Ski Resorts and Ski Mountaineering (circa 1955)

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Ski Resorts and Ski Mountaineering (circa 1955)

Postby Presto » Tue Jun 29, 2010 7:18 am

I thought this might be of interest to some of our downhill skiers/skier mountaineers (and those interested in history in general) ... I came across this fun chapter from the 1955 edition of Robert Ormes’ Guide to the Colorado Mountains. The paragraphs on the "current" (i.e., as of 1955) active ski area locations (most notably the ones that DO exist like Climax and that DON’T exist like Vail), and the number of rope tows, lifts and trails is historically interesting, as are the lighted night ski areas of Winter Park and Rabbit Ears Pass -- things certainly have changed in a scant 55 years. There's also some mention of what mountains had been summited on skis -- the last sentence of this excerpt says it all. Please note that Father Dyer’s use of the term “snow-shoes” in the first paragraph below was indeed a reference to our modern day version of skis.

In the winter of 1862, “I made me a pair of snow-shoes”, wrote Father Dyer, a Methodist minister. “My snowshoes were of the Norway style, from nine to eleven feet in length, and ran well when the snow was just right.” With these, in the hard winter of 1862-1863, he carried the weekly mail, which averaged thirty pounds, over the 36-mile trail between Buckskin Joe above Fairplay and Cache Creek below Twin Lakes. This is the earliest reference in print to skiing in Colorado that has been found, but someday, some diary of an earlier “mountain man” of fur trapping days may be discovered that proves skis were used long before gold rush days.

Skis continued to be used for needed winter transportation by Scandinavians and adventuresome imitators. Swedish miners were skiing to work on the hills above Telluride right after 1900. But this was for business. Skiing for sport is much younger. The Norwegian Howelson, in Steamboat Springs, is called the father of the sport in Colorado. He put Steamboat on skis in the early 1900’s. The big snow of 1913 brought him to Denver to put on a jumping exhibition at Inspiration Point. Boys who saw him went home to make themselves skis.

In 1916, the first annual winter outing of the Colorado Mountain Club was held at Fern Lake in Estes Park. Members walked in on snow shoes, dragging their skis behind them. The Fern Lake Outing was repeated annually until the middle 1920’s. The Genesee Ski Club started in 1920, and the Rilliet Ski Association soon marked up the slopes of Lookout Mountain. During the next ten years, skiers were gradually learning, much to their surprise, that the boards could be controlled. The phenomenal growth of skiing, during which it far outstripped mountaineering in the number of devotees, took place in the late 1930’s and 1940’s.

The abundance of high altitudes, of sunny days, and of dry snow have made Colorado a good ski state. The season averages from mid-December to mid-April, running longer at high altitudes. It is characterized by a deep base and frequent additions of powder, with little crusting before late spring.

Skiing begins with the skills - perfecting the turns, learning speed and the control it requires, and perhaps jumping. For the majority, it continues to stay with the tow areas, profiting by lifts, by lodges, and by facilities for instruction. They content themselves with familiar trails and perhaps go on sharpening their skills for meet competition. For others -- especially those with a background of summertime climbing -- skiers tend to strike out across country over fresh snow. In the peak-bound ski areas of Colorado, this means the exploration and adventures of ski mountaineering.


With the constantly increasing popularity of skiing as a “Way of Life” as Otto Schniebs calls it, the list of skiable slopes and rope tows grows too fast to remain complete for any length of time. Current information may be gained from the Denver headquarters of either the Ski Information Center of the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, the Southern Rocky Mountain Ski Association or the Colorado Mountain Club. The established ski areas include several west of Denver and those of Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Gunnison and various passes.

Arapahoe Basin, 66 miles west of Denver and 3 miles south of Loveland Pass on US6, has two chair lifts totaling 7,000 feet in length, with 1,550 feet of rise which reaches to the summit of Norway Mountain at 12,500 feet high. A Poma lift serves the lower part of the area. The lower main lift makes available a network of trails in the timber, the upper some large open slopes and a panorama of peaks.

Berthoud Pass, on the Continental Divide at 11,304 feet, is the birthplace of the 2-passenger chairlift and has, in addition, two rope tows with eleven varied trails. It is 56 miles west of Denver on US40.

Winter Park, 11 miles north of Berthoud Pass at a base elevation of 9,100 feet, is more sheltered than the pass, but still high enough for dependable snow. There are T-bar tows of 2,330 feet, 3,000 feet and 700 feet, and rope tows. Night floodlighting adds to the ski hours. The Moffat tunnel line of the D&RGW serves Winter Park with weekend ski trains.

Loveland Basin, 60 miles west of Denver on US6 at the eastern foot of Loveland Pass, has a beginners’ rope tow and two double chairlifts serving steep and intermediate runs which start a little above timberline.

Aspen, scene of the 1950 World Ski Championship Competition is reached by driving to Glenwood Springs, 170 miles west of Denver on US6 and 41 miles southeast up the Roaring Fork (State 82). There were two chairlifts, the upper one towering over the mine dumps of Tourtelotte Park; in 1954, a third was added to 11,300 feet on Bell Mountain. Their total length is over 18,000 feet; they rise about 4,440 feet. There are numberless expert and intermediate trails and open slopes (Ruthie’s Run is as wide as some so-called open slopes) and timber bashing on Bell Mountain is “wonderful”. A T-bar serves the Little Nell slope for beginners.

