Ski Through History in Breckenridge
What: Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s Ski Through History Tour
When: Mondays 1-4 p.m. (meets at 12:30 p.m.) through April 11
Where: Breckenridge Ski Resort
Cost: $20/Adult (ages 13+), $15/Child (ages 10-12)
More information: Reservations and payment are required by 6 p.m. the Sunday prior to the tour and can be made online, at the Welcome Center or by calling 970-453-9767 x2. Guests must ski or board at an intermediate skill level, provide their own equipment, and possess a valid lift ticket to participate in this tour. Minimum age requirement to participate is 10 years old.
As our group of four stood on the base of Peak 8 in Breckenridge after stepping into gear, we marveled at the size of the construction going up next to the gondola, the future home to The Grand Colorado on Peak 8. Building is still underway for Breckenridge Grand Vacation’s newest timeshare resort, but the 75-unit property will stand on the exact spot of Breckenridge Ski Resort’s original Berganhof Lodge, built in 1961.
Our guide, Sharon, hands me an old postcard showing the Berganhof Lodge back in the day. Breckenridge has a long history from the time miners began showing up in search of gold, to the early days of the ski resort, to present, and the names of the runs shed light on some of that history. We were about to get a glimpse into the town’s colorful past during the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s (BHA) Ski Through History Tour.
There were two other locals with our guide and myself — Andy was a ski instructor interested in obtaining more knowledge about the resort and town for when he’s teaching, and Karen, his friend who also lives in Summit. I was the lone snowboarder, but it didn’t make too much of a difference. Sharon took time to weave more into the lesson after we got off each lift, giving me time to strap in. And Andy became my new best friend that day on a couple of flat traverses, lending a helping pole so I wouldn’t have to unstrap.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
The first record of a gold discovery was made on Aug. 10, 1859, and the mining days are where the town really got its start. With dreams to get rich, people flocked to Breckenridge to either mine for gold, or mine the miners by providing them with services they might need — including saloons and women. Life was hard for these “soiled doves,” and many of them took to drugs to get through the days.
Sharon told us how common it was for miners to steal a staked claim from its owner. Miners had to watch their backs from these “claimjumpers,” which is now the name of a run on Peak 8.
As we rode the chair to our next destination, Sharon told us the two theories about how Breckenridge got its name. As civilization in our mountain town is only around 150 years old, a baby compared to towns in the East, she questions why there isn’t a more definite answer on the books. But, she tells us, a prospector by the name of Thomas B. Breckenridge had been on an exploration expedition in 1845 and had lost his mule on a pass near the current Boreas Pass. The leader of the exploration became irritated when Thomas took a few days to find the mule, and declared the pass forever named Breckenridge Pass. It is believed that one of the parties traveling into the area in August of 1859 named their settlement after the pass and Thomas.
The second theory involves John Cabell Breckinridge, the vice president under James Buchanan. A man named George Spencer, hoping to sell lots to the miners in an officially surveyed town, decided he needed a post office to accomplish this. Turning to Vice President Breckinridge, he said in return for the post office he would name the town Breckinridge (even though it was probably already named Breckenridge), and the vice president made it happen. As history has it, citizens of the town were so enraged with the vice president after he became a high-ranking official with the Confederacy in the Civil War that they changed the spelling to its current, after Thomas.
On the Colorado SuperChair, Sharon asked us to name all the owners of the resort. I had known about Ralston Purina in the ’90s, but was pretty surprised at some of the others. It begins with original founder Bill Rounds, then Harry Baum, and in 1970, Breckenridge was purchased by the Aspen Skiing Company, when it began to expand into Peak 9. By 1978, Aspen Skiing Company was sold to Twentieth Century Fox, which was rolling in the money from “Star Wars.” During this ownership is where the runs “High Anxiety” and “Goodbye Girl” were named after a popular movies of the time. It was sold to a Japanese company in the ’80s, and in 1985, Breckenridge expanded to Peak 10, with runs named by mountain manager Jim Gill after World War II planes.
SO MUCH MORE HISTORY
It was starting to get windy, and we were all in need of a break, so Sharon stopped us at TenMile Station, and showed us a few photos. One of my favorite stories was about the name of a run on Peak 8 — “George’s Thumb.” In the early to mid 1980s, George Gruber was a ski patroller who was given the duty of following around a crew of photographers and models to guide them around the area and keep them safe. During the shoot, in his now namesake area, somehow Gruber’s thumb, and just his thumb, made it into one of the photos. Although he ruined that picture for any ads, the ski area ended up using the photo on the cover of the next year’s trail map. Apparently the powers that be had a sense of humor back in the day.
We finished off the tour by taking the Peak 8 SuperConnect back to where we had started from for a final run down. Sharon was a wealth of knowledge when it came to the history of Breckenridge and the resort, and dumped so much information on us during the tour, I can’t even imagine how she memorized it all. There were many more colorful characters we learned about on our tour — Little Johnny, CJ Mueller, Deb Mason, Trygve Berge — and it’s also a nice tour of the mountain for out-of-town guests. With its mining history and early days of skiing, Breckenridge’s colorful past is showcased on this tour.
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