The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance recently added a new item to its lineup of guided tours. The Ski Through History Tour takes intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders on a trip across the peaks of the resort to learn about the historical significance behind the names of some of the ski runs.
“We added this tour because there is such a great tie-in between the names of the runs and settlement and founding of the town,” said Cindy Hintgen, operations manager for the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.
Starting on Peak 8
The tour meets at the base of Peak 8 and starts by heading up the Rocky Mountain SuperChair. Midway up the lift, a small, bald patch of snow off to the right is visible between the trees. Tour guide Kim Ruhland explained that the spot marks the top of the very first chairlift at Breckenridge, called the Heron 1.
“The base of the lift was at the Bergenhoff Restaurant,” Ruhland said, pointing over her shoulder and back down the mountain to the bottom of Peak 8. “The Bergie,” as the place was nicknamed, saw its last skiers during the 2012-13 season.
The ski resort itself began on Peak 8, spanning the mountain from Northstar on the north end to Southern Cross on the southern boundary, Ruhland said. Continuing up the Rocky lift, a handful of ski runs come into view, including one on the left-hand side called Little Johnny. Ruhland divulges that the run was named for a lift operator who was known to work all day and party hard at night.
A few other runs on Peak 8 were named for some of the original familiar faces at Breckenridge. Duke’s Run, which runs parallel to and eventually merges with Northstar, was named for Paul Duke, one of the first mountain managers. In the late 1960s, Duke rescued two employees from a large fire at one of the mountain lodges, Ruhland said, adding that the run that bears his name is one of her favorites to ski.
A quick jaunt to Peak 7
Traversing below the T-Bar to Peak 7, Ruhland digs deeper into the mining history of Breckenridge.
The town experienced three distinct mining booms, she said, the first of which occurred with the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of the 1850s.
Placer mining was the popular route, extracting minerals from surface deposits with water and panning. Once all of the desired minerals had been scratched off the surface, hard-rock or lode mining, digging tunnels and using dynamite, took over in the 1890s and lasted until the 1920s, Ruhland said. The lode-mining period overlapped with the onset of the dredges, which chewed their way up riverbeds in the early 1900s.
Evidence of the impact of mining on Breckenridge’s history can be seen peppered across the eastern wall of the valley, Ruhland said, and in the names of the runs on Peak 7, ranging from Claimjumper to Wirepatch to Monte Cristo.
The theme also carries over to Peak 9, with the runs Wellington and Country Boy taking their names from nearby mining operations.
“Breckenridge was a town over 100 years before the ski area opened,” Hintgen said. “The individuals who opened Breckenridge to skiing recognized the importance of maintaining the town’s heritage by naming the runs after mines such as Cashier (Peak 9), Briar Rose (Peak 9), as well as Fort Mary B (Peak 7), the first ‘white man built’ structure in Breckenridge.”
The three-hour tour
The tour has made its way from Peak 7, across Peak 8 to Peak 9, and the stories of each run are now coming rapid-fire from Ruhland.
The names of the runs contain bits and pieces from the entirety of Breckenridge’s past, from the mining days, through the late 1950s, when the population of the town was hovering around 300 people, to present day.
The monikers range from well-known local ski legends and homages to ghost towns to movie titles, courtesy of a stint when 20th Century Fox owned the resort, Hintgen said. Almost every run on the mountain has its own story, some two or three, depending on whom you ask, Ruhland said.
Regardless of whether your favorite runs are Tele and Sadie — named for two of the first avalanche dogs at Breck — or grabbing face shots on George’s Thumb — the result of a botched marketing photo featuring George Gruber’s actual thumb — learning about the tales behind the trails enriches the skiing experience.