Summit County community gathers to remember Max Dercum |

Summit County community gathers to remember Max Dercum

Caddie Nath
summit daily news

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

KEYSTONE – Though Max Dercum grew weak in the last days of his life, his love of learning and the mountains never faltered.

“I need to focus on that,” he said to his daughter Sunni Tieze, pointing to a photograph of Summit County two days before his death. “Tell me what is happening in those mountains. There is so much to do, so much to learn and so little time.”

The Summit County skiing legend and visionary died Sept. 30 at 98 years old.

Saturday, more than 100 community members, friends and family gathered at Warren Station in the River Run Village at Keystone to remember Dercum’s extraordinary life and to celebrate his legacy, which includes Keystone Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.

Speakers, including Max’s children, grandchildren and great-grand children, old friends and Keystone general manager John Buhler, remembered a man who was inquisitive and enthusiastic in everything he did and whose love of life and of skiing inspired him to help lay the foundation for the now-thriving ski industry in Summit County.

“We all know of his passion for skiing, teaching skiing and designing ski areas,” Dercum’s granddaughter said at the memorial. “While he was living he was always teaching. Today his life is his lesson. He is an example to all of us of how to live life courageously, to seek knowledge continuously and to approach everything with an engaged interest. He loved life with a deep, passionate, curious nature and it certainly loved him back.”

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Dercum’s many interests and areas of expertise included mining and geology, horses, music, mathematics, physics, forestry and forest health. In his 80s he took up filmmaking and taught himself to use the most recent film editing softwear. Family members remembered him studying Hubble’s theory of an expanding universe on his iPad weeks before he died.

His inquisitive nature helped him design at Keystone a unique trail style that ensured runs included lines of varying difficulty so each one could be enjoyed by skiers of all ability levels.

“He invented at least in my opinion a trend in building trails that everybody has adopted since,” Keystone co-founder and Dercum’s old friend Bill Bergman said at the service. “The trails (on the north face of Dercum Mountain) are spiced with many different pitches. Each trail is designed by Max to have a more difficult line of descent for the better skier and an easier line of descent for the others.”

Max Dercum was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1912. As a child he bought his first pair of skis from a Sears catalogue and became the first of many people he taught to ski throughout his life.

He went on to study forestry at Cornell University. With his degree he took with him a lifelong love of and respect for the forest, which influenced his later work at Keystone and Arapahoe Basin.

As a young man, he became a professor of forestry at Penn State where he met Edna Strand, a daughter of Norwegian immigrants. The couple married in 1937.

In 1942, Max and Edna Dercum moved to Colorado with their infant son Rolf and bought an old mining property called the Black Ranch. The Dercums fixed it up and reopened it as the Ski Tip Ranch.

Max Dercum left Colorado briefly during World War II, but he returned at the end of the war and, with a group of friends, bought and established Arapahoe Basin in 1946. The Legend began as an 80-acre parcel of land with one midpoint towrope.

In 1970, after years of dreaming and planning, Dercum and Bergman started Keystone Resort with backing from a number of investors.

Today, Keystone stretches seven miles over three mountains with 3,148 acres of ski and snowboard terrain.

“Max is leaving a legacy that will be remembered by all who enjoy skiing and riding Keystone Mountain today as well as for generations to come,” Keystone general manager John Buhler said.

In 1980, the Dercums were inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, and in 2003 Keystone Mountain was renamed Dercum Mountain in their honor.

“Max was always a visionary and imagined just how great skiing in the Snake River Valley could be,” said Arapahoe Basin COO Alan Henceroth.

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