John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & TodaySteamboat Springs icon John Fetcher, pictured on the Fetcher ranch just south of Clark in 2006, died Friday at age
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today Steamboat Springs icon John Fetcher, pictured on the Fetcher ranch just south of Clark in 2006, died Friday at age 97.

John Fetcher, a Steamboat Springs rancher, ski-lift builder and creator of dams and reservoirs, died Friday at Yampa Valley Medical Center. He was 97.

Fetcher, who died of pneumonia, was still playing tennis in November and stopped skiing only a few years ago.

A tribute will be held later.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., called Fetcher "a true icon of Colorado" in a speech Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He praised Fetcher for his work with local water districts, saying "he was a caretaker of our precious lands" and knew more than most people "that water truly is the lifeblood of the West."

Fetcher worked to conserve water, developing Steamboat Lake on his own land and the Stagecoach Reservoir, which is used for recreation and water storage and has a hydroelectric plant.

A Harvard-trained engineer, Fetcher had worked as an engineer in Europe building stainless-steel railroad cars in the 1930s.

He returned to the U.S. and decided he wanted to own a ranch, even though he told people later, "I didn't even know which end of a cow got up first."

He and his wife, Clarissa, looked at land in the West and chose Yampa Valley in 1949 because of the skiing potential. He and his brother, Stanton Fetcher, bought a 2,000-acre ranch.

Fetcher helped build the Yamcolo Reservoir on the headwaters of the Yampa River and for several years was secretary of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, retiring at the end of 2008.

Fetcher helped resurrect the ski jumps on Howelsen Hill after a fire.

"He had an unbelievable record," said Dan Birch of Steamboat, a longtime friend and colleague. "But what struck me the most was his greatness in relationships with people, whether it was a senator or the guy on the business end of the shovel."

"He was positive and determined," said his son Jay Fetcher of Steamboat. "He liked to work towards a win-win situation, but finally he'd say, 'This isthe way it's gonna be.' He stepped on toes sometimes."

John Fetcher was born in Winnetka, Ill., on Jan. 1, 1912, and graduated from high school there. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering at Harvard University.

He worked for the Budd Co. in Philadelphia and at its plants in Europe in the 1930s.

He married Clarissa Sidney Wells in 1943. She died in 2005.

In the 1960s, Fetcher ran the Storm Mountain Ski Area and designed its ski lifts. He went to Switzerland to buy the slope's first gondola.

He managed the Mount Werner Water District, which later merged with the Steamboat water district.

In addition to Jay Fetcher, he is survived by sons Ned Fetcher of Scranton, Pa., and Bill Fetcher of Steamboat Springs; daughter Amie Butler of Helena, Mont.; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and his sister, Miriam Steel of Williamstown, Mass.

Virginia Culver: 303-954-1223 or