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Steamboat Magazine

The Tolles Family

04/18/2024 07:00AM ● By Deborah Olsen
(Photo: Marian and George Tolles take their daughters, Sarah, Allison and Robin, sledding in Steamboat Springs. Circa 1965. Photography courtesy of the Tolles Family.)

When Marian Grant met George Tolles on a ski slope in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1956, the two became a team. At the time, George was studying at the University of Innsbruck following his discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard. Marian had stopped for a ski break on her way to Switzerland – a trip that was derailed by the meeting.

One of George and Marian’s first adventures together was a scooter trip to Egypt. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


Marian and George’s wedding in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1957. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


Their first adventure together was a Vespa motor scooter tour from Austria to Egypt in 1956. The same year they also attended  the Winter Olympics in Cortina, Italy,  where they first heard about Ski Town USA. After their marriage in Austria in 1957, the couple lived in numerous places, from Arizona and Washington, D.C., to The Netherlands, where George served as assistant U.S. consul in Rotterdam, and Columbia, where George was U.S. consul in Cali.
One place, though, stole their hearts: Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

George and Marian at the pyramids in Egypt during a return trip in 1999. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


The Tolles’ Yampa Valley experience began in 1957, when they accepted positions as dorm parents at the Lowell Whiteman School, a small private prep school north of Steamboat Springs. George taught German and history; the couple was among the first faculty members to live on campus. There, they made lifelong friends who shared their intellectual curiosity.

“Steamboat is a cultural oasis in the middle of the Rockies,” George said.

Their friend Lucille Bogue spearheaded the drive in 1964 to build a college in Steamboat. One of the first people she recruited was George. A Fulbright scholar, accomplished diplomat and experienced teacher, he brought international credibility to the fledgling college. At the time, however, Yampa Valley College was unaccredited, homeless and financially strained.

Marian at the front desk of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., where she worked for 25 years. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


Still, George saw it as an opportunity to serve the community by designing a distinctive academic program. “I want to turn out adventurers, not teach students how to follow in the lockstep of what people ‘should’ be. We help people find their individuality…to make life a unique adventure,” George said.

When the college was sold to the U.S. International University in 1969, what seemed like an ideal solution to financial shortages soon went sour. The school fell into receivership in 1975, and George worked for the entire school year without pay. He subsequently taught in the Steamboat Springs school district until the college was reborn as Colorado Mountain College in 1981.

During his tenure at CMC, George taught political science, geography, history, German, Spanish, government policy and international relations. At various times, he served as department head, dean, campus director and liberal arts chair. Upon his retirement in 1990, he was named professor emeritus. Today, the George Tolles International Studies Fund presents scholarships in his honor.

George and Marian frequently traveled together, but George often ventured out alone as well. “Fortunately, I have a very understanding wife who, when I say I have to go off for six months or a year, she says OK,” George explained. “We love to travel together and often do so in less difficult places. But there are certain regions, like parts of Africa, that are simply less enjoyable.”

Marian with her daughters in front of the Olympic cauldron in Innsbruck, Austria: Allison, Robin, and Sarah. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


George followed Marco Polo’s footsteps from Constantinople to Shanghai, rode the Trans-Siberian railroad through Russia,  took the Old Silk Road from China through Turkey, and searched for ancient temples in the jungles of Central America. In the course of his adventures, was blinded by dust storms in the Taklamakan Desert, drank rancid butter tea with Kazakh herdsman in China’s Tienshan Mountains, and traveled to the Pakistan border with a bus full of Afghan smugglers.  He had breakfast with the Wali of Swat, the war-torn Pakistani valley made famous by the Taliban. Along the way, George became Steamboat’s leading scholar of Islamic studies.

“My travels relate right into the classroom,” George said. “I hope to inspire students to get out and see the world.”

