Andy LeBus ‘lived life to the fullest’ in Angel Fire

andy lebusBy Ellen Miller-Goins, Managing Editor

ANGEL FIRE — Talk to any longtime resident of the Moreno Valley about Andy LeBus and you will hear dozens of words praising the man for his cheerful disposition, his giving nature, his work ethic. Talk long enough and everyone — every single one — will say his daughters mattered most to the man. Sara and Emily are Andy’s most treasured legacy.

John Andrew “Andy” LeBus, 55, died Friday (May 9) in a motorcycle accident near Black Lake.

Born Dec. 1, 1958, to George and Ann LeBus, in Wichita Fall, Texas, Andy moved to the Monte Verde Ranch in the Moreno Valley soon afterward.

“Back then it was a working cattle ranch,” Lisa LeBus, Andy’s cousin, said.

Andy attended Eagle Nest Elementary, then went to middle school and a few years of high school in Wichita, Kansas. He graduated from Cimarron High School in 1977, then graduated from an auto mechanic school in Liberal, Kansas.

“He and his dad had the Chevron Station,” Lisa wrote with help from Andy’s sister Mary. “That was the building that most recently housed the winery and just within the last month was leveled. That began his long history of tinkering, fixing and building vehicles, snowmaking equipment and fire trucks. He could fix almost anything he put his mind to.”

Lisa said as a child Andy loved to roam the family ranch with various friends and cousins, and he was known for his antics such as barn jumping, steer riding and Tote Gote riding, which is an old, two-wheel, slow, motorized bike.

“Andy and I grew up together,” Lisa said. “We walked these mountains together. There was no Angel Fire then. We used to walk over to the (family’s) wood-treating plant (where the blinking light is now). We swam in the ponds and played in the creeks. Andy loved to be everywhere and do everything. His work ethic was unmatched by anybody I know.”

In 1954, Andy’s father George and uncle Roy had purchased the 9,000-acre Monte Verde Ranch. Two years later, they bought another 14,000 acres, the Cieneguilla Ranch, from the Maxwell Land Grant Company.

In 1966, just as the cattle business was declining, they decided to develop the property into a resort. George suggested they call the new development “Angel Fire.” After about 18 months the early ski trails were cut, a nine-hole golf course was complete and Monte Verde Lake was ready for visitors.

Lisa wrote that “during the development of the ski area and before the lifts were put in, Andy enjoyed being hauled up the mountain by a Thiokol snowcat hanging on to a rope.”

Bill Burgess, who came to work for the LeBus family that first winter, remembered Andy as a “good kid, well-behaved, too.”

According to Burgess, Andy’s love for adventure led him to take one of the Skibob snowbikes that the lift operators used to ride down at the end of their shifts.

“He was maybe 7 or 8 years old and he rode all the way down Nice Day,” he said.

As an adult, Andy installed and maintained all the snowmaking infrastructure, and oversaw snowmaking operations for almost 10 years, manning the guns himself, sometimes night and day.

“Anytime anything broke down, Andy was right there,” Sally LeBus, Andy’s aunt, said. I can’t explain what a hard worker Andy was, snowmaking, firefighting, snowplowing, tree trimming… Andy was always out there in those mountains doing something for the betterment for those mountains. He lived life to the fullest. I asked him once if he ever slept.”

Longtime friend Mike Lund said, “When he ran snowmaking they used to call him ‘El Niño just ‘cause he made so much snow under impossible conditions. He just had a tremendous work ethic”

“Andy ran the best snowmaking program ever, he really did,” said Kurt Eppler, a master groomer who has known Andy since he moved to Angel Fire as a teenager. Eppler later worked with Andy at Angel Fire’s ski area, grooming as fast as Andy could produce the snow — and Andy produced a lot of snow.

“He had so much pride in what he did,” Eppler said. “We’d be on that mountain fighting the mountain, fighting equipment. It seems like the greater the challenge, the more into Andy became. I remember one time we were trying to open Heading Home, a 3-and-a-half-mile run from top to bottom. He had snowmaking running for two days straight. I don’t know if he even slept. He got it open and not just barely open. It was open edge to edge. Perfect. I remember connecting the last two piles of snow right as the first guests got off the lift. We’d done this many times but that morning, the view from the summit was beautiful, fog in the valley, the sun hitting it just right. Andy said he felt so sorry for the people who didn’t get to have the jobs we did. That stuck with me.

“I’ve been blessed the past few years to groom at the Olympics and other events,” Eppler added. “Everywhere I’ve ever gone, I’d wish Andy was there with me making snow. Nobody could do it as good as Andy. Nobody even comes close.”

Andy eventually left snowmaking and became a wildland firefighter, first with Larry Holst, then as the owner operator of his own company, Monte Verde Wildfire LLC.

Holst, who also worked on the mountain as a groomer when Andy was snowmaking manager, said “I started Andy out in the firefighting business. Probably the wildest fire we ever had was up at Vermejo. It blew up on us and we had to evacuate the area. In fact, we had slurry dropped on us. That was a pretty wild time. Firefighting is hours and hours of hard work and boredom interrupted by shear terror.”

Andy went on to own and operate Monte Verde Wildfire and, according to Lisa, “Within the scope of that company, he began his tree-trimming business, snowplowing and wild land firefighting, all over the country.  He was also a longtime volunteer firefighter.”

Brian Whitlock, who worked for Andy, said, “He taught me a lot about how to work.”

Whitlock and all Andy’s friends and family spoke of how he was always ready to lend a helping hand. “He’d give you the shirt off his back but, more importantly, he’d give you a day out of his life to help you out,” said Andy Bertges, Angel Fire fire chief. “It’s easy to give somebody money but he’d give his time and that’s harder to do.”

Described by longtime friend Joe Haukebo as a “charming, personable fellow,” Andy was known for a philosophy Holst described as, “Hey, life is great!”

“I never heard Andy say a cross word about anybody,” said Robin May, ski school director at Angel Fire Resort and Andy’s longtime friend, “and I never heard anybody say anything negative about him. He was always cheerful.”

Andy loved motorcycles later in his life and enjoyed riding with a group of Moreno Valley friends. Having gown up on skis, he loved skiing, hiking and camping — a love he shared with  his daughters.

andy and girls skiing
Andy, Emily and Sara LeBus

“They were an outdoors family,” Sally said. “They would go camping up American Creek every chance they got when the girls were little. Those kids and their dad lived life to the fullest up there.”

Andy was a single father for most of his daughters’ lives after being divorced from their mother Mary Bolsinger when the youngest was a toddler.

“Those girls were the absolutely the greatest joy of his life,” Lisa said.

Said May, ”Andy doted on those two girls who he raised single-handedly. He set the standard for fathers in this valley. Those girls turned out awesome. He would always say how much he loved his girls and how proud he was of his girls. Everyone should know he was one hell of a father. That meant more to him than anything.”

Said May, ”Andy doted on those two girls who he raised single-handedly. He set the standard for fathers in this valley. Those girls turned out awesome. He would always say how much he loved his girls and how proud he was of his girls. Everyone should know he was one hell of a father. That meant more to him than anything.”

John Andrew “Andy” LeBus was preceded in death by his mother, Ann (LeBus) Burgess and father George R. LeBus. He is survived by his daughter Sara (LeBus) Kan and husband Jonathan of Germantown, Maryland; Emily LeBus of Angel Fire; sisters Mary K. LeBus, Suzanne (LeBus) Rocco and husband Jim; many uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends; and his beloved dog Rosie.

Services were pending at press time.

Andy at Emilys Grad
Sara, Emily and Andy LeBus at Emily’s college graduation.