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Summit County Pioneers: Trygve Berge

By Alison (Grabau) Pomerantz
Special to the Summit Daily News
Trygve Berge pictured in 1999.
Courtesy Bob Winsett

BRECKENRIDGE — It takes a true visionary to see something spectacular in the previously nonexistent and shape it to meet that dream. Trygve Berge possesses that rare talent. A stone mason by trade and an artist by hobby, Trygve financed his first trip to the United States by selling some of his original oil paintings in Norway. He later was involved in the development of one of the nation’s most popular ski resorts: Breckenridge.

“We didn’t know how big it was going to get,” Trygve said.

Trygve grew up in Voss, Norway, in the same hometown where Breckenridge local Olav Pedersen grew up. In fact, it was Trygve who would later bring Olav to Breckenridge in 1964 to work with the newly forming ski school program. He also first met Freda Langell, a Keystone ski instructor, at the 1951 Norwegian Ski Championships in Molde, Norway. At one point, he worked as a mountain guide with ropes in the Norwegian glaciers doing ice climbing in the summer months.

“I have always believed in safety first, because I want to do this as long as I can,” Trygve said.

Over the years, however, many of Trygve’s friends died in avalanches. Like Olav and Freda, who have skiing in their blood, Trygve has long felt the influence of his Scandinavian heritage and began racing at a young age.

“I’m not good at standing still,” he said.

During his racing career, Trygve excelled at downhill competition. He remembers racing downhill in the 1956 Olympics in Cortina, Italy, because the course was so difficult that no one else wanted to tackle the challenge. Skiing with bear-trap bindings before safety bindings were developed, there was a legitimate fear of injury. In 1949, Trygve broke his femur twice in the same year. The first break occurred while he practiced slalom skiing and the second happened when he tried riding a bicycle before the leg had completely healed. The severity of his leg injury greatly hindered his progress as a skier.

Not one to give up easily, Trygve persevered. Through dedication to a sport he loved, he finally made the Norwegian Ski Team in 1954 and was back to skiing aggressively by 1955. He competed at Squaw Valley in the North American Championships, where he placed fourth. Trygve won several other races on the West Coast. The last international ski race that he won was a sanctioned World Cup race in Norway in summer 1958. For a season or two, Trygve continued to race professionally when he had the time.

After the Olympics in 1956, he came to the United States with fellow Norwegian skier Stein Eriksen and headed to the popular California ski area Heavenly Valley where he won a number of races. He briefly returned to Norway early in 1958 to ski with the Norwegian Ski Team again before moving to Aspen Highlands with Eriksen. It was in Aspen that the course of history was forever altered. Trygve met a man named Bill Rounds, who had come to Aspen on a skiing holiday and mentioned that his father had purchased some land around the town of Breckenridge. 

Trygve Berge jumping at Breckenridge in 1962.
Courtesy Trygve Berge

Building Breckenridge

As fate would have it, Trygve accepted a job with the Rounds family to build a lumberyard in Breckenridge as well as a house for the manager. After the lumber business became operational, he remembers asking Bill what they were going to do in the winter. Bill replied, “I don’t know. Do you think we could ski?” With this seed planted and the thought of building some small cabins to accommodate skiing visitors, the Rounds family continued to acquire land whenever the opportunity arose.

A group of five that included Trygve and Bill drove up an old Jeep trail to the location of the present-day Colorado SuperChair. They walked up the mountain and finally made their way to the top of Peak 8. Sitting on some old logs near the area they had parked the Jeep, Bill pulled out some Cutty Sark whisky, mixed it with some spring water and decided then and there to build a ski area.

The next winter, Trygve went to Michigan to run the Boyne Mountain ski school as a favor to Stein. One day, Bill and Claude Martin, the Summit County development corporation manager, stopped by on their drive back from Washington, D.C., to tell Trygve their journey had been a success: They had secured a permit to build a ski area. Breckenridge ski area would have to pay 3% of its revenue to the U.S. Forest Service even though Arapahoe Basin was paying only 1.5%.

“At that time, the Forest Service didn’t even know what skiing was,” Trygve said.

Everything seemed to move full-speed ahead once they secured the permit. In spring 1961, they began cutting trails, and by Dec. 17 of that same year, they opened for business.

Sigurd Rockne, the Colorado Ski School director for two seasons, and Trygve laid out all the runs and named most of them. Rounder is named after Bill Rounds and Cally’s Alley is named for his wife. Springmeier was named after one of the old-time residents of Breckenridge, Al Springmeier, who owned a number of buildings in town.

“Al would walk all the way to the Breckenridge Inn just to find a penny,” Trygve said. “He was a real character.”

Trygve also named the Bergenhoff, which means “by the cliff” in Norwegian and was designed at the request of Claude Martin, the first manager of Breckenridge, to be an Alpine-style lodge at the base of Peak 8. For the inaugural year, 1,800 people came to ski.

A billboard outside of Denver in 1963.
Courtesy Trygve Berge

Promoting the sport

Ski Country USA started not long after Breckenridge opened and began a tour of ski shows in the early and mid-1960s to promote skiing as a sport and pastime. Up until then, skiing still hadn’t become popular.

Trygve would play his clarinet at the Colorado Ski Follies with Max Dercum and do somersaults on crushed ice wearing 215-centimeter skis, putting his high school gymnastic training to use as a way to entertain the visitors and attract new skiers.

“I did somersaults every weekend up here for the tourists,” Trygve said.

He attributes the growing interest in skiing to ski magazines and the increasing number of ski movies during the late ’60s and ’70s. In the ’70s, he skied for Warren Miller on several occasions in Aspen, Boyne Mountain, Mammoth Mountain and Breckenridge. At one point, the town recruited Jean Claude Killy to be its spokesperson in about 1970. He was also a guest trainer and instructor with Trygve a few times. When the word did finally spread, Breckenridge became known as the place people wanted a low-key hideout rather than to be “seen.”

Bill Rounds, from left, Celdin Catlin, Trygve Berge and Gov. John Love in 1965 on the occasion of meeting to discuss the proposed Winter Olympic Games for Colorado.
Courtesy Trygve Berge

In 1961, Trygve opened the Norway Haus ski shop. He owned 13 pairs of rental skis to begin with and gradually grew the inventory. The shop began doing quite well in 1968 before more and more competition started moving in. 

In spring 1976, Trygve was pinned against the passenger side door and almost killed when a train hit his car during a Denver excursion. Once he recovered from his injuries, he opened another small ski shop in Breckenridge called Trygve’s.

Today, Trygve is more of a fair-weather skier than his years of adrenaline-pumping racing. He long enjoyed the moguls of Breckenridge’s double-diamond run Mach I, but later preferred it accompanied with a nice lunch and some togetherness with friends.

“I have always liked making skiing a social thing,” he said with a grin. “And to be honest, I like to show off.”

After living in Summit County for the past 60 years, Trygve sees Colorado as a place to hang his hat.

“I’ve been here so long, this feels more like home than any other place,” he said.

Editor’s note: Trygve Berge is in his late 80s and lives in Breckenridge.

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.

Trygve Berge skiing with Jean Claude Killy on the cover of Skiing magazine in 1971.
Courtesy Trygve Berge

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