Summit County pioneers: Joe Bailey |

Summit County pioneers: Joe Bailey

By Alison (Grabau) Pomerantz
Special to the Summit Daily News
Joe Bailey on Loveland Pass with Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in the background in 1999.
Courtesy Bob Winsett

DILLON — Arriving in Dillon in 1948 with little more than his skis, Joe “Tink” Bailey joined a band of rugged outdoorsman. Their experiences were legendary because of the hardships and sacrifices they endured for the sake of the carefree lifestyle they desired in Summit County.

“We were all poppers,” Joe said. “We all chose an entirely different lifestyle than most people. We had to give up any big dreams we might have had to live this way.” 

However, while the money may have been lacking, the scenery, the skiing and the laughter were in great abundance. Joe recalled the president of Shell Oil Co. saying, “I sure wish I had enough money to live like you boys do,” after enjoying himself at one of their typical Saturday night barbecues.

Joe grew up in New England and competed on the Middlebury College ski team in Vermont. With a deep passion for the outdoors, Joe was drawn to Colorado for the mountains and the coaxing of his two older brothers, who already had paved the way. All three of them settled at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and lived in a small, three-room cabin on Route 6 in the old town of Dillon. 

With no indoor plumbing, they would haul 10-gallon milk cans full of water from a spring on Loveland Pass each day on their way to and from Arapahoe Basin. In the summer, they often collected their water from the Conoco Station in the center of town. Once a week, they would buy a shower at the Heart of the Rockies Cabin Camp in Dillon for 50 cents, unless they had female guests visiting, in which case they would make an extra trip to clean up. 

A way of life

Ski Tip Lodge was the only lodge in the county for a long time. It attracted many overnight guests from Denver and the Front Range who came up to go skiing. For the locals, Ski Tip served as a forum for any meetings that were to take place, such as ski school gatherings. It also quickly became the place to be on Saturday nights, New Year’s Eve or about any other social occasion. One of the main attractions for the young bachelors was Edna Dercum’s kitchen staff, which usually included college women and a house full of other ski bums. To “compete” with the Ski Tip, Joe and his brothers often allowed friends from the University of Colorado to crash at their cabin, which they fondly called the “Ski Boot Inn” even though they never collected any money.

“We’d go to bed some Saturday nights and wake up in the morning to find some 18 people sleeping on the floor in the kitchen or wherever,” Joe said. Eventually Joe’s brother bought a house in Dillon, and the three of them moved out of the cabin to share the house.

Left: Joe Bailey at a cross-country race in Sun Valley in 1948. Right: Joe Bailey’s 1956-57 Bogner ski school parka, patch, custom-made ski boots, skis and poles.
Left: Courtesy Bailey family. Right: Courtesy Bob Winsett.

When Joe first arrived just before the 1950s, skiing was just getting started. Grooming consisted of an individual in skis sidestepping to pack down snow on the slope. It was considered a sport for the “rugged type,” and climbing and backcountry skiing was a just way of life in those days.

Joe and his brothers worked as instructors at A-Basin during the day and often journeyed to Climax for night skiing after hours. Joe said Climax was “about as rugged as you could get.” To Joe, it all just felt so natural. “We were outdoor people, and if you’re an outdoor person, this was the place to be,” he said. “Particularly in spring, we would be especially active and often pushed ourselves to see how many sports we could do in one day. We’d ski in the morning, then kayak and then maybe have a ballgame in the afternoon.” 

Working outdoors and teaching on the mountain seeped into Joe’s soul, and he instructed for 18 years before taking his vast teaching experience to Keystone Resort in 1969. He also made an instrumental impact on the amputee ski program at Arapahoe Basin while teaching there.

Joe Bailey, fourth from left, and members of the Arapahoe Basin ski school circa 1960. Joe’s brother Dick is far left.
Courtesy Bailey family

Endless powder

On many a Saturday night, Joe and his friends enjoyed attending dances at Slate Creek Hall. Sometimes the ranchers would invite them to go horseback riding in the Gore Range. Through these contacts, Joe thought it was important to introduce skiing to the ranch children and get them interested in the sport. With ranching on the decline and the ski business on the rise, he thought it might be a good way to keep the younger ranching generation in the county. Serving as the superintendent of schools, Joe’s brother started a ski program for the school children.

An adventurous spirit pushed Joe and others to explore an abundance of previously unexplored terrain. They ventured into the Gore Range quite often, but even skiing Arapahoe Basin required some climbing in those days. “There was never a worry about finding fresh tracks,” Joe said. “Some days, if we sold a dozen lift tickets, it was a good day.” No one had any qualms about skiing moguls, either. It was just part of it. Each day there was an endless source of deep powder skiing. 

“We skied everywhere, but at the proper time,” Joe said. “I don’t know if we were better educated, but we sure knew what an avalanche slope was, and we stayed off of them. A lot of these places that people are skiing today, we didn’t ski until spring when the snow sets up. We’d ski Little Professor every Easter morning. We’d go up there and have a beer and hold our own personal sunrise service, then ski down.”

One time, Joe went off the old jump in Dillon (now under water) shortly after arriving in Summit County. He spent the entire day packing the fresh snow out on the run wearing 8-foot jumping skis. Finally, braving his first attempt, Joe flew down the jump, soared into the air for about 100 feet and hit the landing. When his skis submarined into 6 feet of snow, Joe decided that jumping wasn’t for him anymore.

Joe Bailey racing at Big Bromley in 1947.
Courtesy Bailey family

Odd jobs

Once a month, Joe and his brothers or friends drove over Loveland Pass to Denver for their shopping or sometimes to the company store at Climax. For entertainment, they would go to a play or a concert while they were down on the Front Range. One of their favorite things to do in Denver was to attend the premier showing of a John Jay ski movie. For local nightlife, they mostly saved their energies for the slopes, but occasionally indulged in a night at the Gold Pan or the bowling alley on the south end of Breckenridge. For many years, the only barber in Summit County was in Breckenridge, so they had to make the trip if they needed a haircut.

To continue his life of skiing, hiking and high-altitude dwelling, Joe worked a number of odd jobs over the years. He pumped gas at a filling station, kept the books for the Conoco gas station, sold real estate, worked for public service and served on a construction crew at Climax, to name a few. Joe even worked on the ditch designed to divert water from the bottom of Loveland Pass to a hydro-electric plant, where the Silverthorne fairgrounds are now located, before the Dillon Dam was built. He helped keep the ditch from freezing in the winter so the water would continue flowing to the plant. As soon as the lake was filled, Joe’s brother, who had been elected mayor of Dillon, gained the rights to run the marina at Dillon. Joe began teaching skiing in the winter and worked at the marina during the summer. His brother operated the marina for nearly 10 years. Joe’s responsibilities included removing docks and the moorings that held the boats as winter approached.

The early days of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in 1948.
Courtesy Bailey family

“The lake brought on a whole new lifestyle,” Joe explained. “Instead of being mountain people, we were lake people all of a sudden.”

Late in his life while living in Frisco, Joe liked to walk the long way to collect his mail, via Rainbow Lake and Masontown to the post office. Sometimes he visited Ophir Mountain where one of his brothers used to have mining claims or one of his favorite places on top of Peaks 1, 2 and 3. Wherever Joe went or whatever he did, he took that original spirit and love of the mountains with him.

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

Joe Bailey skiing at Keystone in 1999.
Courtesy Bob Winsett

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