By Michael Ritterhouse Staff writer
RED RIVER — Town Councilor George Woerndle was destined to use his hands to spur economic in Red River. As a child his father Toni Woerndle had him water 200 trees with a five gallon bucket and mow grass at the Alpine Lodge.
Woerndle arrived in Red River from Aspen, Colorado in 1960 as a seven-year-old with father Toni, mom Ilse and brother Rudi. Toni was brought to town the previous year to run Red River Ski Area’s ski school by Buzz Bainbridge, the ski area’s first general manager. The elder Woerndle was known as a top ski instructor in Aspen.
The elder Woerndles met in Germany, where Toni was a top skier. He was an alternate for Germany’s 1936 Olympic ski team and was friends with Hannes Marker, the inventor of the Marker binding. The elder Woerndle grew up skiing and climbing in the Garmisch, Bavaria, Germany area and at one time was a ski and climbing guide for Americans from a nearby United States Army base. Toni met Ilse, who came from a Stuttgart, Germany publishing family, while she was climbing the nearby Alpspitze. The young couple were convinced to come to Aspen because of the stronger economy.
When Toni first arrived in Red River he purchased the S.E.B. Motel from Stokes Bolton and renamed it the Alpine Lodge, after a place the Woerndles ran in Aspen. The lodge was rather plain when the Woerndles bought it. It had unpainted cinder-block walls and flat roofs. Woerndle would remedy that with stucco and peaked roofs, eventually arriving at a chalet style motel, with a restaurant and even a movie theater.
Shortly after Toni and Ilse opened the Alpine Ski Shop Red River Ski Area owner Stokes Bolton encouraged Toni Woerndle to move on. His next move was to the the Monarch Ski School for three or four years according to George where he commuted home to Red River on his days off.
Long before Red River Charter School, George took an “old Willys wagon” to the one room school house at the molybdenum mine. Juan Valdez was the lone teacher when George started school. The faculty grew to three by the time he was in fifth grade. For his middle school he would attend in Questa. For high school, George and Rudi, attend the Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City, Colorado, west of Pueblo.
The Alpine Lodge grew over the years. The bar and restaurant would change management over the years, but the menu was fairly consistent with German food as the mainstay, accompanied by burgers, enchiladas, and other Northern New Mexican food inspired by local cooks from the area. The bar and restaurant’s name would change with the lease holder, finally settling with the Red Onion, another name from Aspen. George’s brother would eventually take over the bar and rename it Chubbies.
Rudi eventually left Red River to practice law in Midland, Texas, but George remained. George ran the ski shop and it grew so well that the family purchased a building across the street that George said at one time was slated to become a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. He also helped run the movie theater in the Alpine Lodge.
During a trip to visit family in Germany Toni felt ill. In August of 1981 Toni had visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, by November he had passed away. George Woerndle is still effected by this event today with quiet emotion.
By 1991 Ilse Woerndle had decided to sell the Alpine Lodge and retire. She became legendary for her walks with old nordic poles “up to the ‘Y’ and back.”
George Woerndle continues to run Sitzmark Sports, which includes several condo units and a rental cabin. He also holds a contractor’s license and helped to build the addition to the Red River Library and its large covered porch. George is a licensed pilot and sole owner of Piper Cherokee plane, which he had originally purchased in a three way partnership. In the middle of his fourth term on the Town Council, George finds the civic opportunity “entertaining, not too stressful, and enjoys doing good things for Red River.”