If life is what you make of it, John Warner knows the drill
John Warner is a dentist who’s climbed and skied mountains in the United States, Canada, South America and Europe, raced motorcycles and mountain bikes, and, incidentally, served as a town mayor, search-and-rescue volunteer, orchestra backer, and dentist-of-mercy in Guatemala.
If life is what you make of it, Warner knows the drill.
Warner, graduated in 1973 with a BA degree in molecular, cellular and developmental biology from the University of Colorado Boulder, and earned his cum laude DDS from CU in 1979.
As a student, Warner was attracted to the natural sciences and initially planned to pursue medical school. But he happened to be working, at the time, with a group of CU dentists who were pioneering a protocol to stimulate dental-bone growth by utilizing bone marrow that Warner, himself, harvested from cadavers. He found the project stimulating and enjoyable. Shortly thereafter, he applied and was accepted to dental school.
At that time, the CU Dental School offered graduate dental students a tuition break if they committed to working outside the Front Range urban strip from Fort Collins to Pueblo.
That very perk drove Warner to open a dental practice in Breckenridge.
When Warner and his wife, Carre (now of 44 years), moved there, Breckenridge was a fraction of its current size, and his dental practice, at first, did not keep him too busy. Civic engagement filled the gap naturally. Initially, he served as president of the Breckenridge Music Institute and volunteered for the Summit County Search and Rescue Group.
Warner founded the Summit Hut Association in 1989, then joined the town council from 1998 to 2002 and 2006 to 2008. He was elected mayor of Breckenridge in 2008, serving two four-year terms, until 2016, when he reached his term limit.
As mayor, Warner championed respectful community discourse, which can be difficult to achieve when public opinions are strongly held and sharply divided. Marijuana legalization, sustainability, public parking, single-use plastic bags and community water fluoridation were only a few of the hot topics that flared during Warner’s tenure.
For instance, when citizens asked the city to stop fluoridating its water, Warner found himself in a tough position; The Centers for Disease Control lists water-fluoridation among the top 10 public-health achievements of the 20th century, and the scientific evidence supports fluoridation as a particularly effective means of supporting dental health.
Personally, Warner was wary of the “false equivalency” of arguments against fluoridation and those in favor. Noting that the science on this question is abundantly clear, Warner said: “I chose not to be the dentist mayor,” meaning he elected not to take a leading role in advocating for the continued fluoridation of water.
Instead, the mayor and town council directed the town staff to study the benefits and alleged drawbacks of fluoridation. Ultimately, the council voted to continue fluoridation.
Acknowledging contentious issues can cause some “heartburn,” Warner understood the importance of never belittling those with differing views. “I still say ‘hi’ to opponents when I see them on the street,” he said.
You want to nail those first turns, or you’ll slide a long way. I’m 65 years old. I don’t want to make a mistake.”
Warner’s public service, however, moved beyond his work as mayor. He found volunteering gratifying. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he, his family and a cadre of dentists traveled to New Orleans to provide much-needed dental care in the Ninth Ward.
It was around that time he learned of another volunteer opportunity in rural Guatemala.
The Guatemalans whom Warner treated lived far from dental clinics, and many had never seen a dentist for care. Warner’s patients sat on bags of grain while he mostly pulled teeth and filled cavities. He did this without basic diagnostic tools, such as an X-ray, so he had to judge on his own whether a tooth was salvageable or required removal.
“Dentistry is cool in that if you fix a tooth, you know it’s fixed. If it’s a cold, you don’t know if it’s fixed or not when you leave,” he said.
When not working as a dentist to either paying or nonpaying patients, or serving his fellow townspeople as mayor, Warner answers to yet-another calling: the outdoors.
He and some buddies have skied hut to hut in Austria, France, Switzerland, Italy and Canada. They had also trained at Mount Rainier to prepare for the more competitive expeditions of climbing both Denali and Aconcagua, North and South America’s highest peaks, respectively.
Living at 9,600 feet gives Warner an edge at higher altitude, he said. Judging by his athletic resumé, it might also convey other aerobic advantages.
This year alone, he skied the Cristo Couloir, which tumbles down the southern flanks of Quandary Peak, a fourteener. He also skied Torreys Peak, descending a route no more than 50 yards wide in certain spots with rocks lining both sides.
“You want to nail those first turns, or you’ll slide a long way,” Warner said, casually. Isn’t such a pursuit, you know, frightening?
Pausing, Warner said, “You’re not going to die if you fall.” At the same time, he acknowledged that he is careful. Having served as a mountain search-and-rescue volunteer, Warner has retrieved the bodies of those who perished in the hills.
“I’m 65 years old. I don’t want to make a mistake,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want his former search-and-rescue colleagues to have to collect his body.
His enthusiasm for outdoor adventure doesn’t end there. Warner is also an accomplished cyclist. He competed in mountain-bike races, specializing in high-speed descents, before deciding to ease off a bit. He raced motocross in his younger days, but gave that up, too, in the interest of self-preservation.This year, he completed the Double Triple Bypass. Here’s what that means: On Saturday, he rode the Triple Bypass, a 120-mile ride ascending 11,000 feet over three high mountain passes. The next day, he rode the same course in reverse, thus climbing 22,000 feet and riding 240 miles in two days. Warner said it was one of the “biggest events of my cycling career.” While the first day was manageable, he said, fatigue was heavy toward the end of the second day.
He is a seven-time finisher of the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, a midnight ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen held every March. In 2015, he and his teammate, Jack Wolfe, became the oldest team (combined age of 123) to complete the race.
Along the way, Warner has also served as president of the Colorado Prosthodontics Society (2004) and the Denver Dental Forum (1986). And after 36 years, he continues to enjoy his dentistry practice in Breckenridge.
Warner is the proud father of two daughters (Brittany, a 2010 CU grad, and Katy) and a grandson, Jaxon.
His advice to today’s students is straightforward: “If you find an aptitude like I did, you run with it.” At the same time, he advises students to remain flexible, given that the average person changes jobs every seven years.
Community service is also necessary and worth pursuing, Warner advised. “It’s helped me professionally and helped me be a better person.”