The Tolles family summits an Austrian peak. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


The sport that brought George and Marian together played a major role in their lives. “One day in 1958, while we were working and living at Whiteman School, Olympians Buddy and Skeeter Werner came out to talk to the students and faculty. They told us about Jim Temple’s dream of building a ski area on Storm Mountain, and predicted it would become a world-class resort one day,” Marian recalled.

Cross-country skiing on Rabbit Ears Pass was a favorite pastime of George and Marian. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


The Storm Mountain Ski Area opened in 1963. Its namesake peak was renamed Mount Werner after Buddy’s death in an avalanche in 1964. Marian began an illustrious 25-year career at the Steamboat Ski Area in 1973, when ticket-office manager Charlie Swinehart offered her a job while they were in the checkout line at Safeway. Marian held a number of positions at the ski area, from ticket sales to claims manager. For 10 years, she was secretary to Hans Geier, CEO of the ski area. For two years before she retired in 1997, she was assistant to Olympian Billy Kidd, whose first silver medal came in the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, where Marian met George.

Tolles family ski day. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


Throughout their lives in Steamboat, Marian and George started their days at Old Town Hot Springs. They arrived so early every morning that eventually, George was given his own key. “We came and swam and soaked and then left and locked up again,” Marian recalls. George served as a member of the Hot Springs’ board for many years, but that was not his only connection to water. He became an expert on the 150-plus springs of Steamboat, and he was also the area’s principal douser.

For decades, George was Routt County’s go-to dowser, locating water sources at ranches, residences and commercial sites with the aid of a willow branch or dowsing stick. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


One of the reasons that George and Marian settled down in Steamboat Springs was because they wanted a stable home for their daughters: Sarah, Robin and Allison. The three women carry on their parents’ dedication to community service, children, education and travel.

Sarah Tolles was born in Washington, D.C. She inherited her parents’ love of music and studied music in college. She made her television debut performing Handel’s “Messiah.” She lives in New York City, and spends much of her time traveling internationally. Last year, she and Marian went to Italy.

Sarah’s sisters, who were born in Columbia, have chosen to stay close to their roots. Robin Tolles Bush followed her father’s academic career.  She is a science and health teacher in Hayden, and was honored as a Peabody Energy Leader in Education in 2012. Prior to teaching in Hayden, she worked in the Steamboat Springs schools, like her father. Her daughter, Cassidy, is married to Brian Josefsberg and the couple has two children, Jorah and Wallace.

Allison Tolles Tate lives in Steamboat Springs. She shares her parents’ love of skiing and has worked as an instructor at the Steamboat Ski Area for more than 30 years. Her husband, Brian, is the Nordic director at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and their son, Sven, is named after the late Steamboat Olympian Sven Wiik, a lifelong friend of the Tolles. Allison helped to establish the curriculum for the Yampa Valley Science School, an intensive, experiential, sixth-grade curriculum. For many years, she ran the City of Steamboat Springs’ youth summer camp program.

George was one of the first professors hired at Yampa Valley College, which is now Colorado Mountain College, Steamboat Springs campus. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family. 


Her children, as well as her career, kept Marian busy for much of her married life. She was often considered the soft-spoken partner in her marriage, supporting George enthusiastically but unpretentiously. But in the final years before George died in 2019, Marian stepped into the forefront. “Marian has ESP,” George said. “I think about it, and then Marian will mention it. We carry on a whole conversation without ever saying anything. She’s also my encyclopedia. I can remember places, but I can’t remember names. She keeps me honest.”

Since George’s death, Marian still starts most of her days at the hot springs, and studies tai chi. In 2022, she took first place in Steamboat Art Museum’s Ekphrastic writing contest for her poem, “Remembering Laguna,” which was followed by an honorable mention in 2023.

With her daughters by her side, Marian is continuing the family traditions, from academics to adventure. For more than 50 years, she and George traveled the world and in turn, they brought the world to Steamboat Springs.

George and Marian Tolles. Photo courtesy of the Tolles Family.


Editor’s note: The Tolles family is currently featured at the Tread of Pioneers Museum as part of its Foundation of Steamboat series. For more information, visit www.