From Immigrant to Entrepreneur
Asked how a 20-year old Swiss kid wound up in Aspen, Mogli Cooper, co-developer of the Iron Mountain Hot Springs, burst into laughter. “I wanted to ski the Andes!”
What must it have felt like, decades later, for her to stand at a community gala accepting a Business of the Year award along with the Iron Mountain Hot Springs management team? How must the heart have swelled, while receiving an Entrepreneur of the Year award the same evening.
How did all that happen in the 42-year span after Cooper left her homeland with naught but a backpack?
Landing in New York, 1974, Cooper bought an economy Greyhound pass to explore the U.S. en route to South America. With depleted pockets, she threw out a thumb and landed in Aspen. The skiing was sweet and the region stunning, comparable to her Alps and the Andes. She recalls, “I thought, there gotta be some places up there that’ll hire another Swiss to clean fish. Sure enough, they did!”
Aspen didn’t last. It took two or three jobs just to pay rent. “You couldn’t even afford to ski.” Eventually, Cooper moved to Silt, then to New Castle and finally to Glenwood Springs. “From one extreme to the other, with a learning curve between!”
“I stayed,” she muses. “Isn’t that amazing?” Longevity and committing to “place” allowed Cooper to sink deep roots and grow wide limbs, encompassing both family and career.
Truly, though, what does one do when you’re raw and young, with not a pot to piss in and no experience?
Media accolades for Iron Mountain Hot Springs make Cooper’s achievements seem easy. Not so.
Like many valley residents, Cooper explored multiple avenues: She started simply, hiring on with a small, local company, Aspen Lids. They sent her home with a knitting machine and paid her, per piece, to knit “massive numbers of hats.” Working in front of the TV and bingeing on soap operas, she learned English.
She crafted exquisite replicas of vintage French puppets, selling them at Mountain Fair for $70 each. That was a lot of money back then, but it took two weeks to make one! And ski patrolling at Sunlight Mountain paid minimum wage, $4.25 an hour.
Along the way, Cooper married a builder, Buzz Fairbanks. They wanted children. An independent and adventurous woman, Mogli also wanted a career. “You know,” her husband told her, “You could be a realtor.” Cooper’s face filled with astonishment. “That was like saying ‘You should be a judge!’ You know, to me, that was something! I thought, hmm, I could try. So I took the test. I’m still doing it 35 years later.”
Cooper softens and ponders her real estate work. “I never did anything for the money. It’s the human thing.” Connecting people to homes held intimacy for her. “It’s about relationships,” she says. “It’s more than selling a house. It’s [their] nest—not a piggy bank.” She stays the course with clients after closing, helping with complications that often arise in purchasing homes or land.
Relationships were a founding value when Cooper, along with several other accomplished women, formed The Property Shop in Glenwood Springs in the winter 2001.
Despite the financial crisis that followed 9/11, Cooper never doubted the future.
She’s drawn to big things: big dreams, big mountains, big deals. Commercial real estate became her passion. “It’s the work of it! If I were an artist, I’d paint. But I can’t. The drawing board for me is the development aspects. It’s a palette and I can work with it. I love doing it…it’s creating something! To look at a piece of land and see what you can do… what’s its highest, best use? How to go about it, the challenges of it? I love a challenge. It’s like climbing a mountain. If you say ‘No’ to me, there’s nothing worse!” she belly laughs.
Humble despite her success, Cooper downplays her acuity and audacity. She says she never expected to be a player in a venture as grand as Iron Mountain Hot Springs.
Glenwood Adventure Caverns developer, Steve Beckley became friends with Cooper when she brokered his home. Later, Cooper’s current real estate company, Plan B, brokered Beckley’s purchase of the hot springs land.
Mid-sale, Beckley invited Cooper and her husband, Coop Cooper, to join the business. As co-investors, she and Beckly would meet most days at the Hotel Colorado over coffee. Cooper clasps her hands, relishing the memories. “It was fabulous! What a great dream to have! We didn’t really consider all the things that could go wrong with it. When you have a positive outlook on it, sometimes the bad just really doesn’t come your way.”
In Cooper’s view, you don’t look at the “big picture”. She says, “You start in a corner and go from there, or the reality of it can be overwhelming. I look at my schedule and think, ‘Oh, I get to meet with the architect today!’ If we knew how big this was going to be, I don’t know if we would have ever started it!”
Iron Mountain Hot Springs is still unfolding. In response to social media reviews, its locker rooms will get expanded. “Even though you have 10,000 good reviews, that one negative one, it kills you,” says Cooper. “It hurts because it’s your child. This is our baby. Somebody says you got an ugly child, it’s like ‘Oh my god!’” She laughs, holding her heart. But her response was predictably resilient: “Let’s work harder! Let’s change this!”
Cooper sighs and smiles. “We’re still dreaming, we’re still the same kids dreaming about the next phase.” These days, a spa and hotel/condos fill their heads with delicious possibility. “We have all this beautiful river frontage. People ask, ‘Do you have any rooms?’”
What does one do with this good life? What can one give and be of service? These questions lurk behind most civic awards, which recognize tenacity informed by higher good.
Of the award she recently received from the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association for Iron Mountain Hot Springs, Cooper says, “I was the pit bull. That’s what I brought. I didn’t quit. I wouldn’t give up.” Mogli was involved in most every detail of construction. Crafted by local artisans of regional materials, the facilities offer refined, quality moments and a welcoming spirit.
Hands in a yoga pose, Cooper laughs and says, “Everyone should experience this. It’s not just for the ones that do the Om.”
Sunset is a favored time at the springs. Burbling, falling mineral waters meld with the heady pull of the Colorado River. The wing beats of fowl send ripples through lavender and salmon skies. Luminous indigo descends, pulling stars and planets with it. Guests float, heads held close, murmuring and laughing, in twos or threes. Here and there, a solo guest basks, body limp beneath the black mirror of healing water. From far and near, souls gather in a tranquil and restorative reprieve.
The reality of what Mogli Cooper co-created is immeasurable, yet she deflects direct praise. In considering her life—a story shared over a long lunch seasoned with liberal helpings of laughter—she expressed gratitude and said simply, “It’s been a good run.”