‘Pioneers on Planks’ look back on Summit County’s skiing past
On Thursday, Summit County can get its fill of the good ol’ days.
From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., the Breckenridge campus of Colorado Mountain College is hosting Alan Henceroth from Arapahoe Basin, CJ Mueller from Breckenridge, Keystone’s Bill and Jane Bergman and Copper panelist C.J. Julin to talk about Summit County skiing’s early days – its trials, its triumphs, its tribulations as it became an industry. The event is at the Finkel Auditorium, and tickets are $10 at the door.
The program will feature a display of antique ski decor as well as equipment illustrating how skis, poles, snowshoes and posters have evolved through the years. Breckenridge’s Jeffrey Bergeron is the moderator.
Henceroth has been in Summit County for 28 years, and started working at Arapahoe Basin in 1988. He has served as ski patrol director, mountain manager, director of mountain operations and is now the chief operating officer.
A renowned speed skater in 1989, Mueller had set world records three times in the mid-1980s and held the U.S. mark of 136 miles per hour. He has a Breckenridge legacy of interesting feats, such as founding a motorcycle gang, being the lead-guitarist in an air-guitar band and appearing on local cable as a “cereal killer,” when he knifed a box of Wheaties.
And lending a hand to describe the founding of Keystone are the Bergmans. Jane Bergman started coming to Arapahoe Basin for ski vacations in the early 1950s. In 1958, she and her husband bought an old miner’s cabin on Montezuma Road. With the encouragement of Max and Edna Dercum, Judge Wood and Oz Thorson, the Bergmans began to establish Keystone Ski Resort in the late 1960s. It opened in 1970 with Bill continuing with his law firm in Cedar Rapids and Jane spending five winters by herself at their cabin making the project come together.
C.J. Julin decided at 12 years old that he’d be a part of the skiing world. He skied at an area near the Climax Molybdenum mine, where his father was a mining engineer. An early employee of Copper Mountain, he’s now the executive director of Team Summit.
Here, the panelists tease what they’ll be talking about during the event. Many of Julin’s comments are paraphrased.
Alan Henceroth: There have been lots of changes. I think snowboarding is probably the biggest.
Jane Bergman: Interstate 70.
C.J. Mueller: The skis themselves, brought about by a big change in the thinking of ski manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. There are a lot of people out there skiing really well and enjoying it more because of easier-skiing skis.
C.J. Julin: The advent of the snowboard. Adding snowboarding to the mix, it evolved the business and allowed it to be sustainable again, because at the time, it wasn’t as attractive to the younger crowd. It was the next way to ride down the mountain and have fun doing it.
AH: There was a certain simplicity when I started in the business. I loved the old days, but these days are just as good.
JB: Never closing Loveland Pass, winter or summer.
CM: What do I miss? Definitely not the skis! I miss the small-town feel of Breckenridge. On the mountain you saw people you knew every run (but not in the lift lines, there weren’t many lift lines mid-week), and knew all the employees. Anywhere you went in town, you knew the people who were there, the people who worked there, the people who owned the businesses. And there was room to park your car. I miss going up for a powder day on Peak 8, which eventually became a powder hour, which eventually became a powder run, which now has become … Look for me on the T-Bar the day after.
CJ: The camaraderie. Copper was the newest kid on the block in terms of Summit County areas. It was a frontier – I came to it from the Basin. There was cross-industry camaraderie that’s not quite the same.
SD: If you could bring anything back, what would it be?
AH: Not sure.
JB: Singing around the grand piano at Ski Tip – laughter and Max with the clarinet.
CM: Anything? Ski friends who went before their time – Grubby, Priest, McKinney, Horton, Brian, Topolniki, Dwight, Cory. As far as ski stuff, I think it would be nice to park next to the Bergenhof again every day, ride the 7-Up lift, ride a center pole chair on 6 chair so I could dangle upside down, ski Devils Crotch with no bumps and good powder a week after the storm, go hang out downstairs at the old Norway Haus (with old friends), or have World Cup Freestyle during Ullr Fest again – but I would have to be 25 years younger to really enjoy that.
CJ: The social side (and to remind people that it was pretty rustic out there). I’d bring back the feeling that we were part of a thing greater than any individual – moving the industry forward. We were fortunate to pave the way. Many in the industry today don’t pine for that because they don’t know it.
AH: Long, straight skis.
JB: Lacing up ski boots and fitting on Cubco bindings – and telephone party lines (only good for gossip!)
CM: The automatic ticket scanner booths at Peak 9, the rolling load ramp at Peak 9, in-the-boot ski pants, clothing that weighed about 50 pounds if you wanted to stay warm, Snow Blades, ski bindings before they were really release bindings, safety straps.
CJ: Big pom-pom hats. Men wearing the over-the-boots stretch pants. But not for women. Everyone loves that (on women). Skiing was the sexy thing to do … at the time it emerged.
AH: I think skis these days are so much better, more skiers can enjoy more terrain and more varying snow conditions than they could in the past.
JB: Courtesy on the slopes – Saying “on your left or right.”
CM: Skiers are more confident with fewer limitations. They ski harder, faster, steeper, and get more air. The new skis help. In most ways skiers are not really that different – they’re passionate, dedicated, fun, happy.
CJ: Skiers are a reflection of society. They’ve not as helpful or compassionate on each other, but that’s a sign of a bigger industry. Grandfathers and fathers used to pass down the on-slope etiquette that some skiers and riders never learn. People cut each other off on the slopes and that’s what they do on the highway. We’ve forgotten that we’re all in this thing together.
AH: At least in Colorado and Summit County, skiing is much cheaper now, especially if you ski at least 10 days. Passes are a lot cheaper now than when I moved to (Summit County) 28 years ago.
JB: A day skiing is far less than 18 holes of golf!
CM: Other than season passes, it’s less affordable. The cost of equipment and clothing is crazy, despite that most of it is so much better. It’s also less accessible – almost anywhere I used to go in the ’80s I could park close to the lifts. Now, almost anywhere you go you park and walk and ride a bus and walk and ride a … you get the picture. I used to ski Winter Park a few times each year. I was looking at postcards there once and found one with a picture of the base area. My van was in the picture, parked right next to the lift.
CJ: It’s much more accessible, with Interstate 70 versus Loveland Pass. You couldn’t run up for a day in the morning and ski and go home at night. It’s always been expensive to buy equipment and gear. And it’s not too long ago that a season pass at any of these areas was $1,000 – or close. Now, people can get it for $300, so it’s less expensive for people who choose to ski regularly. A day ticket is the price of a good golf game, and road bikes cost $5,000, so from that standpoint, skiing is affordable.
JB: When the Union Pacific was late and a day skiing was lost.
CM: Breaking my back in Aspen in 1980, but I was back skiing in less than six weeks.
CJ: The people I’ve known that I don’t get to see anymore – who have either passed on or taken different directions throughout the world. I sure would love to see some of those guys again – just for a minute.
AH: I don’t know if there is one favorite memory. For me, it’s all the collective chair rides and runs on Pali Lift.
JB: How skiing binds families for generations… There are too many funny memories – after all, we began in the ’50s!
CM: Every day of skiing, about 7,000 days in 41 seasons at Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin.
CJ: I can’t believe I’ve been this fortunate to be a part of this whole deal … I won the lottery. My memories are every day.
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