Peak 8 Ski Area, the predecessor to the current Breckenridge Ski Resort, is depicted in this drawing from the 1961-62 season. The drawing shows the original half-dozen runs at the ski area. Courtesy Summit Historical Society
Breckenridge Ski Resort co-founder Trygve Berge points out several locations from his perch at The Crown coffee shop above Breckenridge’s Main Street. Few structures resided in the footprints of these contemporary buildings when he first visited six decades ago.
He waxes nostalgic about how property was alarmingly cheap to purchase. He emphasizes how there was hardly anyone here. Historical records chronicle the Rocky Mountain mining town’s population dipping to 383 in 1960. Scouring his memory, Berge recalls that number being closer to 200 — maybe fewer.
“It was becoming Alma or some of these ghost towns,” Berge said about Breckenridge. “Mountain towns with very few people, very little going on. … (The ski area) changed it totally.”
Now 87, the 1956 Olympic Norwegian Alpine skier still skis more than a half-century after he first arrived to scout the potential of a ski area. Berge was invited by Bill Rounds, of the Kansas-based Rounds and Porter Lumber Co., along with fellow Norwegian Olympic downhiller Sigurd Rockne. In 1960, the trio toasted to the town’s future near the current location of the upper terminal of the Colorado SuperChair on Peak 8.
Fast-forward 59 years to this past June: Berge hops off the Independence SuperChair at tree line on the resort’s Peak 7. It’s just a short ski north along the Tenmile Range from where he, Rockne and Rounds toasted in 1960. On this warm, sunny day, Berge sticks to trails below tree line, though many others ride the Imperial Express SuperChair to ski from just below the summit of Peak 8.
Rising to 12,840 feet, Imperial is the highest chairlift on the continent and serves as an emblem of what Summit County resort skiing has become nearly three-quarters of a century after Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, the oldest remaining ski area in the county, opened in 1946.
Max Dercum, founder of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, is in his element skiing some early morning powder at the ski area. Courtesy Edna Strand Dercum, Summit Historical Society
As impressive as Imperial is, Berge wanted more. He once dreamed of Breckenridge resort offering skiing all the way north to Peak 1 in Frisco with a monorail connecting the two towns. He even considered connecting Breckenridge across Tenmile Canyon to Copper Mountain on the other side.
Berge said his European-style vision was a hard sell for the local mining families, but soon enough, he was teaching their children how to ski. Berge and Rockne started Breckenridge’s ski school in 1961 with just 13 pairs of rental skis.
Day by day, the Peak 8 Ski Area — as it was known when it opened with 1,764 acres in 1961 — laid the snowy tracks for the town’s ski future. Two more ski areas, Keystone and Copper Mountain, opened in the early ’70s. The cluster of four ski areas, along with the completion of the Eisenhower Tunnel in 1973, suddenly made Summit County a popular ski destination easily accessed from Denver.
Over the next 40 years, Summit County grew to become a hub of winter sports and home to Olympic-caliber athletes.
Case in point: On a winter day, it’s not uncommon for the world’s best park and pipe snowboarders to be training at Breckenridge while some of the world’s best downhill skiers train over at Copper. Among them are Olympians Red Gerard and Chris Corning, who call Summit County home. Riding the lifts alongside them are young Summit locals.
“Red Gerard, Chris Corning — all of these people are not just pie in the sky,” said Rodey Robinson, director of development for the Team Summit sports club. “They are real people our athletes associate with on a daily basis. Having that, they are not just on a pedestal. They are people working hard. That opens eyes to what is possible. It’s not just a dream.”
Max and Edna Dercum, founders of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, ski in surplus Camp Hale parkas, baggy ski pants, cable bindings and long Northland skis. Courtesy Summit Historical Society
Building a culture of skiing
Edna and Max Dercum worked to realize their dreams, too. The couple founded A-Basin in 1946 after driving their 1940 Ford convertible from their home in Pennsylvania.
In her autobiographical book, “It’s easy, Edna, it’s downhill all the way,” Edna wrote that the first time she heard about Arapahoe Basin was during the annual early March Mine Dump downhill ski race at Loveland Pass. A fellow racer named Larry Jump turned, pointed at the nearby snow bowl and informed her that’s where the race would be held next year.
“Max looked at me,” Edna wrote in the book, “and I looked at him, and he nodded at me. I realized that was where Max bought our mining patents.”
Later that month, Arapahoe Basin Corp. was formed, and that summer, Max and seven others constructed the ski area that would open that winter.
The new ski area had a literal connection to the area’s mining history: The track cable used for one of the ski area’s earliest lifts came from a mine near Monarch Pass.
