Gene Landsmann, a popular figure on the slopes of the Mount Ashland ski area for three decades, has died. He was 65.

Gene Landsmann, a popular figure on the slopes of the Mount Ashland ski area for three decades, has died. He was 65.

"He had a natural charm and wit about him," said Rick Saul, who succeeded Landsmann as the mountain's marketing director. "He was so endearing people followed him around."

Saul said Landsmann's body was found in his home in Hornbrook, Calif., Monday. He appeared to have died Friday. Officials had not determined the cause of death Tuesday, but he had been diagnosed recently with cancer.

Landsmann learned to ski in his native Austria, and he was a ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho, before coming to Southern Oregon in 1974. The mountains here were modest compared to many he had skied, but he soon became attached to Mount Ashland and the little town with the same name.

He took over the Mount Ashland ski school, bringing a touch of Europe to Southern Oregon and a sense of professionalism to a sleepy little backwater ski area.

"I learned everything I know about technical skiing, and teaching skiing, and acting professionally from him," said Joan Thorndike of Ashland, who worked three seasons for him in the mid-1980s.

"Gene loved the mountain," Thorndike said. "He spent his summers planting grass plugs and tending the place all by himself."

Landsmann played a critical role in designing the Mount Ashland expansion project that was introduced in 1997.

"He was the first one to tell me we needed a bigger mountain," Thorndike said.

He earned a degree in geology at the University of Michigan, and he enjoyed sharing his knowledge of the natural history of the Siskiyous with students who enrolled in Mount Ashland's summer service program. He liked to talk about building a tunnel through the Siskiyous for Interstate 5, like the mountain tunnels in Europe, to eliminate the frequent severe weather closures.

He ran the ski school until 1988, when he became marketing director. His Austrian accent and European charm made him a favorite on the mountain, said Glenn Menzie, who worked with him for 22 years.

"He was a consummate gentleman," said Menzie, "and he had such passion for skiing."

That fervor still showed last year, when Landsmann served as "forerunner" for the state high school championship races, skiing the course before the competitors to set the line. His time was better than all but a few of the high school competitors, Thorndike said.

"He always made it look effortless," said Mike Dadaos, the mountain's special events manager. "I skied with him a year ago, and I was going as fast as I possibly could, but he was pulling away from me on every turn.

Landsmann retired from the Mt. Ashland Ski & Snowboarding Resort 2003, and moved to Hornbrook. He did some part-time work for the Mount Shasta Board & Ski Park, and taught himself Web design.

His sense of humor was legendary. He never married, but when asked once whether he had any children, he quipped "I don't think so."

"He was our ambassador," Menzie said. "He was what Mount Ashland was all about in the '70s, '80s and early '90s.

"If you count friends as wealth," Menzie said, "he died a rich man."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com