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Summit County pioneers: Chris Beger

A life devoted to ski patrol

By Alison (Grabau) Pomerantz
Special to the Summit Daily News
Chris Beger on his namesake trail at Keystone in 1999.
Courtesy Bob Winsett

BRECKENRIDGE — “Ski patrol has really been most of my life,” Chris Beger admitted, looking back on his decades of involvement.

Founded in 1937 by Minot Dole, the National Ski Patrol System has played an integral role in the ski resort business. Chris smiled when he remembered that he first joined the patrol as a display of male machismo, often performing stunts that reflected this fearlessness. 

“We would start up in Imperial Bowl, ski down, hit a ramp and jump all the way over the ski patrol shack and land down on the opposite site,” Chris recalled about skiing at Breckenridge Ski Resort. “That was when I was young and stupid.” 

It didn’t take Chris long to reach a point when he recognized that the reason for being a member of the patrol was for the satisfaction of aiding people in distress. He gained a great deal of satisfaction from determining what was wrong and discovering what needed to be done to help someone. 

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“When you’re in uniform, you never pass a fallen skier,” he said, taking seriously his responsibility to uphold skier safety. “The goal is to always leave the injured person in better condition than when you found him. 

Chris continued to proudly wear his uniform into his 70s, serving as the most senior member of Keystone Resort’s ski patrol. He said they affectionately treated him like a grandfather. 

“I’m like the football player who just won’t quit,” he laughed. This depth of experience gave him a keen eye for what it took to succeed in the patrol, and each spring, when the new candidates arrived to try out, Chris usually could tell who would make it and who wouldn’t. “I think it’s an attitude,” he explained. “Those people who see the patrol only as a free lift ticket won’t cut it.”

Chris Beger on duty in the Philippines in 1945.
Courtesy Chris Beger

Evolution of patrol

Growing up in Denver, Chris visited Summit County for the first time at age 12 in 1935, when he accompanied his father on a business excursion to a mine at Tiger for Kenyan Ironworks. He remembers crawling inside a “classifier,” which is a wooden apparatus that separated different sizes of ore and helped to scrape out the gold dust residue that would stick to the inside of the machine. In those days, gold was $35 an ounce. Chris worked a number of years as an apprentice for the machine shop before the start of World War II.

In 1940, at 17 years old, Chris joined the mule pack in the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Carson. After a few short months, he grew weary of mules and transferred to the Military Police Guard escorting German prisoners back from Africa in the heat of the war. He then served in an engineering company for about six years in the South Pacific. In 1946, Chris was discharged from the military and hospitalized in Fort Logan in Denver for a year as the result of a shrapnel wound. He also returned from his tour of duty with a case of malaria.

Back in Colorado, with the war over and injuries healed, Chris decided to channel his love for skiing into a volunteer position with the ski patrol in 1947. 

“All 50 volunteers were responsible for their own uniforms and first-aid supplies for the first 15 years,” Chris explained. It was also their responsibility to adhere to the U.S. safety standards and emergency medical technician training as recognized nationally.

In 1957, Chris became a member of the Berthoud Pass Ski Patrol and was appointed first-aid chairman of the Rocky Mountain Division at Berthoud Pass Ski Area. For fun, Chris remembers skiing 16 miles from the top of Berthoud Pass all the way to Winter Park. He became a full member of the National Ski Patrol System in 1960. After transferring to Breckenridge in 1961, Chris served as the head of the National Ski Patrol System candidate program and was a patrol leader. While in Breckenridge, he and his wife, Thelma, rented a small ski chalet behind the El Perdido Mexican restaurant on French Street. In the early years as the ski area was just getting its start, there were no buildings along what is now Ski Hill Road or any buildings at all along the way to the Peak 8 parking lot. 

Chris fondly remembered some of the popular eating establishments of the day. 

“We loved going to the Hoosier Inn,” Chris said. “The woman there used to make the best hamburgers.” 

Chris served on the patrol at Breckenridge until 1970, when he went to Keystone to help organize the ski patrol there. Keystone’s original National Ski Patrol group consisted of people from different ski areas who started meeting at the Ramada Inn in Denver. Once the Keystone patrol got organized, Jim Morton came from Winter Park to run it. Most of the volunteer partrollers that first year at Keystone came from a small ski area called Meadow Mountain near Vail, which Vail had purchased and then shut down when Vail opened. There were about 50 volunteer patrolmen and only six full-time paid patrolmen. At the time, volunteers earned one lift ticket for each day they worked. The year Chris arrived, lift tickets at Keystone were $9. They had been $7 at Breckenridge when it first opened and increased about $2 per year.

“Ski patrol has really been most of my life,” Chris Beger said.
Courtesy Bob Winsett

Recreation lifestyle

Keystone gained a reputation of being a rather mild mountain in the first few years because only the front side had been developed and there wasn’t as much difficult terrain then — especially for a daredevil like Chris. As the ski area expanded, the terrain became more diverse and challenging. However, Chris remembers skiing the steeps of Jones Gulch for avalanche and winter survival training.

During his years of patrolling, Chris rarely missed a weekend at either Breckenridge or Keystone. Even during the two years he lived in Albuquerque, he would drive up to Keystone on Friday night, patrol Saturday and Sunday, and return to Albuquerque on Sunday night. In three years, he put more than 60,000 miles on his car and never missed a weekend. Today, every member of Chris and Thelma’s extended family — nine grand children and eight great-grandchildren — has benefited from his many years of service on the patrol with a season ski pass. 

In 1980, Chris and Thelma built a house and moved from Denver to Summit County to live permanently in 1987. When he was not on the mountain, Chris and Thelma enjoyed as many activities as they could manage. Although the season was short, they always especially adored summer. Over the years, they spent a lot of time sailing on Dillon Reservoir and boating on Lake Powell. Other favorite activities included cycling, rafting and motorcycling, with trips to Flagstaff, Tuscan and Juarez. Mostly, however, Chris always enjoyed being in Summit County because of the people who live here. 

“We have a lot of very close connections with people who are here,” he said. “I guess we will probably end up staying here for the rest of our lives.” 

Editor’s note: Thelma Beger died in August 2008 at age 85. Chris Beger died in August 2018 at age 94.

This story previously published in the book “Summit Pioneers,” which was printed in 1999. The book was written by Alison (Grabau) Pomerantz with photos by Bob Winsett in partnership with Wilson-Lass Creative Communications. It was published to raise money for The Summit Foundation. Read more about the history of Summit County at SummitDaily.com/news/history.

Chris Beger in his natural surroundings.
Courtesy Bob Winsett

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