If you have called the Roaring Fork Valley home for any length of time, chances are you have developed a fairly intimate relationship with Larry Giroux, though you most likely are unaware of that reality.
Over the course of the past two decades, Giroux has managed both the Pitkin County and the South Canyon landfills. He has supervised the orderly and environmentally sound disposal of the Valley’s detritus. He has buried some of the region’s deepest secrets.
Giroux’s 18-year stint with the Pitkin County Landfill ended in 2015. His tour-of-duty with the South Canyon Landfill ends March 31. That will mark the first time in two decades that Giroux has not controlled a significant quantity of the refuse flowing through the Roaring Fork Valley.
The dividing point, Giroux says, is pretty much, if you live in Basalt and upvalley, your trash goes to Pitkin County Landfill. If you live in Carbondale downvalley, your trash goes to South Canyon, outside Glenwood Springs.
His route to local landfill meister for one of the most-high-profile resort areas in the world was almost impossibly circuitous.
It began on the frozen plains of his native Saskatchewan, where he spent his youth on a large family farm. Like most of his countrymen, he took up skating and hockey almost before he would walk. He applied the work ethic he learned tending to agricultural duties to puck-related activities. That work paid off in spades. Giroux worked his way up through the junior leagues until he made his way into the game’s highest echelon.
“I ended up having a nine-year pro career,” Giroux says. “I played five years in the NHL and four years in minors. I played for the St. Louis Blues, the Detroit Red Wings and the Hartford Whalers.”
This, he is quick to point out, was in the 1970s, a time that pre-dated much of the safety equipment now mandatory for hockey players. Stuff like helmets and face guards.
At a hulking 6-foot-1, Giroux is not shy about admitting that he was something of an enforcer.
“I led the Central League in penalty minutes in 1977,” he says, smiling.
It does not take much prodding to get Giroux to gleefully relate tales of things like going up into the stands after overly effusive fans or engaging in retaliatory cross-checks.
“I had a good career,” Giroux says. “The best way to describe my career is that I was a star in the minors and an average player in the NHL.”
He retired in 1980 at the age of 30. Unlike many professional athletes, he had his post-hockey life, not exactly mapped out, but he had preemptively set himself up.
“I had played for three teams in Kansas City and felt comfortable there,” he says. “I returned to Kansas City because I owned a home there. I was in the bar and restaurant business for six years. Which is good and bad.
“I didn’t make much money in hockey,” Giroux continues. “It was the ’70s, I think I averaged $45,000 a year in nine seasons. In the ’70s, that was decent, but definitely not enough to retire on like NHL salaries now.”
A lot of professional athletes have trouble transitioning back into the real world after retirement.
“I transitioned right away into the bar business,” he says. “There wasn’t a period where I sat there and said, ‘Oh my god what am I going to do? The hardest thing about transitioning from hockey to the real world was, when I got pissed off in hockey, all I had to do was wait about two minutes and then I had my chance to take their head off. In the business world, you have to wait longer.”
He did think about extending his relationship with hockey. He was on the cusp of becoming a player/coach.
“When I was owned by Detroit, I was playing in the minors and they got a new general manager, a Hall of Fame guy,” Giroux says. “He came to me and said, ‘it’s time for you to make a decision … do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?’ I think I was 26 or 27. All the defensemen in Detroit were younger than me and they were all first-round draft choices. They were all making big money.
“The new general manager wanted to sign me to a new contract to be a player-assistant coach in minors, which would have been my intro into coaching,” he continues. “The guy said, ‘That way, if I need help, I can call you up because I know you can play. You’re my backup.’ For that he got me a green card, an interest-free loan to buy a house in Kansas City, a summertime job going to golf tournaments and banquets and he rewrote my contract and doubled my pay. I said, ‘Sign me up!’ But they didn’t protect me that fall. They had an inter-league draft and St. Louis picked me up. I finished out my career in St. Louis and then Hartford.”
While the coaching offer went south, the deal turned out to be a gold mine.
“When that deal triggered a green card, that was it.,” Giroux says. “Before that, I didn’t have any options. I had to go back to Canada no matter what. I had a short-term entertainment visa, which only lasted eight months. Then I had to go back. I didn’t want to go back. I’m from a town of 10,000 people where everyone knows your business. I was done with that.”
Though his bars were successful, the business wore on Giroux.
“The bar business was not conducive to raising a family,” he says. “I had three young girls. The hours were crazy. I was looking for something else to do. My dad owned a sand and gravel business and concrete business, and he farmed 5,000 acres and ran 400 head of cattle. I’ve been around heavy equipment my whole life. After I sold my bars, I saw a job available operating equipment. It happened to be for a Canadian company that owned landfills. They were the largest hazardous waste company in North America, the largest school bus operator in North America and the third-largest garbage company in North America. They trained me to be a manager. I worked for several years. I bid on projects as far away as Hong Kong and managed operations for them in 10 states.”
Giroux says the situation fit like a glove.
“I had the equipment background from my youth,” he says. “I had the PR background from being in hockey. I had the political background bar business — going through the licensing process and schmoozing — and I had the management background from bar business. The only piece I missing was the environmental rules and regulations associated with the landfill business. It was an easy transition. I was climbing the ladder within the company. Then we were sold to a smaller company in one of those Goldman-Sachs-type financial deals. These guys were a bunch of cowboys from southern Illinois. Our cultures clashed. It just didn’t work out.”
