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Johnson: Ski trip travels down memory lane

Brad Johnson
Special to the Daily

It was a trip down memory lane over Thanksgiving weekend as our family converged on the Breckenridge Ski Resort in Summit County, where I landed my first professional newspaper job back in 1981.

It has been about six years since my last visit and probably a decade since I have skied in the Colorado High Country.

Like so many of the young people who were working in the ski rental shops, running ski lifts and cash registers, waiting tables, cooking food and driving buses, I was a new college graduate in 1981 looking to be a ski bum for a year before entering the “real” work world.

Instead, I landed a reporter’s job at the Summit Sentinel, a forerunner to today’s Summit Daily News. A couple of years later I became editor and eventually I’d spend 11 years in the newspaper industry, ending my newspaper career at The (Colorado Springs) Gazette.

The early to mid-1980s were an exciting transition time across the country and in the ski industry. Typewriters, on which we wrote all of our news stories, were slowly giving way to computers. There were no cell phones or snowboards.

It was in late 1981 that I’d started writing a weekly column and two topics I addressed were the national debt and the price of lift tickets.

The United States was on the verge of passing $1 trillion in debt and becoming a debtor nation for the first time. Keystone Resort in the mid-’80s was considering becoming the first ski area to charge $50 for a one-day pass.

I wrote that the $50 ticket was likely to price out the middle class. About 30 years later, that lift ticket has more than doubled to $108 per day at Breckenridge, and journalists still are warning that skiing is pricing itself out of the market.

Of course, $15 mountain-top hamburgers and $10 hot dogs don’t help that impression.

But skiing gets a bad rap compared with other forms of entertainment. After all, it costs $100 a day at Disneyland and the average price to attend a Denver Broncos game is about $300 if you visit ticket websites. There is an advantage to cheering for a mediocre team, like the Minnesota Vikings, whose average ticket price is about $180.

It also should be noted that the U.S. government’s $1 trillion debt in the early 1980s crossed $18 trillion earlier this week. At the same inflationary rate, lift tickets would cost about $900 a day.

It’s obvious that no one can spend money as fast as a politician, and perhaps we should send them to ski resorts for a lesson in economics.

At least ski areas have vastly improved infrastructure and better customer experiences to show for their increased costs. In 1981, Breckenridge became home to the first high-speed quad chairlift in the United States. It was a short lift up from the base of Peak 9 near a newly constructed resort called Beaver Run.

The first World Freestyle Skiing Championships would be held there a couple of years later. It’s now an Olympic sport.

Two mountains, Peaks 8 and 9, were open to skiing. Now there are five mountain peaks and chairlifts that whisk six people up the mountain at a time. The skiing a person can do in one day far surpasses that of my youth when pokey two-person chairlifts and long lines ruled the mountains.

Yet journalists continue to warn that skiing is becoming too expensive, noting that the average age is creeping up from 34 to 38. Perhaps it’s because older skiers like me get a new knee allowing us to ski longer.

Or perhaps it’s just the demographics of an aging population as we baby boomers move through life, pausing occasionally to reflect on memories before we plunge down the next adventurous run.

Brad Johnson is a former Summit County resident who now lives in Watertown, South Dakota, and operates a real estate appraisal company and writes a weekly opinion column for his hometown daily, the Watertown Public Opinion. He can be reached at bdjohnson@iw.net.


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