“Soon we would see this cable, which for years had trammed tons of silver ore off a rugged mountain, serve as a track for moving thousands of skiers,” Edna wrote.
The Dercums soon began operating the Ski Tip Lodge. It was in mid-July 1954 — five years before the idea of a Breckenridge ski area came to be — when a few of the lodge guests wanted to check out Peak 10, which they heard had some of the state’s best lingering snowfields. Edna drove her Jeep up the old Briar Rose mining road to the base of the snowfield. She remembers one guest attempting to ascend with his skis on before tumbling down the snowfield, his new jeans painting a 500-foot blue streak.
“With a wet, cold rear, he said, ‘I think I’ll head back to Chicago and leave my skiing for the winter,’” Edna wrote.
For those who decided to stay year-round, A-Basin was at the heart of the Summit County ski community. Then in 1970, Max and co-founder Bill Bergman opened Keystone, laying out the ski area with a focused blend of recreation and ecological expertise.
“’The only way the trails can be laid out correctly, Edna,’ he told me one day, ‘is to know the entire mountain,’” Edna wrote.
Max Dercum, founder of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, christens a new triple lift at the ski area after Keystone bought A-Basin more than three decades after the ski area was founded in 1946. Courtesy Edna Strand Dercum, Summit Historical Society
Ski bum lifestyle
One guy who got to know the entire mountain was Scott Toepfer, a Summit County resident who spent his career as an avalanche forecaster and now hosts visitors at the Summit Ski Museum in Breckenridge. Toepfer has been around since his family bought a three-bedroom cabin in 1962 in Loveland Pass Village across from the current site of the Snake River Saloon. In 1974, he moved here full time, met then A-Basin owner Joe Jankovsky on a lift ride and was hired before they’d reached the top. The job was installing the new Lenawee Lift, though it didn’t come to fruition that summer.
Without a paycheck, Toepfer and friends resorted to eating chipmunks and porcupines as a way to get by. Still, to Toepfer, it was better than living in Denver.
“We were there for the absolute purity of the love of skiing,” he said.
Toepfer relents that his idyllic perspective of Summit County is slowly slipping away with each crowded day, but lest he forget the free-spirited people who made this community what it is.
The Dercum family — Rolf, from left, Max, Edna and Judy — celebrate first place finishes at the 1970 National Vet’s Race at Vail. The Dercums founded Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and helped to found Keystone Resort. Courtesy Edna Strand Dercum, Summit Historical Society
One of those people, CJ “Crazy John” Mueller, knows the peaks of Summit County perhaps better than anyone. Mueller was at the heart of Summit County’s free-spirited ski community in the 1970s. Thinking back to those wild days, Mueller remembers the Roman Candles ski jumps at A-Basin. He remembers Berge’s front-flip off a self-made jump in front of the Bergenhof lodge at the base of Peak 8. And he remembers when, in 1984, Breckenridge became the first ski resort in the state to welcome snowboarders, a move Berge said helped to save the ski industry, though Mueller disagrees
But what Mueller remembers more than anything is an old Summit County saying that speaks to its spirit:
“You stay mostly because of the people,” he said. “I think it’s really, really true. When you hear that song from ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ ‘There’s no people like show people,’ we changed the words to ‘There’s no people like snow people.’ And really, there’s not.”
Now, 73 years after A-Basin’s founding, Summit County’s ski areas continue to shape the community. But it all started with the vision of transplants like Berge and the Dercums, who found their slice of heaven on earth here in the Colorado Rockies.
“I wonder if we will get to ski in heaven?” Edna wrote in in the final line of her book. “If Saint Peter gives me wings, I think I’ll trade mine for skis.”
Edna Dercum takes a moment to relax during her first day at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in 1946. Courtesy Edna Strand Dercum, Summit Historical SocietyPosted from Summit Daily via Facebook
Aspen Skiing Co. wants to replace one of its workhorse chairlifts at Snowmass Ski Area and has asked the U.S. Forest Service to do so.
Skico is looking to swap out the aging Big Burn detachable quad chairlift with an updated lift of the same type.
The application was submitted Aug. 13, and White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams signed an acceptance letter Thursday, triggering the agency’s review. The critical criteria for review are “purpose and need” for the new lift.
“The Purpose of the Big Burn Lift replacement is to replace the aging, existing high-speed detachable-grip quad chairlift — that has served Aspen Skiing Co./White River National Forest guests well for the past 33 years — with a new high-speed detachable-grip quad chairlift that incorporates the most current state-of-the-art components and technology,” the application by Skico Director of Mountain Planning Victor Gerdin said.
