Breckenridge: Rope tow to heaven
April 3, 2009
This look at early skiing is an excerpt from Mary Ellen Gilliland’s forthcoming book, BRECKENRIDGE, 150 Years of Golden History, to be published in May in celebration of the town’s 150th anniversary.
Many do not realize Breckenridge was one of the first places in Colorado to have skiing and that the sport was embraced by the town long before the opening of the Breckenridge Ski Resort. During the early days of Breckenridge, residents often used skis as a mode of transportation as well as a winter pastime.
In the 1920s, the Dillon ski jump attracted skiers from all over. A 1920 jump tournament there drew early-day newsreel photographers and 1,000 spectators. They witnessed a world-record 214-foot jump by Norway’s Anders Haugen. But Breckenridge, which had skiing on Shock Hill since the 1880s, needed more of the action. And they got it.
Things started rolling when the South Park Lions Club launched plans to build a ski run near the Hoosier Pass summit. Its sole challenge: winter access. Highway 9 in the 1930s, even in town, rarely saw a plow. Snow blocked Hoosier Pass. In late May and June, volunteers, sometimes aided by a two-horse team and crude plow, shoveled it clear. But in 1937, the Colorado Highway Department constructed a building to house their rotary snowplow and took over maintaining Hoosier Pass road.
Ski enthusiasts rushed to install a rope tow at the Hoosier summit in 1937 and saw their reward with a horde of 500 exultant skiers. Early Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge cars jammed the summit parking and roadway, frustrating highway officials. So the ski course moved nearer Breckenridge to a new site below the Bemrose Mine with room for parking. Bemrose mine cabins became skier sleeping quarters. Soon the Hoosier Pass Club opened, offering a bar, complete with jukebox, dining and lodging. Breckenridge’s first ski resort, now a full-service facility, awaited international fame.
It came. A globe-trotting ski entourage arrived in January, 1938 according to the January 7 Summit County Journal. They came because of sparse snow at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, their luxurious ski destination. Count Phillipe de Fret of Belgium, Merrell Fanone of New York City, Walter Abel of Baltimore and Nice, France, and eight other 1930s glitterati created headline news when they skied Hoosier Pass. The area’s two north-facing runs, separated by a tree island, provided top-quality snow.
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Lesser mortals used the rope tow at the 1939 Blue Valley Ski Course at Carter Park. After the war in 1948, Breckenridge fire department volunteers brought in a motor and transformed Montezuma mine-tram equipment to update the existing rope tow there. They also installed lights for night skiing. In 1948-50, the hill stayed open two nights a week. Many youngsters learned to ski at Carter Park. Local instructors, including Summit County ski legend Edna Dercum, put small skiers onto war-used U.S. Army Tenth Mountain Division skis, painted white for camouflage.
Starting in the 1940s, Peak 10 drew a merry group of summer skiers to its July 4 snowfields. But Breckenridge had to wait another two decades for a lasting ski resort, Peak 8, later called Breckenridge, which opened in 1961.
Maureen Nicholls provided research for this article.