Image: Karl Wolfgang

Vice President of Development, Jazz Aspen Snowmass 

Aspen High Class of 1998

When she moved from the Roaring Fork Valley to attend Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, Upper found it challenging at first to make new friends. Growing up in Snowmass Village, she had known all her classmates since they were toddlers, and her neighborhood was chock full of kids who played outside every day until dark.

Turns out being forced beyond her comfort zone “helped me later in development, because now I can go up to people with ease,” says Upper, 37, who’s been the sole full-time development employee since starting at Jazz Aspen Snowmass (JAS) in 2012.

Upper double-majored in business and fine arts in college, then eventually earned her MBA at CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business in 2007. She credits her parents’ business mindset with influencing her career direction.

Her father, Don, who owned Upper Electric, also loved music—together they’d walk down to the JAS festivals, where the chance to see “so many amazing artists in my backyard” planted yet another seed in her career path, she says.

Though she had the bona fides to go to any big city after earning her MBA, Upper returned to Aspen. She wanted to be closer to family, and though she knew the pool of professional jobs related to her degree was small—and the pay scale relatively low—the mountain lifestyle simply appealed more. 

Upper was also aware of the local housing challenges, especially for a dog owner like herself. She got lucky—buying a condo in Basalt during the economic downturn—but laments that the valley is losing professionals because of scarce housing opportunities.

The other challenge of starting a 9-to-5 professional career in a resort town? The prevailing culture. “All my friends were having so much fun,” Upper says wryly. “And the ones who were waitressing, bartending, even teaching ski school were making a lot more than me. Some bartenders still make more than me.” 

But Upper is proud of what she’s achieved so far—including a near tripling of JAS National Council memberships. And she has another goal: “Once I am more seasoned in my nonprofit career, I would love to be recognized as a leader in my industry and someone that others can learn from,” she says. 

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