Breckenridge Ski Resort co-founder Trygve Berge turns 90

Friends, family can celebrate the occasion April 11

Breckenridge Ski Resort co-founder Trygve stands in Breckenridge with the slopes in the background Friday, April 1. Berge directed the ski school and co-founded Ullr Fest.
Ashley Low/For the Summit Daily News

Trygve Berge’s storied legacy spans the 60 years of Breckenridge Ski Resort and then some. He is an Olympian who has met Sophia Loren, survived a plane crash and created Ullr Fest.

The pioneer turns 90 this month, and the Breckenridge Tourism Office and Breckenridge Ski Resort are throwing him a reception at the Riverwalk Center to celebrate Monday, April 11. There will be photos and videos highlighting his life, cake and more.

Berge has earned the recognition and celebration.

He is a man of resilience. Berge broke his femur multiple times and has walked away from train, plane and automobile crashes. Originally from Voss, Norway, Berge grew up during the Nazi occupation of his home. Bombs fell from the sky, potatoes were confiscated from the family farm and ski gatherings were prohibited. The experience naturally shaped him to cherish each day.

His passion for skiing led Berge on a path to become a Norwegian downhill champion racer in 1954 and compete at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina, Italy.

Berge came to the United States after the Olympics and lived in Aspen Highlands with skiing icon Stein Eriksen in 1958. There, he met Bill Rounds, who offered Berge a job at his family’s lumberyard in Breckenridge. Shortly thereafter, Berge ended up co-founding the resort with Rounds and fellow Norwegian Olympian Sigurd Rockne.

Breckenridge Ski Resort co-founder Trygve Berge wipes snow off of a plaque that details the resort's history in Breckenridge, Friday, April 1. The ski area is celebrating its 60th season and Berge turns 90 this month.
Ashley Low/For the Summit Daily News

Breckenridge opened on Dec. 16, 1961. Berge cut the trails and became the ski school director known for somersaults, moguls and thrill-seeking flips. In the summer he would mountain climb and work as a stonemason throughout town.

Though Berge didn’t think the resort would be as popular as it is today, he said he would lay the foundation pretty much the same way he and the others did back then. Breckenridge has become is his home, and he can be spotted at local establishments like The Crown, Fatty’s Pizzeria and Briar Rose Chophouse & Saloon.

He is also a man of balance. The Colorado Ski Hall of Famer prefers the sport over something like snowboarding, for instance, because of how he can glide down the slope without majorly shifting weight to one side or the other. Skiing has enthralled Berge over the years because a run is never the same experience twice since conditions and equipment change.

“The feeling is different,” Berge said. “… I think skiing is the best sport you can ever do.”

After winters of skiing practically every day, he opts for quality over quantity and fair weather, maybe only doing 30 to 40 days a season now. He never really kept track of days while skiing when he was younger and prefers skiing with company to chasing records.

An early Breckenridge postcard features ski school director Trygve Berge doing a flip on Peak 8.
John A. Topolnicki Sr. Photographic Collection/Courtesy Breckenridge Heritage Alliance

“My record is to see how long I can live and be in good shape,” Berge said.

Berge’s tip for longevity is moderation. He knows it’s easy to get carried away in a resort town but said he’s not a big drinker. He strives for equilibrium of rest and exercise — physical and psychological.

“I always make sure I get my rest and eat good food, and I’ve never been sick,” Berge said. “I don’t even have a doctor.”

Socializing is key for Berge, too.

“Having good friends — and take care of each other — is really important,” he said.

One of his compatriots is Gene Dayton, who has known Berge for roughly 50 years. Dayton is responsible for establishing Summit’s Nordic scene, and his family still runs the Breckenridge Nordic Center. He also helped found the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.

Though 11 years younger and focusing on a different concentration of skiing, the pair still meet up for coffee and breakfast. The friendship has been passed down to their kids, too. Dayton said he’s always looked up to the icon and that Berge always took time to listen to him.

He also greatly admires Berge’s tenacity. A story he retold involves Berge recently making a fireplace for a friend of Dayton’s. According to the friend, Berge tripped while carrying a large stone and his head went through the drywall. Berge pulled his head out of the hole and — bleeding from several locations — set dislocated fingers back into place.

“He picked up the stone and very calmly put it where he was going to and didn’t miss a beat,” Dayton said. “He is steadfast and amazing worker. It is an ethic that is rarely seen in the world today.”

For Berge’s birthday, Dayton will be giving him the gift of music. He plans on performing traditional tunes on the accordion at the Riverwalk Center during the party. Dayton, whose son Matt competed in the Olympics, also hopes to play the Olympic theme on alphorn to mark Berge’s accomplishments.

Greg Gutzki, another longtime local and friend, will speak at the event. The technical director of the International Snow Sculpture Championship, Gutzki met Berge in the ’70s while working at the Holiday Inn in Frisco. He said Berge has a good, upbeat attitude and that he’s a gracious and kind gentleman.

Gutzki stayed in hotel management for years, but he also ran High Country Coatings, an industrial paint company that had him painting the towers, chairs and terminals of ski lifts across the region. He also did general contracting and would hire Berge to do stonework.

He called Berge an artist not only with stone, but on skis, as well.

Trygve Berge is seen teaching the mambo March 25 at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Sarah McLear/Breckenridge Ski Resort

Just a few weeks ago Gutzki and friends received lessons from Berge on how to do the “mambo,” a technique that has skiers keeping their shoulders pointed down the hill as the legs swivel. Gutzki repeated an anecdote that Berge could ski with a $50 bill between his legs and it would still be there at the bottom of the run.

“To watch him ski, it’s like he skis on air,” Gutzki said. “He is so smooth. It’s poetry.”

Berge said he goes where the fun is. If people want to follow his tracks and join him on the slopes, a Champagne toast will be held at the Vista Haus 3:30 p.m. Monday, and then folks can ski down Four O’Clock all the way down to the Riverwalk for the continuation of the celebration. Doors open at 4 p.m., and RSVPs are encouraged online to keep the occasion small.

“It’s an honor to be able to honor him,” Gutzki said.

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