Fortuitously, Giroux had cause about then to visit the Colorado High Country.
“My middle daughter was going to school over in Gunnison,” he says. “One summer, I went and picked her up and on the way back to Kansas City, I visited a buddy of mine who was working at the Pitkin County Landfill. He used to work for me. I went up there and it was awful. While I was still working for the same Canadian company, I put a bid together to take over management of the Pitkin County Landfill, and I got it. I started the operation with the Pitkin County landfill in April 1999.”
He had to form his own company, which he named Heartland Environmental Services.
“I had to buy my own equipment, had to do it all,” Giroux says. “I was not an employee of the county. I was a contractor. I had a partner, an engineer. We signed a five-year contract and we renewed it for five years, until we finally signed a long-term contract. In 1999, the landfill had an estimated 13 years of life left before it was full. We went in, made some changes, increased recycling, increased diversion, established a dirt recycling program and the year that the county took it back over, it had 22 years of life. So we ran it for 18 years and, in that time, we extended the life of the landfill, did our job, got awards. But Pitkin County thought they could do it cheaper and better. So we were termed out.
“The new people saw the improvements we had made and thought it was always like that,” he continues with a bit of a growl.
According to Giroux, in 2009, the powers that be from Glenwood Springs took an interest in Giroux and his landfill operation in Pitkin County.
“They came up to visit, to see what we were doing,” Giroux says. “Their landfill was a mess, too, and they put it out to bid, and we were successful getting that contract. Again, it was a five-year contract with four five-year options. We renewed that after the first five years and now, effective April 1, the city is going to take it over because the city thinks they can do it cheaper and better.”
It will still be another year before Giroux is totally out of the landfill business, though.
“Three years ago, I got a contract in Lee’s Summit, Mo., to operate their landfill and fill it up because it was almost full,” he says. “I was supposed to transition into building a transfer station, which is where you dump the garbage on the floor, load it onto bigger trucks and haul it away. That landfill will be totally full in February of next year. We couldn’t come to terms negotiating the longer part of that contract, so I’m out of there March of next year. At that point, I’ll be out of the garbage business for good.”
Giroux, who, after having lived in Aspen for many years, now has a home outside Carbondale, says he’s happy to put that part of his life behind him.
“I got sick and tired of dealing with the politics,” he says.
Most people would say, at age 67, after having worked hard for decades in a wide variety of vocations, it would be time to kick back on the front porch.
Instead, Giroux has decided to open a heavy equipment business. And invest in a Coho salmon farm in upstate New York. And buy, along with a couple partners, the venerable Electric Mountain Lodge outside Paonia.
He says he needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
“I love the challenge,” he says. “I love business. I love working. I already have all of this equipment at the South Canyon Landfill and at the site in Missouri. I’m bringing it out to Colorado. I bought a piece of ground between Silt and Rifle and I’m going to build a maintenance facility and office down there and plan to take advantage of all the oil and gas work. When people around here rent equipment, it comes from Grand Junction. I’m going to be closer and have cheaper rates. I know all the contractors from the garbage business. It’s perfect.
“Because Mr. Trump put all these tax laws into place, it’s counterproductive to sell the equipment I already own,” Giroux continues. “I would take a significant tax hit. The new business will be starting in March. I already have a marketing plan together. I already got some business.”
Then there’s the Coho salmon fish farm.
“It’s a guy I know, Giroux says. “He’s got a good business plan. It’s up and running. That’s just write a check and let him run it.”
Not so with the Electric Mountain Lodge, which opened for business in December. That will be more hands on.
“I had always heard about it,” Giroux says. “It’s been around forever. It’s old and rustic and built by some locals over there. It was a hunting and snowmobile lodge. About ’06, there was a propane explosion. The guy who owned it, three of his grandkids got killed in the explosion. So somebody else came in and rebuilt it. They didn’t rebuild it great. It didn’t do well. A gentleman from Texas bought it, sunk a bunch of money into it, restored its rustic look and then gave it to the church as a Christian youth center, which ran it for three years. They ran it into the ground.
“They put on the market and we bought it — me, along with Dr. Dave Jensen, a chiropractor here in the valley, and a gentleman named Sean Goody,” he says. “If we manage it and market it right, we can do well. We got a great deal. Bought it at the right time. We’ll host events in summer, stuff like wedding and conferences. In the fall, it will cater to hunters and in winter it will cater to snowmobilers. It’s a gorgeous environment at 9,200 feet on Grand Mesa. In the winter, the last 10 miles require taking a snowmobile or some sort of tracking machine to get there. We have a full bar, restaurant, game room, hot tubs and sauna. It’s backed up right against BLM land, so there are tens of thousands of acres available for recreation. We’re talking to Ski Sunlight about doing tours back and forth, It’s about 50 miles. We could attract people from Grand Mesa area.”
Giroux’ plans sink his roots even deeper into the Mid-Valley.
“This is home,” he says. “I plan on staying here. But I’m happy to be moving on to non-garbage stage.”
Giroux is definitely not going to be the guy who takes out the trash at the Electric Mountain Lodge.
There are two things he seems especially proud of.
“I was never in the trash-collection business,” he says. “I buried it. I didn’t collect it.”
“I still have all my teeth. A lot of them have caps, but they’re all original.”
A lot of hockey players cannot make that claim.
For more information about the Electric Mountain Lodge, call 877-929-5522 or go to electricmountainlodge.com