The National Ski Association’s Taggart Hut makes it possible to have a base for tours of the Montezuma Basin and mountain ascents. Although it has expanded to a well-rounded resort town with a variety of lodge and hotel accommodations, Aspen has sought to keep the old mining camp charm of flowered yards and gingerbread houses. The sundeck atop Ajax Mountain, the 11,300 foot terminus of the upper lift, has fireplaces, food and picture windows that are picture windows.

Steamboat Springs, 170 miles west and northwest of Denver on US40, puts on the nation’s oldest winter sports carnival, with music by a ski-mounted band. It has been called the “ski-ingest” town in the United States (the children learn to crawl on skis a few weeks after birth). Its Howelson Hill has been the scene of important jumping tournaments. A 1,000 foot boat tow serves the ump and a slalom course, and an 8,500 foot long T-bar and chairlift climbs Howelson Hill and Emerald Mountain, rising 1,550 feet above the town streets. There is a rope tow on the gentle slopes of Sulphur Cave Hill and, 18 miles distant on Rabbit Ears Pass, there is touring and lighted night skiing.

Cooper Hill, 10 miles north of Leadville on Tennessee Pass, has a long T-bar tow built for training of the army’s ski troopers. Its training slopes and trails, gentler than some, are open on weekends to civilians, who can find shelter and buy lunches.

Climax, 14 miles northeast of Leadville on State 91, has its T-bar, tow, shelter, and provision for lunch on nearby Fremont Pass at 11,376 feet high. Slopes are lively.

Pioneer Area, 22 miles north of Gunnison on State 135, has a chairlift rising 1,300 feet in a length of 3,000 feet, and a rope tow. There are shelter, lunch and overnight accommodations. The altitude is 9,100 feet.

Glen Cove, at 11,000 feet on the Pikes Peak Highway, has a poma lift and two rope tows, and in spring, the opening of the highway gives access to a good late season run.

Glenwood Springs has added an electric chairlift with a 1,600 foot rise to its novice slope rope tow at the edge of town.

Stoner, 16 miles northeast of Dolores on State 145, has a 3,000 foot T-bar lift with about 1,000 foot rise, with rope tows, lodge and cabins at the base altitude of 7,500 feet. It is operated by the Cortez Ski-Hi Ski Club.

In addition, Glenwood Springs, Estes Park, Allens Park, Apex near Central City, Tenderfoot Hill near Cripple Creek, Grand Junction’s Grand Mesa area, Monarch Pass, and Wolf Creek Pass all have their rope tows.


In winter climbing, weather hazards and mistakes in judgment may spell real danger instead of mere discomfort. In a matter of minutes, a rise in the wind can fill up a well-broken trail, or a slight change in temperature may suddenly bring an avalanche potential to a critical point.

The Colorado Mountain Club recommends four as the minimum party, so that in case of an injury, there will be two to go for help and one to stay.

Dress and other equipment too are vital. There must be dry matches, there must be protection for the eyes, there must be adequate clothing, removable layers so that the skier may keep it dry. Step one in the planning of a ski ascent should be a review of the precautions to be taken. David Brower’s Manual of Ski Mountaineering and Gerald Seligman’s Snow Structure and Ski Fields are recommended for their covering of the fundamental points. Such things are discussed as the use of avalanche cord, the danger of walking out on a cornice in flat light, the techniques of movement over snow, and the all important decisions as to what slopes and slope angles are safe from avalanching.

The steadily increasing ski trip reports on file at the Colorado Mountain Club rooms are available for information contained about the routes that have been followed and the times required for ski tours. The reports tell of ascents on most of the Mosquito and Sawatch Range Peaks, with the smooth slopes of Elbert receiving perhaps the most attention. All the frontal 14ers including Culebra have been climbed on skis, and most of them more than once.

In the Elks, Castle and other peaks around Ashcroft have had the most attention, and there has been at least one Maroon climb. Mount Audubon, a lesser summit, is often climbed by Boulderites who have a cabin under its slopes at Brainard Lake. Skiers in the Berthoud area have made many ascents of such mountains as James Peak and Flora and Eva. The army ski troops have visited everything near Camp Hale and practiced winter bivouacs on Homestake. The San Juaneers not only climbed the Camp Bird side of Mount Sneffles, but outfitted themselves with a corrugated metal shack and skied all over Blaine Basin.

Rough-top peaks like Castle and Longs require leaving the skis short of the summit, but given good luck with the weather and time to approach the mountain, there is none that could not be climbed in winter.
As if none of us have ever come back with a cool, quasi-epic story instead of being victim to tragic rockfall, a fatal stumble, a heart attack, an embolism, a lightning strike, a bear attack, collapsing cornice, some psycho with an axe, a falling tree, carbon monoxide, even falling asleep at the wheel getting to a mountain. If you can't accept the fact that sometimes "s**t happens", then you live with the illusion that your epic genius and profound wilderness intelligence has put you in total and complete control of yourself, your partners, and the mountain. How mystified you'll be when "s**t happens" to you! - FM
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Re: Ski Resorts and Ski Mountaineering (circa 1955)

Postby SpringsHiker » Tue Jun 29, 2010 8:42 am

Quite interesting. Thanks for sharing!
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