Summit Old-Timer: Trygve Berge
Standing at the top of what is now the Colorado SuperChair at Breckenridge’s Peak 8, Trygve Berge, Sigurd Rockne and Bill Rounds toasted each other with Cutty Sark and a splash of spring water, and agreed to start a ski area. It was Rounds financial backing that launched what has become one of North America’s most popular ski area, but Berge’s and Rockne’s vision.That was in the summer of 1960, and by the spring of 1961, with a Forest Service permit in hand, they began cutting trails and opened for business that December.”I don’t think it would happen today,” said Berge of launching Breckenridge ski area. “There is too much red tape and too many environmental hurdles you have to get around.”Of course there were more people involved than just the two of them, but it was Berge’s question to Bill Rounds: “What are you going to do in the winter?”Rounds had been buying up Summit County real estate once he leaarned the reservoir was going to be constructed and already had a lumber business. He responded to Berge’s question: “Do you think we can ski here.”By that time, skiing was already a big part of Trygve Berge’s life.He was born to Per and Borghild Berge in Voss, Norway, on April 19, 1932. He grew up on a small farm with cows, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs.
“A typical Norwegian farm,” he said. “We butchered everything ourselves. Canned fruits and vegetables.”His father was a famous fiddler and storyteller, playing Norwegian folk music. His mom raised Berge and his three siblings – Olav, Ingjerd and Ragnar – and was clever with handicrafts and spinning wool.”It was a great place to grow up,” said the 74-year-old Berge, thinking back several decades in his mind. “Except for the German occupation.”In 1940, 10,000 Germans came to Voss – a small town of 3,000 people east of Bergen in the steep mountains – and stayed for six years. Berge said there were two military installations, a hospital, a camp where the Germans kept Russian prisoners of war and his grade school was used for delicing people coming off the front lines.”It was a mess,” he said. “At one time there were 29 people in our potato cellar. Every now and then we would peek out and see which house they bombed.”Berge said there wasn’t any school during the occupation; the children just went to different farms and learned in people’s kitchens and livingrooms. After the war, Berge went to vocational school and learned about architecture, building with logs and cabinetry. He did a four-year apprenticeship and finished in 1950.
Afterwards he did his one year military service, something all Norwegian men have to do.Berge, like all Norwegians, was basically born on skis and in 1947 began racing slalom and downhill and showed a talent for the sport. Because of his talent, he was sent to officer’s school where he stayed in Norway and continued to race. He said many Norwegians were sent to Germany where they had to clean up after the war.In 1956, Berge represented Norway in the Olympics, which were hosted in Cortina, Italy, and competed in the downhill. He lost his ski during the race and never finished. His racing days weren’t over, however, and he returned hometo win several races and become the Norwegian downhill champion.”It was so political,” he said. “I quit and came here (America).”Berge’s teammate and friend, Norwegian legend Stein Eriksen, was in Heavenly Valley, Calif., where he had a ski school and Berge came and taught skiing there for a year. He only had a one-year visa, so he returned to Norway where he taught skiing and was a glacier guide on Norway’s highest mountain.In 1958, he returned with a permanent visa and joined Stein Eriksen again, who had moved to Aspen Highlands. He spent two years in Aspen, then Eriksen opened a ski school at Boyne Mountain in Michigan, where Berge went and taught for one season.
On July 29, 1960, he moved to Breckenridge where Bill Rounds set him to the task of building a lumber yard – what today is the Breckenridge Building Center.”I thought it was the most desolate place in the world,” said Berge of his arrival to Breckenridge. “But there were beautiful mountains.”Of his 40-plus years living in Summit County, Berge said he doesn’t necessarily feel like a founding father of the town, but more a father to the Colorado ski industry.Indeed, in 1999 he was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. Berge, who is no longer married, has four children: Truls, Rondi, Jan and Trygve Jr.Berge has always considered himself a stonemason by trade, building several structures in Summit County including the Breckenridge Building Center, the Steak and Rib, and the Norway Haus (now the Salt Creek Saloon). He still does stone work, but is spending more and more time trying to get a patent on a medical device.”You never quit,” said Berge of skiing, working, living life. “You just have to keep going.”
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