This is the fourth in a six-part series about the history of the ski run names at Breckenridge Ski Resort. To read the first three parts, visit www.summitdaily.com.
In previous articles, we’ve traced the naming of many of the ski runs on Peaks 7 and 8 at the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Now, we’ll turn to some really interesting tales — the very upper runs of both peaks accessible only from the T-bar, 6-Chair and the Imperial Chair. This will be a fun two-part mini-series, since there are many stories to tell of “the good old days” and the backcountry skiing that took place in the 1970s and ’80s.
Longtime local CJ “Crazy John” Mueller — a three-time world-record speed skier and participant in the 1992 Winter Olympics demo debut of speed skiing — tells of many backcountry ski outings in the North Bowl and Imperial Bowl areas between and around the peaks that he made with friends in the early to late 1970s. For ease of reference, he and the others came to informally name some of the bowl areas where they skied — our future runs. This was long before the bowls were a part of the ski area, of course.
CJ’s run was a natural — steep and straight down from near the top of Peak 7, although tune in next week for the full story of how CJ’s really became CJ’s. The run wasn’t where it is now. Among the group was a girl named Deb Mason. CJ has little idea of who she was or where she came from — just a ’70s ski bum like everyone else, having a good time, but an excellent skier nonetheless. Debbie’s Alley bears her name to this day, whoever and wherever she is. (The group decided that “Debbie’s Ally” sounded better than “Deb’s Ally,” for some reason.) Reportedly, Deb was a chef and moved on to Washington state at some point. The ski patrol has another story about CJ’s naming of the run — and what Debbie was doing there — but we’ll leave that to your imagination. Maybe both stories are one and the same.
Whales Tail has a similar informal origin. Take a look at the top of the bowl between Peaks 8 and 7 in the late spring, when the surrounding rocks are visible, and the name’s origin will be clear. But there is also the Whale’s Tail restaurant on Main Street whose owner, Bill Reed, was apparently nicknamed “Whale.” So which came first? One of those mysteries of the cosmos, we suppose.
And then there is Art’s Bowle on the north end of the ski area. This, appropriately enough, was named after Art Bowles, mountain manager between 1977 and 1991. Art is alive and well, living in Basalt, and, at 83, still skiing several days a week at Snowmass (which he used to manage, as well). And did you ever notice that two of Art’s runs are named Tele and Sadie? They were Breck’s original avalanche dogs, who did their time on the slopes looking for avalanche victims.
Right near the top of Peak 8 — which in Breck’s early days, by the way, was called Mount Tillie Ann, in honor of Matilda Silverthorn, the first white girl to climb Peak 8 — is the run with the strange name “George’s Thumb.” “George” is actually George Gruber, a very much alive, retired ski patroller and contractor living near Breck.
Back in the early to mid-1980s, George was assigned to accompany a photographic crew that was taking publicity photos — with models — of the ski area and to keep them safe. At one point, George was skiing behind the models during a “shoot” in his namesake area. As luck would have it, George’s thumb — but not the rest of George — made its way into the photo, thus potentially ruining that photo’s use in any ads. But fate stepped in and immortalized George — the ski area used the photo anyway on the front of the next year’s trail map.
The ski patrol — for reasons known only to them — named this area George’s Thumb, and when the run officially became part of the ski area, there was George and his thumb. True story — direct from George and George’s wife, Melissa, with thanks to Mike McCord.
And, speaking of history, we’re pondering one of those mysteries whose answer is probably buried in the blizzards of times past. Isn’t this the ski area’s 53rd season, not the recently, and officially, announced 52nd season? Count it out on your fingers. Maybe, since the ski area was opened and closed somewhat sporadically in the 1980-81 season due to a snow drought, that season didn’t count for official purposes.
Tune in next week for more answers to unasked questions.