The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
Flipping through the new history-in-photos book by the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame, you’ll notice that in addition to the ridiculously long skis and, well, simply ridiculous attire, the vast majority of subjects also wear a toothy grin. In some instances, they’re mugging for the camera, but in most, it’s clear they’re just having a whole lot of fun.
Released in October, Skiing in Colorado chronicles how the sport evolved from necessity to recreational pursuit, says Dana Mathios, the museum’s curator and director of collections, who led the project. “Whether in bounds at our resorts where we draw 14 million visitors annually or in the backcountry, Colorado has become the destination for snowsports,” she says. “Colorado has given many the feeling of freedom in the outdoors.”
That's only $1 per issue!
So, in tribute to the dreamers, daredevils, and wackadoos who are the reason we strap on our planks each winter, we compiled five key events in Colorado snowsports lore.
1914: Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs becomes the first ski area in the U.S.
Back in the late 1800s, Coloradans primarily used skiing as a means of transportation for mining supplies, medical care, and mail conveyance. Using a single wood pole to balance, turn, and brake on their nine-foot-long skis, the heartiest individuals could travel up to 50 miles in a day. In the early 1910s, however, Norwegian-born Carl Howelsen demonstrated that skiing could also be a whole lot of fun when he helped establish a ski jump on what was later named Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs. “People came out to see these ski jumping events,” Mathios says. “It brought more of that community feeling to skiing versus, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to get somewhere or check on livestock and the only way I can get there is on skis.’”
In 1917, Henry Christian Hall, a new member to the Steamboat Ski Club (a youth training group known today as the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club), launched himself 203 feet off the Howelsen ski ramp and became the first American to ever set the world record in ski jumping. “Today we think of Mikaela Shiffrin, the X Games, and freestyle skiing,” Mathios says, “but people were doing some pretty crazy stuff back then too.”
1942: U.S. Army establishes the 10th Mountain Division.
Three years into World War II, the Army opened Camp Hale near modern-day Leadville and invited roughly 15,000 men to be a part of its elite mountain warfare unit: the 10th Mountain Division. These soldiers trained six miles away at Cooper Hill, including the von Trapp brothers of Sound of Music fame, as well as Bill Bowerman, who later co-founded Nike.
After the 10th Mountain Division’s legendary Battle of Riva Ridge and the end of the war, many of the division’s soldiers returned to Colorado. These veterans started the Aspen Ski School, helped to build Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, built the 10th Mountain Hut system, established Vail Ski Resort, and more. “They were supposed to go to law school or run the family farm or work on Wall Street, but all they wanted to do was stay in the mountains with their buddies,” says Ron Mooney, tour director with the Colorado Snowsports Museum. “They returned from the war with this passion and practically endowed the entire outdoor recreation industry.”
1972: Denver becomes the first city in history to be awarded an Olympic bid—and to subsequently reject it.
In 1970, members of the 70th International Olympic Committee (IOC) session gathered in Amsterdam to decide which city would host the 1976 Winter Olympic Games: Sion, Switzerland; Tampere, Finland; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; or Denver, Colorado. After three rounds of voting, they decided the Mile High City would host the world in a year that marked its state’s centennial anniversary and America’s bicentennial. By 1972, the IOC had approved the University of Denver as the site for Olympic Village, Steamboat Springs as the Nordic ski hub, and Vail as the temporary center of the alpine skiing universe.
State Representative Richard Lamm, however, wasn’t on board. He worried a Denver Games would be detrimental to the environment, stretch the city’s budget, and lead to unchecked urban sprawl. Lamm led the charge to bring the issue to the ballot box, where a 537,440-to-358,906 vote prevented more state funding. No money meant no Games for Denver.
Whether or not Denver made the right choice in rejecting its bid remains a controversial topic today, both Mathios and Mooney agree. On one hand, we would have state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure (and probably an alternative to I-70), they point out. “[But] it would have accelerated the state’s growth and pushed the state in a different direction, one that prioritizes development and growth over land conservation and quality-of-life issues,” Mooney adds. “Instead, Colorado took a slower and more carefully crafted path that fit the mood, style, and ethos of the state.”
1982: Centipede Ski Club constructs the first 10-person ski.
When Ullr goes on strike, most mountain town locals lament the lack of snow and just keep riding their bikes. During the drought of the 1980–’81 ski season, however, Rick Oldham, Jim Moesle, Mike McQueen, Mike Geze, and a few other Winter Park residents got busy with a different project: building—and using—a pair of 20-foot-long skis. “It’s basically two skis, close together, and then they put on enough bindings so that 10 people can ride it at the exact same time,” Mathios says. “They called themselves the Centipede Ski Club.”
Though the Guinness World Records has declined to recognize the accomplishment, on April 18, 1982, closing day for Winter Park Resort, five teams competed in what they called the first-ever World Pro Championship Ten-Man Ski Race.
Plenty of other ski-related shenanigans have taken place here in the Centennial State, including schussing once a month for the past 42 years and going to great lengths to avoid I-70 traffic. This week, Breckenridge locals and visitors alike aim to regain the title for the world’s longest shot ski in its annual fest dedicated to appeasing the same Norse god who, inadvertently, inspired a centipede on skis.
2007: All of Colorado’s fourteeners are skied in one calendar year.
Two-time World Champion skier and Aspen resident Chris Davenport has won numerous Red Bull competitions, skied and guided on Mt. Everest, and appeared in more than 30 Warren Miller and Matchstick Productions ski films. The legendary shredder made history when he hiked up and skied down all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains within one calendar year—January 22, 2006 to January 19, 2007—a “downright mind-blowing” accomplishment, says former Powder Magazine editor Derek Taylor in Davenport’s coffee table book, Ski the Fourteeners. In May 2010, Christy Mahon became the first woman and Jarrett Luttrell became the first snowboarder to complete the multipeak feat. But who was the first person to ever ski all of Colorado’s fourteeners? That honor belongs to Lou Dawson, who chased white on all the Centennial State’s highest peaks from 1978 to 1991.