Longtime locals look back at Breckenridge
summit daily news
Inside Fatty’s Pizzeria earlier this week, Breckenridge old-time ski bums gathered for Trygve Berge’s 79th birthday celebration and to mark 50 years of the resort’s heritage – as well as the end to a snowy winter.
Berge, a Norwegian national ski champion, was the resort’s ski school director for its first 11 years, and was viewed as a Norwegian god of skiing for many who relocated to Breckenridge for the skiing.
“He could ski anything with his legs so tight,” Lucia Sramek said. It was an Austrian ski technique called “wedeln,” and included short, quick, parallel turns. Skiing technique has evolved along with the equipment since then.
Though the town and the resort have significantly changed over the years, former speed-skier CJ Mueller said, “No matter what else changes, the mountain will still have great skiing.”
He remembers the days when he and his friends from the early days would get more than 200 days in each season – between the resort and after-work days on Boreas Pass. Mueller and others who showed up at Fatty’s Tuesday still get more days than many in the rest of the county.
“With ski days, you can’t miss them, because you can’t get them back,” Mike Kopicky joked.
It was the early ski pioneers who not only built Breckenridge up out of its seeming fate as a ghost town in the 1960s, they also welcomed the “new blood” into town, such as Rick Ascher and Mindy Armstrong. In the 1970s, Breckenridge was attracting new skiers while Frisco’s “old blood” watched, they said.
Both Asher and Armstrong said it was the people who got them to stay.
“I came in May when the weather was like this and I stayed because of the people,” Armstrong said. She became a fixture permanent enough that her 200-pound dog, Hooker (named for the rugby position), would sleep in front of the Gold Pan and people would walk or drive around her.
“I’ve known these people for 30 years,” Armstrong said. “We take care of each other. I’ve been in Breck so long, (these people) are like a family.”
Asher came to town with 13 friends from Minnesota, he said. He was 18 in 1979 and started hanging out with the late-20s crowd. Armstrong was about 20 when she came to town.
“They called us the pups because we were so young,” Asher said. He now owns Pup’s Glide Shop in Breckenridge.
In the early years, the ski bums had to coexist with the more conservative miners. According to the Fatty’s crowd, the bar and restaurant on Ridge Street belonged to the raucous parties of the ski bums. The Gold Pan tended to be where miners gathered. In simple terms, that is.
Memorabilia on the walls of Fatty’s shows off the early days of the ski bums. Trygvy’s promotional poster hangs on the wall, as does the toilet seat that marks victory in the Rugby Ski Town Classic – a sport that’s come to further define the town. Armstrong is a two-time Penn State University rugby national champion who has traveled the world with her family because of it.
“It was mayhem, bedlam and the bar at Fatty’s was tiny then,” Armstrong said. For about a hundred years, Fatty’s existed as The Colorado House before it came under new ownership and was remodeled.
It wasn’t just the rugby parties that were rowdy. A St. Patty’s Day bar crawl involved a shot at every bar, and until it was shut down in the 1980s, the pioneers held an Ullr Fest bonfire in town in which they’d sacrifice their old skis to the snow god.
“We can’t remember because we had too much fun,” Rick Sramek said.
But amid the parties and hundreds of days on the mountain, it became a place for the early ski bums to settle down and raise families. They didn’t have much, but they had each other.
“We were the beginning of a new generation to have our families here,” Lucia Sramek said, adding that she and about 15 other women raised their children on the chairlifts.
“We’d let our energies out on the mountain,” she said. “We left our secrets on the mountain.”
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