The highest heights: How some early runs on Peaks 7 and 8 at Breckenridge got their names
Ryan Summerlin November 23, 2015
This is the fifth in a six-part series about the history of the ski run names at Breckenridge Ski Resort. To read the first four parts, visit www.summitdaily.com.
In recent articles, we’ve talked about how many of the more commonly skied runs on Peaks 7 and 8 at the Breckenridge Ski Area were named back in the day. Now, we’ll turn our attention to the highest regions of those peaks, the runs that probably few of us have experienced. Most of the runs are at altitudes close to 13,000 feet, and many are in hike-to country.
Last week, we spoke about longtime local CJ Mueller — a three-time world record speed skier and participant in the 1992 Winter Olympics demo debut of speed skiing. Mueller tells of many backcountry ski outings in the upper regions of Peaks 7 and 8 that he took with friends in the early to late 1970s. For ease of reference, the group came to informally name many of the areas where they skied. In the mid-1980s — probably 1984 or so, when the T-bar was built and facilitated access for normal human beings to the upper bowls — the ski patrol came to Mueller and asked what he and his band of merry speedsters (Wacky Tim Tucker, Larry the Lump Hardy, Mark Frees, Mike Priest, Deb Mason and a few others) called the various runs. Happy and flattered to be so consulted, Mueller pointed to the map, and we now have the following names and stories:
We noted last week that Debbie’s Ally was named after ski bum Deb Mason, who vanished shortly thereafter into the blizzards of history — probably, by now, a very respectable grandmother out there somewhere. Mueller found a sweet spot farther out on Peak 7 that came to be called Vertigo (upper and lower). Many times, when the group traversed out into that area, wind and blowing snow created total whiteout conditions and feelings of disorientation and, well, vertigo. But you always knew when you came to Vertigo — gentle slopes on either side of a shallow chute. Once you felt the chute, you just pointed your skis downhill, said your “Hail Mary” and shot downward, floating back and forth between the gentle sides.
In the mid-1980s the ski patrol came to CJ Mueller and asked what he and his band of merry speedsters called the various runs on Peaks 7 and 8.
The group ventured farther out into the bowl and skied what is now called Y-Chute due to its shape. The group originally named the southern-most of the two chutes CJ’s. Meanwhile, Mike Priest, a fellow backcountry skier, had named a chute further to the north My Line. When CJ presented his initial map to the patrol for naming purposes, management had a problem with CJ naming a run after himself. But then the powers-that-be saw My Line and thought that CJ had claimed that run for himself, not realizing that Mike Priest had actually named the chute. So management decided to let CJ have his run and re-named My Line CJ’s. Y-Chutes became Y-Chutes. True story — from the lips of CJ himself.
The origin of the Whale’s Tail area is less clear. The whole area beneath the ridge between Peaks 8 and 7 was originally called the White Whale, but in late spring, the pattern of the melting snow and surrounding rock areas resembles a true whale’s tail. So, the backcountry ski group came to call the area exactly that — Whale’s Tail.
One final Peak 7 run (whose name doesn’t appear on official maps) is Zipper, between Debbie’s Ally and Vertigo. A very long and skinny chute, the run was named with Bill Grubbs in mind, a local contractor nicknamed “Zipper” due to his height and thin profile.
Moving to the Peak 8 area, the story is similar — early informal names became established, on-the-map run names. CJ prefers wide-open terrain, and his favorite run off the top of Peak 8 was named Easy Street, the easiest way to get into the Lake Chutes area. Zoot Chute just sprang into CJ’s mind spontaneously — a great name for a steep chute. Fellow hiker Wacky Tim Tucker loved extremely steep and narrow runs with rock walls on each side, hence Wacky’s Chute. Wacky Tim was a house painter who removed snow and ice from rooftops during the wintertime. He currently divides his time among Breck, Wisconsin and Chamonix, France. Tough life. CJ, as many readers know, is alive and well and living in Breck; he works as a heavy equipment operator and is very active in the community.
Finally, a little lower, there is Cucumber Bowl on the north side of Horseshoe Bowl — probably named after nearby Cucumber Gulch (a local nature preserve) and Cucumber Creek. Cucumber (whose last name is lost in the snows of time) was one of the original 1859 prospectors and miners in Breck. In fact, he and a couple of friends were largely responsible for the stampede into Breck in late 1859, when the group traveled to the settlement of Denver to buy supplies for the winter. A few rounds of beer and a few gold nuggets to pay for it were all that were needed to spread the word and start the frenzy that became part of the Pikes Peak gold rush.
Many thanks to CJ Mueller for most of the stories cited in this article.
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