Summit’s Historic Yesterdays: Chalk Mountain trains youngsters who become early ski race champs

Chalk Mountain rose just across Hwy. 91 from the company town of Climax. The Fremont Pass summit town thrived with its own hospital, school, stores and the major mine operation extracting molybdenum.
Courtesy Mary Ellen Gilliland |

Editor’s note: This week’s ski history comes from ““SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado.”

Ski enthusiasts commuting to Climax — such as the Dercums from Montezuma, skiers from the U.S. Army’s Camp Hale, and area town residents — all turned out in numbers sufficient to start a ski school at Chalk Mountain. Bert Snyder became the mountain’s ski coach. (Snyder and his wife, Shirley, whom he met at Climax, still spend summers at their home in Frisco. They have kids who live in Summit County.)

Chalk Mountain also launched a pioneering ski patrol. Marie Zdechlik served as a paid patrolwoman — one of the first in Colorado — earning $10 per day and $5 per night. A mother of young children, she split her pay with her babysitter. Louise Roloff, who volunteered for that ski patrol, recorded her memories in her memoir, “Did You Ever Get Enough Skiing?”

Beginning in 1945 I enjoyed spending Christmas in Climax with my sister Edith and her husband, Bill Pierce. I must have been a terrible houseguest since I played on the Climax ski hill every day. Jack and Zella Gorsuch ran a 600-foot rope tow on Chalk Mountain. A year or so later they had a good T-bar. I would help them out on the ski patrol during the day when school was out and the Climax workers had to work. It was fun skiing there, family style, and skiing with the Gorsuches and Zdechliks. When I paid for the T-bar rides, it cost me all of 75 cents. They operated the T-bar on Wednesday nights and also on Christmas Eve.

The tow operated Wednesday and Friday night, plus all day and evening on Saturday and Sunday.

By 1949, ski prices has risen but not by much. Season passes, including ski club membership, jumped to $11.50 for company employees, with children skiing free. Climax school students also enjoyed free ski school instruction and transportation to the ski area via an old Army ambulance. One reason the ski club could offer low prices: the club leased the T-bar from the Climax mine company for $1 per year.

Outsiders paid a heftier $16.50 annually. Non-Climax skiers had now discovered Chalk Mountain. Max and Edna Dercum brought their Ski Tip Lodge guests to Climax to ski on Christmas Day when Arapahoe Basin closed. They worked up a big appetite and had dinner at the Climax boarding house for $1.50 each.

But Climax kids got by far the best deal. Despite hand-me-down and borrowed equipment, they learned to excel as skiers. Jack Gorsuch’s son, Dave, won the 1956 junior national championship,1960 national championship, NCAA and intercollegiate championship. He made the U.S. Olympic ski team to compete at Squaw Valley. To practice slalom skiing as a youth Dave cut willow branches near the Arkansas River’s headwaters and stacked them to set a course for his turns. Jack Gorsuch’s grandchildren, Jackie’s sons, were local ski greats Rudd and Scott Pyles. Rudd earned honors such as FIS in 1970 and an Olympic team spot in 1972. His brother, Scott, was WSC International Collegiate downhill champion in 1968 and won the Roch Cup in 1970. Other Chalk Mountain skiers included Tom Malmgren, who became a top NCAA skier at the University of Denver and a U.S. Olympic team contender.

The kids and their parents learned ski racing skills at Chalk Mountain. Dave Gorsuch reminisced in a 2005 interview with Denver Post reporter John Meyer, “There were some very steep pitches up at the top. We used to have slab avalanches that would kick off every now and then. It was a good training hill. You could get a lot of runs in.”

Dave used to come home from school, complete his homework and then head for Chalk Mountain to night ski. Some of his early races took place not on Chalk Mountain but across the valley on Bartlett Mountain, today gouged beyond recognition by molybdenum mining.

Mary Ellen Gilliland’s “SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado,” has captured the colorful gold rush. She details the misbehavior of history’s miscreants in her “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods” and recounts the story of the region’s first town in “Breckenridge.” Gilliland is also the author of the popular guide, “The Summit Hiker.” All are available from The Next Page Bookstore or online at

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