Colorado Ski History
There are lots of places to learn about the history of skiing in Colorado, but this is my personal perspective.
In the mid 1970’s we’d ski during the summer months at St. Mary’s Glacier. Here are some friends practising their jumps.
Long before the internet, my mom “worked” for Meadicine Bow Ski Area (now called Snowy Range) by bringing the snow report back to Fort Collins and going around to all the ski shops in town and posting the conditions. Her pay: a family season pass!
The more things change, the more they stay the same…my son Brian doing a double back flip in Union Bowl at Copper Mountain.
It’s sad that many of the areas where I first skied are now gone, including Hidden Valley and Berthoud Pass. I fondly remember spending nights in the lodge at Arapaho Basin (the $7/night rooms are now the bar), or $13/night at the Haystack Lodge in Steamboat (a hostel with multiple bunk beds in the same room).
Ski jumps were a big thing for us as kids, including the 30 meter jump at Medicine Bow (where we would build a kicker on it to get more air), the 15 meter jump in Leadville, and the freestyle jumps at Cooper Hill (now Ski Cooper), and the “Uppers” at Hidden Valley, plus the cliff jumps and cabin jumps at A-Basin.
Lost Ski Areas
Cuchara Ski Basin was owned and run by my Uncle Dick. Skiing began during the early 1950’s with a rope tow. Dick later purchased a platter lift from Hidden Valley Ski Area. He also had a “snack bar” on the hill, which we occasionally raided (image below). Colorado Ski History says that the ski area closed down either in 1970 or 1971, most likely due to lack of snow and increased expenses, but the real reason was the ranch was sold and my uncle moved about 2 miles down the valley to a different ranch.
One of the more famous lost resorts where I grew up skiing was Hidden Valley, located just outside of Estes Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only was this where I skied with my high school friends, it was our home area when I was on the CSU ski team. The “uppers” were infamous for being cold and windy with terrible crusty conditions.
My dad also skied for CSU (then Colorado A&M). He gave me this pin commemorating one of his favorite events, the “beer race”.
My first pair of skis were all wood, with screw-on metal edges. The edges were in pieces about 4″ long, so if the screws came out or you broke an edge, they could be repaired by screwing in a new piece. The skis were given to me by a friend of my dad’s who was a member of the 10th Mountain Division of the US Army. They had a cable binding (known as bear traps) similar to what you see in these pictures. The leather boots had less support than many hiking boots today.
Later as ski technology began to change, I owned a pair of Spaulding Siderals, bright orange, 215 cm long and stiff as 2×4’s. My boots were rear-entry Hanson’s similar to the green ones in this photo. I thought I was pretty hot stuff!
I love leather and still reminence about the old lace up ski boots of the 1960’s, so for years I skied on a boot known as the Rossignol Soft, perhaps the most comfortable ski boot ever built that still had great performance.
Yes, that’s me with my coaches Steve and Mark. You might recognize Steve and his twin brother Phil Mahre as the Gold and Silver medalists in the 1984 Olympics. I skied with them for two seasons and recently ran into Steve again at Beaver Creek.
Same jacket, different year (sans beard). Steve & Phil, and I were all born in the same month of the same year. I would joke with them about how people could tell them apart, and they would always say “I’m the better looking one!”
I recently ran into John Clendennin while in Aspen. John Clendenin, hailed as the greatest instructor in the U.S., was a two-time World Freestyle Skiing Champion (1973 & 1974).
Of course no discussion of ski legends would be complete without mentioning Warren Miller, who’s movies I saw every year since I was a kid. My brother even appeared in one of his films. I gave my son an autographed poster one year.
My father-in-law, Frank Weiss skiing Berthoud Pass in 1946. We still own his skis and boots!
My dad skiing in Cuchara before skiing was cool!
Many of the “old timers” maintained that Berthoud Pass was Colorado’s first ski area. In 1946, Berthoud hosted 30,000 of the 100,000 skier days recorded for the state of Colorado. Berthoud was always popular, since it was one of the closest
areas to Denver (57 miles), easy to reach and already very well-known.
Sam Huntington (the owner of Berthoud Pass ski area from 1946 to 1972) is credited with coming up with the idea to construct a double-seated chair lift, all the better to get skiers up the hill. He convinced Bob Herron, a Denver engineer, to make his ideas come to life, although Heron requested that the owners sign a waiver, in case the darn thing didn’t work. The Corporation took out, and was granted, a U.S. patent on the double chair lift in 1947. (The patent, however, was never enforced.) The lift began operating on February 17, 1947. The capacity of the lift was 400 per hour, a vast improvement for the day.