For over 100 years, these mountains heard the drilling, blasting, and shoveling of miners searching for gold and silver. In recent years, these sounds have been replaced by the “swish” of ski against snow and the loud sounds of snowmobile enthusiasts roaring through the forests. The most recent history of Summit County is all about the era of “white gold.”
While the beginnings of modern skiing can be traced to Summit’s early days, skiing was almost entirely for transportation during the Pikes Peak gold rush in the 1860s. The equipment differed significantly from that seen on today’s ski slopes. In fact, early skis, which were actually called snowshoes, were made of wood and measured 10 to 12 feet in length. The skier steered and stopped with a single wood pole dragged behind him. Local preacher Father Dyer probably best exemplified this type of ski transportation. He skied between early gold mining camps during the winter to deliver mail and to preach sermons.
Photographs and accounts of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries indicate that similar equipment was used not only for transportation but for recreation and perhaps even competition. It appears that much of the early recreational skiing resembled today’s cross-country or Nordic skiing.
In 1910, a Norwegian named Peter Prestrud, who lived in Frisco, introduced what became a popular local sport – ski jumping. It became so popular that just after WWI, residents constructed ski jumps near old Dillon, Breckenridge, and elsewhere. In 1919, Anders Haugen, a famous Norwegian skier, jumped to a world record of 213 feet at the Dillon jump located near the present-day Glory Hole/overflow outlet of the Dillon Dam. The following year he broke his own record with a jump of 214 feet.
In the years leading up to the 1960s, Summit County saw a great deal of recreational skiing in which women wearing long dresses and men enjoyed outings using long wooden skis. A number of privately owned ski areas opened to the public for downhill skiing in this period as well. In the mid-1930s, the Hoosier Pass ski area opened and probably hosted skiers until the early 1940s. Two parallel cleared runs can still be seen to the left of Route 9 when ascending Hoosier Pass. One of the original four log cabins still stands within view of the old runs.
Chalk Mountain, located at the top of Fremont Pass, between Copper Mountain and Leadville, and directly across the road from the present-day Climax Mine, opened in 1934- 35. Built by Climax Mine employees and used mainly by them, the area also welcomed the public before closing around 1962.
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, located on Route 6 below and just west of Loveland Pass, was developed by 10th Mountain Division veterans and locally famous, Max and Edna Dercum. It opened to the public in 1946 and is, of course, alive and well today and very much a part of modern-day Summit County skiing.
But the real story of modern skiing in the county began in about 1959 when Wichita, Kansas-based Rounds and Porter Lumber Company (RPLC) became interested in acquiring land in Summit County to build a year-round, second-home recreational community. RPLC was not only a purveyor of lumber products but also a real estate developer and oil and gas explorer. The Dillon Reservoir, under development at the time, and the magnificent snow-covered mountains surrounding Breckenridge attracted the company for their winter and summer recreation potential.
Exploration geologist Bill Stark was an acquaintance of RPLC executive Bill Rounds, and a skiing enthusiast. Stark approached Rounds with the thought that the mountains around Breckenridge offered the potential for winter activities to compliment the summer, water-based recreation activities at Lake Dillon. Rounds, when skiing in Aspen in 1959-60, recruited the services of two Norwegian ski instructors to help evaluate the potential of Breckenridge. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
In 1960, the company submitted an application to the U.S. Forest Service for a permit to build a ski area on Peaks 8, 9, and 10. The Forest Service completed its evaluation in March 1961, and granted a permit on July 27, 1961, for 1,764 acres. Trail cutting on Peak 8 began immediately. The “Peak 8 Ski Area,” its original name, opened for business on December 16, 1961. Depending upon who you ask and what you consider a “run,” either six or seven original runs (Springmeier, Rounders, Swinger, Crescendo, Four O’Clock, Boreas Bounce, and Ego Lane) awaited skiers at the new area.
Over the years, crews cut many more trails and built more lifts on Peak 8. Peaks 9, 10, 7, and 6 opened in subsequent years in that order. The Bergenhof Restaurant on Peak 8 served its first customers during the 1961-1962 season, while the Vista Haus began operating during the 1997-1998 season on Peak 8. Peak 9, originally named Royal Tiger Mountain, opened in 1971- 1972 with a restaurant, originally named the Eagle’s Roost and subsequently re-named the Peak 9 Restaurant and The Overlook, first providing meals during the 1973-1974 season.
Peak 10 came next, during the 1985-1986 season, with the TenMile Station restaurant welcoming diners in 1998-1999. Peak 7 followed in the 2002-2003 season and then Peak 6 in 2013-2014, rounding out what today is the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Other notable dates at Breckenridge include the inauguration of the Peak 8 SuperConnect, connecting Peaks 9 and 8, during the 2002-2003 season, and the construction of the BreckConnect Gondola for the 2006-2007 season.
Elsewhere in the county, Keystone Ski Resort opened in 1970-71, while Copper Mountain opened the following ski season.