A glimpse into the lives of four of Colorado’s Summit County’s proud locals
It takes a different breed to not only endure, but thoroughly enjoy up to eight months of winter every year like we do in Summit County. Some were born here, testing their mettle against the mountains and elements from day one, while others were called to the mountains. Regardless of how they got here, Summit’s locals make up a tight-knit group highlighted here by some of the remarkable individuals who make this environment a community.
The youngest of our group, Axl Bonenberger is one of the most fearless. While most 10 year olds are trying to navigate the elementary school hallways, Bonenberger has traded in his hall pass for a computer and ski pass. An avid freeskier, Bonenberger goes to school online and spends three to five days per week training at the terrain parks and local resorts he now calls home.
Though his family moved here when Axl was nine months old, it’s clear from seeing him ski that Axl has always been a mountain kid.
Just ask him what his favorite Summit memory is, and he will describe strapping on his skis and jumping off the roof of the family home to use a jump he and his dad built on a particular powder day.
The reigning U-9 freeski national champion has already qualified for the USA Snowboard and Freeski Association National Championship at Copper Mountain, and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. With an eye on the future, Bonenberger wants to just keep skiing and building the community of friends that makes Summit his home. So next time you are in the terrain park, look for the 10-year-old uncorking a 720 above your head, and give Axl a nod.
Mary Ellen Gilliland
Mary Ellen Gilliland is the perfect spokeswoman for Summit County’s history. As mountain residents for 45 years, Mary Ellen and her husband Larry have been here since “before there was a stoplight in the county, a grocery store or fast food.” And she has the stories to prove it.
Mary Ellen graduated college with a degree in journalism, and soon found herself working for a magazine in New York, eventually becoming editor. It was at this time that her first book was published by Home and Circle.
The Gillilands later spent four years in Hawaii before Larry took a job working in Vail, and eventually in Keystone. On arrival, Mary Ellen was in family mode, saying she had “a few years of diapers and tantrums” when first coming to the county. It didn’t take long for Mary Ellen to swing back into writing mode however, and when her youngest child was 3 years old, Mary Ellen began working for a glossy magazine published by the Summit Sentinel.
It was in this position that she first got a glimpse of how much the public sought after Summit’s history. Initially talking to old timers and writing stories for the magazine, she went on to publish her first book “Summit: A Gold Rush History.”
After establishing herself with the local crowd, Mary Ellen would go on to publish 16 books, including her most popular works — the “Summit Hiker” and “Vail Hiker.”
The idea of living in Summit seemed to swirl around Rick Hague for many years. As a student at the Colorado School of Mines, first an undergraduate mining geologist and then a graduate mining engineer, Hague spent a summer working in Alma, where he fell in love with the idea of living in the mountains.
Hague first went to work for a large mining company in San Francisco though, where his mining career would take a twist. He started working with the marine division of the company, and before long was in charge of a fleet of carriers responsible for getting shipments to and from the company’s iron mine in Brazil and coal mines in Australia. Still the family continued to take one out-of-state vacation a year, usually choosing Colorado.
Eventually, Hague began working for a smaller mining company and transferred to Dallas, Texas, where he worked on the banking side. This would lead to his third career as a financial consultant with Price Waterhouse.
Eventually Rick and his wife began to think about where to retire and decided Breckenridge was the place to call home. They purchased a home here in 1998, and made the final move to full-time in 2003. The Hagues immediately became a part of the community with Rick working as a tour guide at the Lomax and Washington mines.
Since then Hague has shared his mining and history knowledge as a member of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and Summit Historical Society boards. After writing several articles for the Summit Daily News, Hague is now in the process of compiling all of his articles for a 50th anniversary book for the Summit Historical Society.
Tamara Drangstveit is an overachiever. By February, the executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) and mother of three has already accomplished her New Year’s resolution of “surviving until the twins turn 1.”
Drangstveit moved to Summit County 11 years ago when she and her husband decided this would be the ideal place to raise a family after skiing here. Drangstveit began life in the county working for Vail Resorts. It was during her time at Keystone Resort that her boss, a member of the FIRC’s board, approached her with the idea of applying for the executive director position.
In her time with the organization, Drangstveit has continued implementing programs to help working families throughout the county. As the housing crisis builds along with increased costs in medical and childcare, the FIRC has continued to be a growing source of support for the community. Looking forward, Drangstveit hopes the FIRC will be able to increase offerings in Breckenridge with the development of a new office in town.
When she is not working or acting as mom to her daughter — a new preschooler — and 1-year-old twins, you might be able to find Drangstveit on a snowmobile. Initially purchased to support her and her husband’s backcountry skiing adventures, the snowmobiles seem to have replaced skis as the family’s favorite mode of recreation. But if you do see her out in the backcountry, good luck keeping up; remember she’s an overachiever.
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