The 1980s: Breckenridge comes of age
December 3, 2011
It was the age of the neon one-piece, rear-entry boots and 200-centimeter GS skis. It was also a time of great transformation for Breckenridge, which was officially on the map by the end of the decade.
Taking a trip back (perhaps in a hot-tub time machine), one would find the ski mountain to be a very different place in 1989 compared to 1980 – some say more corporate and certainly a lot busier.
“People wanted long, straight skis,” said Rick Ascher of Pup’s Glide Shop on Ski Hill Road in Breck. “207s seemed to be the norm, and rear-entry boots were coming out. I thought they were great. I loved the way you could get in and out of them with just one buckle, and they skied fine, I thought.”
Everyone wanted to be a racer back then, but there was still a
great deal to be said for a daffy, backscratcher or perhaps a spread eagle with the poles through the legs. Dual mogul contests and Powder 8s were some of the choice means of anointing the king of the mountain. It was originally local patrollers who participated, then later ski instructors and other ski-bummin’ types.
“There was a good sense of community back then. People were skiing all the time. You’d know everybody up there,” Ascher said. “It was kind of the end of the era when things became more corporate. Things really started to change, and there were more and more newcomers, as (Breck) became more on the map.”
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“It went from being podunk to big time,” chimed in Jim Grotemeyer, also of the Glide Shop, while buffing out a race ski probably 30 percent shorter than those used in the ’80s.
They said locals were doing less work, often sleeping in buses and in closets. The cost (and quality) of living was a bit lower, but the mountain was skiing just as well. A lot of people would simply take the whole winter off and live in a cabin up on the hill. It was harder to find work, but people in town didn’t necessarily need it quite as much as they do now.
Snowboarding was a major addition to the mountain. What started as a bizarre trend, not unlike the mono-ski, never went out of fashion. The town was probably one of the first to open a snowboard shop, “Snowboards of the Rockies.”
“They were rabble-rousers, for sure,” Ascher said. “They built up a pile of snow right next to the river and it turned into a quarterpipe to start doing their little tricks. But it became quite popular. We thought it was a fad, but it was a fad that never went away. This town really took to it, and they had one of the first competitions right here.”
April Fools’ Day parties at the bottom of the front bowls signaled a near-end to the season. They were a lot of fun for everyone, except those whose day ended with a toboggan ride.
“The April Fools’ parties were crazy. They’d bring kegs and kegs of beer, boxes and boxes of Schnapps and wine, Ascher said. “You’d have three-legged races. You’d have turn contests down Outlaw to see who could make the most turns. They’d have barbecue up there and bands. It was a lot of fun.”
Physical changes and improvements to the mountain included replacing the upper Poma lift with the T-bar to give skiers some company as they were being tugged up the hill. And the mountain added the Quicksilver chair, the first high-speed, detachable quad in the world.
“These days it’s crowded, but the lift system is better. The lifts were so bad and slow back then, so even though there weren’t too many people, it was really slow – I think even bigger lines. You’re talking about standing in line for 45 minutes, maybe an hour. And that chair went nowhere.” said Grotemeyer.
All in all, things weren’t too terribly different from how they are now.
“It was a really fun time. I didn’t have any responsibilities. I had a good job,” Ascher said. “Get up, go to work at a ski shop, go skiing all day, start apres skiing. It was great.”