In 1961, the now-thriving four-mountain Breckenridge Ski Resort was just a smattering of cut runs, a few chairlifts and three modest buildings.
The Bergenhof was one of them.
For nearly 50 years, the restaurant affectionately known to locals as the Bergie was the centerpiece of the Peak 8 base area, a place where skiers and resort employees gathered for drinks, parties and a weekly viewing of Breckenridge legend Trygve Berge’s jumps and backflips on the Ego Lane run.
“I don’t remember that I ever had any money to buy anything, but I do remember hanging out in the bar,” said longtime Breckenridge local Maureen Nicholls, who worked for ski patrol in the resort’s early days. “It was great fun.”
Now the Breckenridge institution is in its final days. Locally owned lodging company Breckenridge Grand Vacations (BGV) closed on the purchase of the Bergie site Monday with plans to put a new time-share development on the site. Owners said the old building is slated for demolition in the near future.
The building of Breckenridge
The Bergenhof’s long and storied history is almost inextricable from that of the ski area itself.
Locals remember the dawn of the now-booming industry in Breckenridge as an answer, not to a landscape ideal for skiing, but to a wave of new construction.
“Their whole point was not a ski area, the point was selling land for development,” Nicholls said. “The ski area was an off shoot of that sort of promoted by the Norwegians.”
The Bergenhof was constructed at the same time as the fledgling resort. Locals remember it being built in just six months, despite a heavy early season storm that dumped roughly 17 inches of snow in September of that year.
The restaurant opened the day before the ski area, with a big party to mark the start of the 1961 season, locals say. It was one of three buildings that made up the Peak 8 base area. The second structure housed the ski school, a small ticket sales office and other resort functions, while the third was set up at the base of the chairlift.
When it opened, the Bergenhof was the only restaurant on the mountain and was equipped with bathrooms, something former patrons say was a big deal at the time. Its grand stone fire place, bar and wrap-around deck made it an instant success and gathering place for skiers at the end of the day.
“It was a lot of fun in those days,” former Bergie manager Michael Colpitts, who ran the restaurant from 1974 until 1990, told the Summit Daily in an email. “People drank a lot and skied a lot. There were town races. People competed hard in the races, but they drank harder. And they drank in the Bergie bar.”
He remembered pouring plenty of Coors, for $1 a beer, and peppermint schnapps, also $1 each, and seeing some locals every afternoon, even when they weren’t skiing. The restaurant served “Bergie balls,” which were burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches or whatever other food didn’t sell during the day, deep fried and served as fritters. Happy hour brought a free taco and appetizer bar, sustenance that the “ski bums” told Colpitts got them through the winter.
“It was the happening place,” he said.
The resort soon began adding on to the building to help accommodate growing crowds, expanding both the deck and the building over the years.
Colpitts remembers trying to limit unauthorized parking around the popular restaurant with very little success.
“I soon learned that I should not try to enforce parking rules,” he said. “When I was informed that my car would end up in a mine shaft if I towed them, I came to my senses.”
But as the building aged, maintenance became a growing problem. Colpitts remembered walking into the bar one day in the summer of 1975 and smelling gas. Ice had fallen from the roof of the building and split a 2-inch gas line. He hurried home to call the resort handyman who was able to shut off the gas.
“We saved the Bergie!” Colpitts said.
Breckenridge Ski Resort traded hands several times during the decades that followed, but other than the periodic expansions, “the Bergie continued pretty much the same,” Colpitts said. “The bar was still the apres ski bar of choice.”
By any other name
The origin of the Bergenhof’s unusual name is a popular source of speculation among Breckenridge locals. One rumor holds the restaurant was named for the now almost legendary Trygve Berge, who taught ski school at the resort for many years and helped initiate the Norwegian tradition that continues today both on the slopes and across the community.
Colpitts said the establishment was dubbed after one-time leader of the German Nazi Party Adolf Hitler’s mountain hideaway.
“I did not name it,” he said.
But most, including Nicholls and resort representatives, agree the name came from the Norwegian phrase for mountain house and was originally written Bergen Hoff.
“When the signs were made, it became one word with only one ‘f,’” Nicholls said. “But the real Norwegian way of doing it would have been two words.”
Whatever the origins of the moniker, to locals it became known as the Bergie and it is that title that will live on in the restaurant’s place.
Owners of the new development say they plan to name the new restaurant inside the resort after its predecessor. They also hope to incorporate pieces of the original building.
“It will be called the Bergie Cafe or Bergie Bistro,” BGV co-owner Mike Dudick said. “Not Bergenhof, but Bergie. We’re going to attempt to salvage the fireplace and to reuse the bar top.”
The ski area is now one of the most visited resorts in the country. Vail Resorts representatives said the decision was made to shut down the Bergie several seasons ago, when they opened the larger Ski Hill Grill and T-Bar nearby.
“It closed because we didn’t need two restaurants right here,” Breckenridge Ski Resort spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stewart said. “It just wasn’t built for the kind of volume we were doing. We just needed a sturdier facility.”
Developers don’t have a demolition date set, but say the old building will be torn down soon.