A Look Back
Skiers in the 1970s spent half the day in line, carried10-pound music players and tunedtheir own equipment.”I don’t think they were more daring.Th ere are definitely things skied todaythat weren’t skied back then,” said localresident Robin Th eobald, who grew upin the Breckenridge area.He said today’s culture of young skiersand snowboarders is “very much thesame.” They would ride longboards inthe off -season – down Vail and Fremontpasses. Th eobald said these roadswere just getting paved, allowing ampleopportunities for adrenaline junkies onboards 3-4 feet long.”It was fun,” he said. “I wore my AstralTunes.”Astral Tunes were a great-greatgrandfatherto the iPod. Th e cassettedeck “had a battery pack that wentwith it that was as big as a small childstrapped to your chest,” weighing 10 orso pounds, Th eobald said.He said he would ski mostly to theGrateful Dead, but Fleetwood Mac andthe Rolling Stones frequently played.People used hand tools, an iron andperhaps a soldering iron to get skis intune for the mountain.”Pretty much, most people did it themselves,because that’s how you got itdone,” he said. “Now you can drop ,emoff in the afternoon and pick them upin the morning.”Th e technology has advanced, he said,to the point that now it often makesmore sense to pay someone else fora tune.
Though the shape and responsivenessof skis – such as the alpine touring ski,which allows uphill cross-country styletravel before latching in for the downhill- has improved greatly, peoplewere still working their way into thebackcountry for thrills.”People were always going up; it wasjust that they weren’t coming down asgracefully as you can with your heellocked down,” Theobald said.Skins, which are applied to the bottomof skis for grip when climbing uphill,weren’t widely available.”You just used different waxes to gouphill,” he said.Th e ski areas were smaller.”Th e north side of Peak 9 (in Breckenridge)was the place to go over and skithe trees before there was a ski area,”Theobald said. “We used to call that theField of Champions.”Snowmaking, high-speed chairs andwidespread grooming have also changedthe ski areas’ landscapes.In the late 1970s, the Breckenridge skiarea opened one year on Thanksgivingbut had to close again due to a lack ofsnow.”Th ere was really no snow,” Theobaldsaid. “And it was kind of devastating tothe community.”Similar to present day, the local economydepended heavily on skier traffic.”We got a DJ who went on the air andwasn’t going to go off the air until therewas a snowstorm,” he said, adding thatthe guy lasted eight or nine days. “Th ewriting was on the wall that snowmakingwas going to come.”Theobald said snowmaking continuesto make a difference.”Last winter was kind of a bad snowyear, but the skiing was never bad,” hesaid. “It was really a credit to snowmakersand the groomers that made lastseason, as far as I’m concerned.”
Local ski area improvements and thecontinued legacy of fascinating peopleare appealing attributes, but somethingmay have been lost.Mountain Gazette editor John Fayhee,formerly of the Summit Daily News,said the local communities remain moreegalitarian than most, but “far moresocially stratified than it used to be.””Time was, when each town had acouple of bars, and everyone gatheredat those bars, rich or poor, hippie or fascist,”he said. “These towns felt far moreisolated back in those days. You had toget along with your neighbors, even ifyou didn’t like or agree with them.”He said that like today, many of theresidents in decades past came to theHigh Country to fi nd a way to “pull offa hedonistic mountain lifestyle.”It was a time before outlet stores, highdollarrestaurants and world-class lodgingoptions.Fayhee said that in about the mid-1980s many of the locals started “sellingout,” aiming no longer to scratch outa meager existence but to aspire towardeconomic development.”Th is is when a lot of those erstwhilehedonists started getting real estatelicenses and rationalizing the obliterationof elk habitat so a new subdivisioncould be built in the name of ‘progress'(read: feathering their own nests),” hesaid.”Part of that dark era … consisted ofmaking mountain country as comfortableas possible so as to attract moneybearingpeople – visitors, second homeowners,retirees – who basically werenot tough enough to dwell in mountaincountry unless there were things likeHome Depot and sidewalks plowed sointensely that you could go out for aglass of expensive wine wearing highheels,” he said.He said the “big kahunas” who arrivedin the High Country from out of state”have little interest in rubbing elbowsover beers with the people who plowtheir driveways.”But – and this is big – despiteall that negative social evolution,mountain people by and large remainthe most friendly folks on earth,”he said. “That says something aboutboth the people and, more intensely,the power and glory of the mountainsthemselves.”
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