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Last week, a parade of skiers descended from Vista Haus on Peak 8 at Breckenridge Ski Resort into the Summit County town. The group was led by a smiling man in a Norwegian wool sweater. He made perfect, graceful turns, his white hair blowing in the wind.
The man was Trygve Berge, who co-founded Breckenridge Ski Resort 60 years ago. And the ski parade was part of a celebration for his 90th birthday. The ensuing party in Berge’s honor included countless “skol” toasts and wishes for many more birthdays. He solemnly responded, “Yes, I hope for many more.”
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The epic party was worthy of Berge’s impressive life. After he was born on April 19, 1932, in Voss, Norway, he survived the Nazi occupation and went on to become the national downhill champion, as well as compete in the 1956 Olympics. Berge moved to Aspen shortly thereafter, where he met landowner Bill Rounds, who offered him a job building a Breckenridge lumberyard. At the time, the town consisted mostly of dirt roads and few businesses, the only evidence of major industry after a gold mining boom brought Breckenridge into existence a century earlier.
Berge saw an opportunity that would help revive Breckenridge. “Back then, [Peak 8] had all the rock piles at the bottom—the stuff from the mining days,” Berge said. “But the mountain was beautiful. It looked like a mountain you use for something.”
Berge convinced Rounds that the mountain should be used for skiing. Along with compatriot Sigurd Rockne, the three founded Breckenridge Ski Resort, which opened December 16, 1961. Berge and Rockne designed and built the area, which, at the time, consisted of one double chair, a T-bar, and a handful of runs on Peak 8 (including the still-popular Rounders, Springmeier, and Callie’s Alley). Berge ran the resort’s ski school for 10 years.
During the ski area’s first season, Breckenridge played host to about 17,000 skiers. That’s how many people catch some turns at the resort during an average, mid-winter Saturday these days. “It’s good for business, but I don’t like the big lift lines,” says Berge. “I don’t know what you’d do to slow it down.”
Berge lives alone in a humble condo at the base of Four O’Clock ski run, where he peeled off following last week’s ski parade for a quick wardrobe change, before rejoining the in-town portion of his birthday celebration.
There, his longtime friend and founder of Breckenridge Nordic Center Gene Dayton serenaded him with a tune on the accordion, and dozens of friends shared stories of Berge’s contributions and adventures. The tales included how he was the brainchild of Breckenridge’s famed Ullr Fest; how he’d single-handedly built beautiful stone fireplaces in some of the guests homes; how he recently taught a group of friends how to do the Mambo down the ski trail, as well as how he’d invented many things, including a slide mat to help paramedics move patients, inspired by the time he was hit by a train when driving his truck over railroad tracks in Denver.
Following the decade he spent running Breckenridge’s ski school, Berge also built and managed Breckenridge’s first ski shop, the Norway Haus (where Salt Creek Steakhouse now stands), which he and his family lived above for many years.
All four of Berge’s children also spoke at his celebration. They reminisced about their earliest ski days with their dad, including speeding down Mach 1—one of Peak 8’s steepest trails—on his shoulders, or skiing with fellow Olympian and former Breckenridge resident Jean-Claude Killy. They also discussed how their father imparted a profound sense of humor and a lust for life.
In addition to skiing, Trygve continues to paint and build. Just last summer, at age 89, he spent several hot summer weeks building a fireplace, chimney, shed, and garage in Eagle. “I worked my ass off,” he says of the project. “There’s always something to do.”
“He’s an artist,” says Truls Berge, Trygve’s oldest son. “He paints great pictures, carves wood, builds furniture, houses, fireplaces. He’s been a stonemason his whole life. But the greatest art he has is when he skis. The trees are the frame, the snow is the canvas, and he’s the art on the trail.”
Breckenridge, his original creation, is where he most enjoys showing off his ski-related handiwork. He still notches about 30 ski days a season, sticking mostly to groomers. And although Breckenridge currently has five peaks and 187 trails, Berge believes that Peak 8 is still the resort’s gold standard as far as terrain goes. “It has a fall line that makes people feel they can get places, meet friends. It has a flow that’s friendly, with nice areas for families.”
The full life Berge has lived, which was on full display at the celebration, has made many wonder whether the man has nine lives. Berge balks at that notion. “Nine lives?” he says. “I don’t think so. I have more than that.”