A short history of Summit County skiing
January 13, 2018
The most recent history of Summit County is all about the era of "white gold." While the beginnings of modern skiing appeared in the earliest days of the county, even during the Pikes Peak gold rush in the very early 1860s, skiing in the "old days" was almost entirely for transportation. The equipment differed completely from that seen today on the ski slopes. In fact, the skis, actually called snowshoes, were made of wood and measured as much as 10 to 12 feet in length, The skier steered and stopped with a single stout pole dragged behind him or her. Father John Dyer probably best exemplified this type of ski transportation. He skied between settlements, including Leadville, during the winter to both deliver mail and preach sermons.
Photographs and accounts in the latter 19th and the early 20th centuries indicate that similar equipment was used not only for transportation but for recreation and perhaps even competition. It appears that much of the recreational skiing resembled today's cross-country or Nordic skiing.
In 1910, a Norwegian named Peter Prestrud, who lived in Frisco, introduced what became a popular local sport: ski jumping. It became so popular that, just after World War I, residents constructed ski jumps near old Dillon, in Breckenridge, and elsewhere in the county. In 1919, Anders Haugen, a famous Norwegian skier, jumped to a world record of 213 feet at the Dillon jump located near the present-day Glory Hole/overflow outlet of Dillon Dam. The following year he broke his record with a jump of 214 feet.
In the years leading up to the 1960s, Summit County saw a great deal of recreational skiing in which women wearing long dresses and men enjoyed outings using long wooden skis.
A number of privately owned ski areas opened to the public for downhill skiing in this period as well. In the mid-1930s, the Hoosier Pass ski area opened and probably hosted skiers until the early 1940s. Two parallel cleared runs seen to the left of Route 9 as one ascends Hoosier Pass tell of its location. One of the original four log cabins stands within view of the old runs, near the road on the left.
Chalk Mountain, located on the right at the very top of Fremont Pass between Copper Mountain and Leadville and directly across the road from the present-day Climax Mine, opened in 1934-35. Built by Climax Mine employees and used mainly by them, the area also welcomed the public before closing around 1962.
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Developed by several 10th Mountain Division veterans as well as locally famous Max and Edna Dercum, the Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, located on Route 6 just below and to the west of Loveland Pass, opened to the public in 1946. The area is, of course, alive and well today and very much a part of modern-day Summit County skiing.
But the real story of modern skiing in the county began about 1959 when Wichita, Kansas-based Rounds and Porter Lumber Company looked into the possibility of acquiring land in Summit County to build a year-round, second-home recreational community. Rounds and Porter were not only purveyors of lumber products but also real estate developers and oil and gas explorers. Lake Dillon and the attendant potential of a water-based, summer recreational community attracted the company.
However, fairly early in the company's study, an exploration geologist named Bill Stark, an acquaintance of Rounds and Porter executive Bill Rounds, himself a skiing enthusiast, approached Rounds with the thought that the mountains around Breckenridge offered the potential for winter activities to compliment the summer activities possible at Lake Dillon. Stark, while spending time in the Breckenridge area prospecting and collecting specimens, realized the excellent possibilities for a ski area. Bill Rounds, when skiing that winter in Aspen, recruited the services of two Norwegian ski instructors to help evaluate the potential of Breckenridge. As the saying goes, the rest is history.
In 1960, the company applied to the U.S. Forest Service for a permit to build a ski area on Peaks 8, 9, and 10. The Forest Service completed its evaluation in March of 1961, and granted the permit on July 27, 1961, for 1,764 acres. Trail cutting on Peak 8 began immediately. The Peak 8 Ski Area, its original name, opened for business on December 16, 1961. Depending upon whom one asks and what one considers a "run," either six or seven original runs (Springmeier, Rounders, Swinger, Crescendo, Four O'Clock, Boreas Bounce, and Ego Lane) awaited skiers at the new area. The ski area no longer uses the last two names. At least two of the original names are now in slightly different locations on the mountain.
Over the years, crews cut many more trails and built more lifts on Peak 8. Peaks 9, 10, 7, and 6 opened in subsequent years in that order. The Bergenhof Restaurant on Peak 8 served its first customers during the 1961-62 season, while the Vista Haus began operating during the 1997-98 season. Peak 9, originally named Royal Tiger Mountain, opened for the 1971-72 season with the restaurant, originally named the Eagle's Roost and subsequently re-named the Peak 9 Restaurant, first providing meals during the 1973-74 season.
Peak 10 came next, during the 1985-86 season, with the TenMile Station restaurant welcoming diners during the 1998-99 season. Peak 7 followed in the 2002-03 season and then Peak 6 in the 2013-14 season, rounding out what today is the Breckenridge Ski Area. Other notable dates at Breckenridge include the inauguration of the Peak 8 SuperConnect, connecting Peaks 9 and 8 in an easy transit, during the 2002-03 season, and the construction of the BreckConnect Gondola for the 2006-07 season.
Elsewhere, Keystone Ski Resort opened for the 1970-71 season, while Copper Mountain opened the following ski season.
A look at how the Breckenridge trail names originated offers an interesting perspective on both the history of Summit County and the Breckenridge Ski Area. The resort is a bit unique amongst ski areas in the United States in that most of the resort's trail names actually mean something and come from somewhere. Many originated in local history; some refer to early ski area characters or events; and still others reflect the personal whims of early locals. No meaningless Heartbreak Hill or Whoopee! for Breckenridge! More like Briar Rose, Silverthorne, Springmeier, and CJs, all having a reason for being at Breckenridge.
The following chapters roughly follow the order that the several peaks of the ski area opened, Peaks 8, 9, 10, and 7. The naming and opening of the upper reaches of Peaks 7 and 8 came at various times during the life of the ski area, primarily in the mid-1980s, and don't fit neatly into a time line. Their history comes between the openings of Peaks 9 and 10 and conforms to the timing of the opening of the upper bowls.
With all due respect to the Breckenridge Ski Area, we have omitted Peak 6 for the simple reason that this area, opened during the 2013-14 season, does not have any names of historic significance.
This article is excerpted from a book.
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