“There is a need for this proposed action because it has been determined the existing lift can no longer provide, due to its age, reliable and consistent access to some of Snowmass Mountain’s most popular intermediate terrain,” the application continued.
The Big Burn Chairlift was among the first generation of high-speed quads that Skico installed at its ski areas. It replaced a slow, fixed-grip double chair that had lines of legendary length. The high-speed lift debuted for the 1986-87 season and was an immediate hit.
It was relieved of some pressure when Skico replaced the slow, old Sheer Bliss chairlift with a high-speed quad, providing alternative access to Big Burn terrain.
The aging Big Burn lift’s “haul-rope” failed a recent inspection and requires replacement prior to the 2019-20 season, Gerdin wrote. That emphasizes the need to get it replaced, he said.
The replacement lift is proposed in the same alignment as the existing lift.
“The lift’s bottom terminal will move approximately 250 feet up the line to improve circulation and lift loading behind the bottom terminal,” Skico’s application said. “The top terminal will move slightly uphill or downhill to improve circulation in the unloading area.”
Skico is considering chairs with retractable “bubble” covers to provide additional passenger comfort on the lift, Gerdin wrote. The lift is somewhat exposed, particularly on stretches without trees. The capacity will remain at 2,200 passengers per hour.
The lift replacement was among the projects outlined in the 2013 Snowmass Mountain Master Development Plan, which was approved by the Forest Service. That will streamline review of the specific proposal.
Skico’s application didn’t identify when the lift would be replaced, if approved. Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said earlier this week it was too soon to tell if both the Big Burn lift replacement at Snowmass and the Pandora’s terrain expansion at Aspen Mountain would be pursued at the same time next summer. Skico is seeking approval from Pitkin County for Pandora’s and other projects on Aspen Mountain.
Over the past two decades, Vail Resorts has dramatically changed the landscape of the ski industry—acquiring properties around the world and becoming the most notorious corporation in mountain resort management. Here’s a timeline of how they did it.
What do you do when you already own the biggest, most popular ski resorts on the continent? Buy more ski resorts, of course.
In the early 1960s, Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton founded what would ultimately become Vail Resorts with one goal in mind: creating the next great ski mountain. Nearly six decades later, there are many great ski mountains—but it’s starting to feel like Vail owns all of them.
Through a series of acquisitions and leasing agreements over the past decade, Vail Resorts has grown from the owner of four of the state’s most popular mountains (Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge, and Beaver Creek) to a corporate behemoth with 37 properties across North America and Australia, and partnership agreements in Europe and Japan.
Since the mid-1990s—and particularly in the past 10 years—Vail Resorts has acquired so many mountains—including Whistler, Park City, and Crested Butte, just to name a few—that some have even joked the Broomfield-based company might as well buy the rights to all North American snowfall, securing their grip on the ski industry and bringing them one step closer to total world domination.
Most recently, Vail acquired Peak Resorts, owner of 17 properties in the Midwest and Northeast—including Mt. Snow in Vermont and Attitash in New Hampshire—meaning Epic Pass holders can now ski at nearly 80 resorts this season. Because it can be hard to keep track of every Vail acquisition, we created this complete timeline to understand how Vail became the most ubiquitous brand in ski resort management:
January 3, 1997
After its parent company, Gillett Holdings, went bankrupt six years earlier, private-equity firm Apollo Global acquires Vail in 1992. Five years later, in an effort to begin building its empire and much to the chagrin of skiing purists in the Centennial State, the newly publicly traded Vail Resorts acquires Breckenridge and Keystone from Ralston Purina (yes, the pet food company). The $310 million deal briefly includes Arapahoe Basin, but the U.S. Justice Department argues it violates antitrust laws because Vail, whose properties accounted for 12 percent of all skier days in Colorado, would triple that number with the addition of all three resorts. The DOJ orders A-Basin be sold to a third party at the beginning of the year and it has been independent ever since.
Now with five major resorts under its belt, Vail throws a knuckleball into the ski industry with the introduction of its “Epic Pass.” At $569, the annual pass gives holders an unlimited number of days at its quintet of ski areas. Industry leaders call them foolish; instead, they revolutionize the North American ski market.
Similar to many of its peers, Vail was hit hard by the fallout of the 2008 economic recession, with plummeting occupancy rates and decreased customer spending dragging its stock price down 45 percent. As it digs out of the financial hole, Vail expands to Lake Tahoe, where it buys resorts on the northwest end (Northstar) and southern end (Kirkwood) of the lake to go along with the aforementioned Heavenly.
