Photographer captures early ski history in Breckenridge
if you go
What: Alden Spilman photography and art exhibit
When: Tuesday, March 8; 6–8 p.m.
Where: Old Masonic Hall, 136 S. Main St., Breckenridge
Alden Spilman first moved to Breckenridge during a time when the ski resort was one peak, jobs were scarce and Main Street had just a scattering of buildings here and there. People rode horses through town and the fire department allowed Fourth of July water fights with their high-pressured hoses; participants competing to push a keg toward the other team’s end with the water. He was a part of the ski area’s early history, rubbing elbows with local legends Harry Baum and Trygve Berge.
Raised on the East Coast, he moved West to attend school in Boulder to his parents’ disapproval. He spent a winter in the county in 1966-67 before taking a short hiatus to be a roadie for a rock ‘n’ roll band. Spilman was on the Breckenridge Town Council from ’74 to ’76, was the chairman of a new-at-the-time community development committee and chairman of the sign committee. Although he left the mountains for another brief stint in the ’80s to take care of family business, he couldn’t stay away, and continues to this day to spend every winter in Breckenridge; his summers spent working in Cape Cod.
Spilman had long hair in Summit County during a time when Westerners were leery of the hippies moving into town. He was even, at one point, accused of putting acid in the popsicles he sold out of his truck for a summer or two with his then-wife. It was only when the town asked him to be a part of the Fourth of July parade that he said he finally realized he had been accepted as part of the community.
During his early years in Breckenridge, after Harry Baum bought the ski area, it was the first resort “in maybe the whole world to hire women as lift operators and ski patrol with equal pay,” Spilman said. “It was a beautiful thing, because there was certainly at least five women in town — and 50 guys. The ratio was rough,” he laughs.
It’s hard to imagine the town without the smattering of restaurants and shops lining both Main and its parallel side streets, but Spilman remembers it well. Through it all, he documented the times by taking photographs of events, the town and the people in it. His photographs are now in private homes, in the basement of town hall, in the lobby of the old courthouse and in various Breckenridge establishments, such as the Briar Rose. When he first began taking photographs, he didn’t realize the impact they would have on the future, they were just photographs of the moment, and “now they are a piece of history, and it shows a time, a period when things were different and how they’ve changed,” he said.
On Tuesday, March 8, Spilman will be showcasing old and new photography taken in the town, as well as his new abstract pieces and tye-dye textiles. The reception will be from 6–8 p.m. at the Old Masonic Hall, 136 S. Main St., Breckenridge.
Summit Daily News: How did you get into photography?
Alden Spilman: I always had cameras around. I had a camera when I was younger but I wasn’t really into it. Then when I was in Boulder going to school, my painting teacher … he said, you know I want to take pictures and develop them, and I said me too — I’ve got a camera and am interested in doing the same thing. We ended up sort of hanging out in the CU dark room and teaching each other photography. What we did was read the labels on the box about how to develop your film. And the same thing on the box of paper, and it just started that way. So I’m sort of self-taught, even though I’ve taken some workshops since then. Then I taught photography here — I was the first photo instructor when CMC established in Breckenridge. It wasn’t even a campus. … That’s when I had this little studio and a dark room in the closet. The water was horrible and it ruined many a negative, so I had to go get water at the laundromat. I would take my gallon jugs over there and mix my chemicals at the laundromat, and then bring them back and develop the film here, then I would take the film can back to the laundromat … and rinse it for 20 minutes.
SDN: How has Breckenridge changed since you first moved to town?
AS: It’s easier to make a living here. It’s still a great place. It’s certainly become very congested, and the corporation is wielding its power, and the regulations are stiff, but the community is still a beautiful place. And outside the community, you go two or three miles out of town, it’s gorgeous. The hiking trails have been expanded and improved and the hut system that’s come along, and the rec center they built, the ice skating rink — all these amenities. … When I was first here in ’66, ’67, I eventually went back to school because there was nothing to do here and there wasn’t that much work. The exciting thing to do was play softball in Leadville, and that’s where we shopped, too.
It’s changed, there were no stoplights. You could hang out in the middle of the street, the dogs would sleep in the street. There was no traffic, very quiet and not much work. It was hard to make a living.
SDN: So what did everyone do for work?
AS: Everybody worked at the ski area or in supporting businesses. There were restaurants, the Gold Pan, the Breckenridge Inn was here. There was a 3.2 bar, it was mostly everyone worked at the ski area or was a waitress at one of the establishments. The Briar Rose was here, and a place called Rock Mine.
SDN: Where were people coming from to ski?
AS: They came from Denver, Front Range, same as now. … It was a family ski area way back when. People would come up here and stay for the weekend, on spring break or Christmas break, so you got to know a lot of the people. I was a lift operator for three winters, and you knew most of the people who got on the lifts.
SDN: So, where did the acid popsicles come in?
AS: I had short hair when I lived here and when I came back I had long hair. I also had a beard when I lived here and when I came back. So when we first came back and started this business … that’s when we were accused of putting acid in the ice cream. I don’t know who accused us, (but it was) because we were hippies. The people in town who were a lot straighter than us didn’t like the invasion so much, because there was a lot of youth. … My ice cream truck was invited to be in the Fourth of July parade, I think in 1971. … So that was like a move that things had changed, they accepted me. I got a letter from the fire department, because they ran the parade … inviting me to be in the parade, which was pretty cool, because several months before I had been accused of putting acid in the popsicles. We had a good laugh at it of course.
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