiers. He taught skiing in Europe and back in Australia, where he was from.
"How to appreciate the mountain, the pace of the lifestyle, look at the view, enjoy a nice glass of wine at the end of the day — he understood that whole part of it," Docken said.
Christophe Rech knew Brenninger for 18 years. They worked in the ski school together and developed an unbreakable friendship. Rech remembered his friend Sunday as someone who always enjoyed life.
"He was a great man. I loved him — he was a brother to me," Rech said. "We spent so much time together just enjoying life. He touched so many people. He helped so many people. Everybody liked him. I'm pretty sure he didn't have any enemy."
Rech said Brenninger never seemed to get mad. He always wanted to help people, whether it was pushing a friend to go faster when they used to ski race together or helping someone solve a problem.
He was a man of many passions, too. From being a true family man, always there for his wife and children, to taking welding classes and learning woodworking, Rech said his friend was able to find joy in many things.
Brenninger also worked in real estate for Joshua & Co., where he described himself in his online biography as an artist and an avid photographer.
That's how many community members, especially fellow parents, remember him, too. He was the father that you often saw wherever his kids were, often with his camera, said family friend Kari Kiker.
Brenninger was always encouraging his children — Emily, a freshman at Aspen High School, and Max, a seventh-grader at Aspen Middle School — from the sidelines at their soccer games, Kiker said.
"He's just always present with the kids, always around — just a soft-spoken man, a very gentle soul," Kiker said. "He's so interested in everyone else's kids, too. He's always the guy on the sidelines taking photographs and asking about all the kids. … He's that dad. He enjoys it; he soaks it up."
Kiker said Brenninger's cause of death is all the more tragic because of what a strong — and safe — skier he was.
"I think people would think of Hansi as one of the best skiers around," she said.
Brenninger also was a beautiful skier with a unique style. Docken said he had a very distinguishable style, so much so that he had silhouette drawings of himself made into stickers that he would sport around on his gear.
"You could see that silhouette coming down the mountain, and you would know that's Hansi," Docken said. "His hands out wide, feet close together."
Brenninger's wife, Kelley, posted a video Sunday on Facebook of her husband skiing, and that style was immediately noticeable. Another photo she posted of the two of them on a chairlift had the caption, "I love him."
Rech called Brenninger a legend in the ski school — for his skiing, yes, but also for who he was as a person. He's irreplaceable, Rech said.
"It was like when he was skiing, he was enjoying it and it was free," Rech said. "Just like flying — so smooth and enjoying life when he was skiing. And just smiling, always smiling."