A section of the Northern Hemisphere is never enough, so Vail Resorts completes several new expansions:
Park City: Vail sends a tremor through the industry when it purchases Park City Mountain Resort for an estimated $182.5 million from Powdr Corp on September 11, 2014. It quickly merges Park City with Canyons Resort, acquired on a 50-year lease 16 months earlier, creating the largest ski resort in the U.S.
Perisher: Six months later, Vail acquires the largest mountain resort in Australia for $135 million. By late 2016, Vail Resorts’ stock price hits $162 per share, nearly 250 percent above its pre-recession price 10 years earlier. The global takeover—probably including one of those cool, holographic maps of the Earth sitting in CEO Rob Katz’ office—has commenced.
Whistler Blackcomb: If Park City and Perisher were foreshocks, Vail’s purchase of the most-trafficked ski area in North America for $1.1 billion on August 8, 2016, might have broken the Richter scale. The purchase price was one of the largest ever for a mountain resort.
Money talks. With record-setting revenues despite an industry-wide downturn in visitors, Vail blitzes the Northeast and Northwest, snatching up Vermont’s Okemo and Stowe Mountain Resorts, Washington’s Stevens Pass, and completes an agreement to operate New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee in a deal with Triple Peaks. Back home, one of the few local holdouts, Crested Butte, also a Triple Peaks property, is sold to Vail Resorts as part of the package. The move comes as a shock to many skiers, particular Crested Butte locals who in previous decades prided themselves on not being Vail.
February 22, 2019
With Perisher already in its arsenal, Vail acquires Australian resorts Falls Creek and Hotham for a reported $124 million.
*Pending approval by regulators and company shareholders.
**Vail Resorts leased this property and merged it with Park City Mountain Resort.
***The State of New Hampshire owns this property, but Vail operates it.
Posted from 5280.com Denver’s Mile High Magazine via Facebook
What, exactly, is Mayflower Mountain Resort? It’s a difficult question to answer even as details havebegun to emerge about Park City’s impending, new ski resort. Mayflower will have a comprehensively developed base area along U.S. 40 and slopes overlooking the Jordanelle Reservoir, but how the mountain will ultimately operate remains uncertain.
The long-held belief was that Mayflower would eventually serve as another base area for Deer Valley, but as of now there is no agreement between Mayflower’s developer, Extell Development Company, and Deer Valley’s owner, Alterra Mountain Company, which would allow the two resorts to operate as one. The two ownership entities recently signed a 199-year lease which, at a minimum, enables skiers to access terrain at Deer Valley the same way they always have from U.S. 40 and enables a connection between the two resorts should the parties come to a future agreement.
Mayflower’s 400 skiable acres are enough to operate an independent ski area, though it pales in comparison to the 2,000 plus acres of terrain on tap at Deer Valley. From a skier’s perspective, the limited area makes far more sense as an addition to Deer Valley than it does as a standalone destination. Clearly Extell and Alterra don’t view joint operation as a certainty, as no funding from Deer Valley is being used to finance any of the infrastructure at Mayflower.
PC: Extell Development Company
With lifts still a couple seasons away from turning, however, we’ll wager the two areas will operate as a de facto singular entity. The layout makes far too much sense to ignore, and the overwhelming trend in the ski industry is towards consolidation of mountain operations. How Deer Valley’s archaic prohibition of snowboarders will factor into the decision is unknown as well.
We’ll have to wait and see just how the corporate negotiations play out, but plans for the base area of Mayflower Mountain Resort are beginning to take shape. Extell is planning a massive development that includes three hotels, a convention center and the world’s largest ski beach along with a 68,000-square foot public recreation center, and an array of shops, restaurants and bars. Mayflower’s financing in part comes from the Military Installation Development Authority’s (MIDA) participation. The financing structure allows more money to be spent during the initial stages of development which will ultimately be paid by leveraging future tax growth. Thanks to MIDA funding, the first hotel built at Mayflower will feature 100 rooms exclusively available for military personnel at subsidized rates. Extell also plans to construct 95,000 square feet of sorely-needed workforce housing, which is a welcome bit of investment aimed at addressing Park City’s affordable housing woes.
Development of the mountains along U.S. 40 has been a possibility for decades, and undoubtedly the plans for Mayflower Mountain Resort will enliven charged opinions on all sides. When combined with large-scale development of the parking lots at Park City Mountain and the parking lots at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Lodge, the area is staring down the barrel of some construction and transit issues that will need to be efficiently addressed. Without some foresight, a lucrative era of growth in Park City will be threatened under the weight of its own excesses.