In 1957, John married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Wheeler. They have three sons, Brad, John Jr. and Jim, and four grandchildren, of whom they are very proud.
According to Barbara, John's first attempt at skiing was to a log cabin his family had built near Baron Lake so he could remove the snow from the roof. In 1953, at the age of 19, John bought his first pair of cross-country skis. Barbara said he became addicted to snow, to the Grand Mesa and to skiing competitively.
While in college, John skied for the Western State College cross-country ski team, and in 1958, he auditioned for a place on the national cross-country ski team. He also skied with the U.S. Army's biathlon ski team at Camp Hale and trained with them in Alaska. In 1959, while still in the army, John competed in the World Biathlon Championships in Courmayeur, Italy, He also took fourth place in the 20k cross-country, ski and shoot biathlon at the North American Championship races in Squaw Valley, qualifying him for a place on the U.S. Olympic team.
While training for the Olympics, John - acting on the advice of one of his mentors - ate "raw" oatmeal ("If you're gonna work like a horse, you've gotta eat like a horse"). He also ran for miles in knee-deep powder snow, and in the summer months, ran up Payne Siding Road from Highway 92 to the top of Redlands Mesa. In 1960, at the age of 26, John became a bona fide member of the U.S. Olympic Biathlon team to compete at the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley.
Opened by Richard Nixon, the event hosted 665 contestants from 30 countries, and with Walt Disney in charge of pageants and ceremonies, Squaw Valley put on quite a show. The athletes could walk to most of the events from the village, and, for the first time in its long history, U.S. network television (CBS), was on hand to televise all the events. Both the men's biathlon and women's speed skating events were making their Olympic debut.
The 1960 biathlon competition included skiing for more than 20 km (12.42 miles) and firing 20 rounds from a high-powered center fire rifle at four different ranges. The first three series were fired from a prone position, the last from a standing position. Each missed target added a two-minute penalty to the competitor's final time. With a time of 1 hour, 46 minutes and 36.8 seconds, John was the top American in the biathlon event, coming in nearly nine minutes faster than his nearest teammate. John finished 14th overall, setting the bar for future U.S. Olympic biathlon athletes. In addition to the Olympics, John has also won the Western State "W" Mountain Race four times, (in 1954, 1955, 1956, and 1963) and "while in my best shape ever," tried out for the 1964 Olympics. He failed to make the team because, according to John, the conditions were not right for the wax mandated for use that day.
In 1965 John obtained a permit from the Grand Mesa Resort Company to develop a beginners ski slope, complete with a rope-tow, ski lodge and warming hut. In 1982 he began promoting cross-country skiing on the Grand Mesa.
Connie (my wife) and I were privileged to have met and skied with John in the early 1980s while working as volunteers to develop the cross-country ski trails at County Line. At the same time, John - almost singlehandedly - worked to create the Ward Creek cross-country trail system that runs from Carp Lake (now Cobbett Lake) to the Ward Creek Reservoir. It had been more than 20 years since he had competed in the 1960 Olympics, but John was skiing as strongly as ever. John's lifetime dream was to share his passion for cross-country skiing with as many youth as possible. He started working with young people in the early 1980s, teaching them the basics of cross-country skiing. He worked closely with the Boy Scouts, local churches and the schools of Delta, Montrose and Mesa counties, providing the equipment and expertise for them to learn how to cross-country ski. After retiring, John donated more than 100 pairs of cross-country skis to the Grand Mesa Nordic Council's "Skis for Kids" program. This program, managed by Hotchkiss resident Anita Evans, provides schools and other organizations with skis, poles and other equipment needed for cross-country ski lessons.
Because of his efforts, thousands of young people have learned to cross-country ski and to enjoy cross-country skiing as a vehicle for fun, exercise, and a way to appreciate nature, even in winter. John was also instrumental in bringing three-phase electric power to lodges on the Grand Mesa; convincing the Delta County Commissioners to participate with the Forest Service in the building of the Grand Mesa Visitors Information Center at Cobbett Lake; and getting the county to plow open the road from the visitors center to Alexander Lake Lodge.
During all of this, John was employed by Delta County Memorial Hospital for 20 years as a lab/x-ray technician, and in his spare time was a farmer.
In 2005 Delta County's Olympian, John Burritt, was inducted into Western State's Mountaineer Sports Hall of Fame.blog comments powered by Disqus