Breckenridge Heritage Alliance celebrates Breckenridge’s birthday with ‘60 Years of Breckenridge Ski Resort History in 60 Objects’
Exhibit runs for at least six months
Breckenridge Ski Resort turns 60 years old this week. To mark the occasion, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance has a new exhibit opening Thursday, Dec. 16, the same day the resort opened in 1961. Called “60 Years of Breckenridge Ski Resort History in 60 Objects,” the unique collection doesn’t follow a chronological history of the resort like museumgoers might expect.
Instead, it relies on the displayed artifacts to tell the story of how the resort was shaped over the years.
“It was important for every object to have its own story,” Breckenridge Heritage Alliance Executive Director Larissa O’Neil said. “The resort has had kind of a unique history. It wasn’t founded by the 10th Mountain Division veterans. … We just felt like we could do a neat job of doing a display that wasn’t chronological, that wasn’t along a timeline, that was just a funky collection of things that together tell this complete history in a unique way.
In the works for over a year, the exhibit is the result of balancing cost-saving measures during the pandemic while recognizing a large community milestone is coming.
Roughly half of the 60 objects come from the alliance’s own collection, while the other half was donated by community members after a call was put out over the summer. The colorful and eclectic mix of objects includes skis from ski racer Jean-Claude Killy, snowboards that highlight the fact that Breckenridge was the first major resort to allow snowboards, clothing, advertisements, prescient marketing materials espousing the future of the resort and trail maps.
“This is a unique exhibit for us,” O’Neil said. “We did have a ski museum for many years, so some of the pieces that were in that museum you will see here, but we’ve never done a display that is so heavy in the sheer number of objects. We definitely had a new challenge in front of us with being able to find a way to display all 60 of these.”
O’Neil called it a labor of love as most of the installation work was done in house and each object required its own interpretative panel and ways of being displayed. She said they were able to use a lot of recycled materials from past exhibits for pedestals.
There are also a few items that are sure to surprise visitors, such as a tooth fairy costume frequently seen at Bump Buffet telemark competitions that was donated by former mayor and dentist John Warner.
Despite the generally joyful environment, O’Neil also wanted to make sure the exhibit encompassed the resort’s history as much as possible.
“The feeling that people get when they walk in is kind of bright and fun and lighthearted, but there is also some pretty serious topics in the ski area’s history that we try to cover,” O’Neil said, adding that there are displays about a deadly explosion at the base area in the 1960s and a fatal avalanche on upper Peak 7 in the 1980s.
The 60 items cover all six decades of the resort’s history and range in size from a coin to a chairlift. The chair, from the old 1-Chair that was at the base of Peak 8, was donated by Greg and Carroll Birk. The Birks donated the chair and a photo of the construction of the Alpine slide.
Fresh out of college, the Birks moved to Breckenridge when they were in their 20s in 1978 and lived there until 1982.
They worked various jobs around town, such as at the resort’s ski school or being a ski mechanic at a ski shop. Greg Birk mainly worked in property management at places like the Tamarisk Condominiums in the Four Seasons Village by Peak 9.
Passionate about the past, Greg Birk enrolled in Maureen Nichols’ local history class at the old Colorado Mountain College. One day he heard that the resort was selling chairs from the 1 Chair for $50 each.
“So I got a friend with a truck and went up there and said, ‘Yeah, I want one of these,’” Greg Birk said. “I was into the history of the area and everything.”
However, the blue, two-person chair made with wooden slats stayed in storage — until now. Other artifacts alongside it are a snow gun, which signifies why the resort does snowmaking following a major drought in the 1980s that shut down the resort, and a speed-skiing helmet from C.J. Mueller.
There is also an interactive opportunity for visitors to write about what objects have shaped their skiing or snowboarding experience at Breckenridge through the years. And while the completed exhibit no longer needs donated artifacts, O’Neil said people are always welcome to reach out to the nonprofit if they think they have something interesting to give to the alliance’s archives.
“60 Years of Breckenridge Ski Resort History in 60 Objects” is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays at the second floor of the Breckenridge Welcome Center, 203 S. Main St. The exhibit will be open for at least six months for the duration of ski season. The museum is free, but there is a $5 suggested donation.
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