Skiing, as strange as it might sound, is a journey through history. As you glide across the slopes of Colorado’s ski areas, you—maybe unknowingly—are interacting with the interesting and beautiful story of skiing in Colorado and the history of the state in general. Each ski area, lift and run, is part of the story of our state and the people who have come and gone, and left in their wake the ski industry we all enjoy.
The history of Colorado Ski Country is a colorful reflection of the people that have called the state home.
Take Mary Jane at Winter Park Resort for example. Winter Park’s Mary Jane territory, known internationally and held in almost religious reverence for its moguls, is a perfect example of how Colorado’s history connects with the skiing world. Mary Jane is named after—in Winter Park’s own words—a “well-known madam and local lady of the evening,” who provided the miner camp that occupied the land that is now Winter Park with companionship. Mary Jane somehow came to own a parcel of land at the base of what is now Mary Jane mountain, and the area would become known by her name for the rest of history, and immortalized in 1975 when Mary Jane opened for business at Winter Park.
Ski Country’s history isn’t all the results of prospectors and their company though. Many of the state’s ski areas are the children of national heroes, men who went off to war in 1945 and came back with a vision to bring the sport and culture of skiing to the masses. The 10th Mountain Division, which saw action in Italy during World War II, trained at Cooper Hill, now the site of Ski Cooper, while based at Camp Hale. After the war, many veterans returned to the beautiful terrain of Colorado’s high country to create ski areas meant to teach people of all types and skill levels the great sport of skiing. The 10th Mountain Division was one of the most important catalysts for the spread of skiing into an affordable, enjoyable pastime of middle class America. The majority of ski areas in the state have at one point been touched by the influence of the 10th Mountain, whether being founded by veterans soon after the war (such as is the case for Arapahoe Basin, Aspen Snowmass and of course Ski Cooper), or being affected in less-tangible ways by the leadership and expertise of veterans who lent their hand to teaching, coaching, patrolling, building and maintaining equipment in the high country.
Some of these 10th Mountain veterans became legends in their own right, such as Pete Seibert, who was a patroller at Aspen Mountain, or Laurence “Larry” Jump, one of the founders of Arapahoe Basin (and whose name, along with other A-Basin founders, is permanently engraved in the Ski Country consciousness as a run in Montezuma bowl).
Many of the people who have come and gone in Ski Country have left behind both their legacies and their names, which now denote lifts and runs across the state. In 2018, two new lifts in Colorado Ski Country were installed and named after local legends, innovators who helped expand skiing to the masses of Colorado and who tirelessly worked at their respective ski areas to better the enjoyment of all. In lieu of memorials and museums, these lifts serve as tangible connections to the past, to the history of the sport and culture of skiing in the state.
At Loveland, the old Lift 1 was replaced by a high-speed detachable quad, named “Chet’s Dream” in honor of the late Chester R. (Chet) Upham, Jr., who after joining the Loveland Ski Tow Company in 1956, helped persuade the other partners in the company to install the first chairlift at the resort and only the third statewide, Lift 1. After buying out the rest of the partners in 1972, Upham took over full ownership and control of the ski area (and it is still in the Upham family’s hands). His aim with the ski area was to provide an affordable ski experience close to the Front Range, one that made all its patrons feel like guests of the owners. The lift honors his memory by giving Loveland its first high-speed chair, going along with his dream to always be offering the very best in skiing to the area’s guests.
Wolf Creek, the ski area that sees the most natural snow in the state, expanded its terrain offerings this season with the addition of a high-speed detachable quad named the “Charity Jane Express,” after Charity Jane Pitcher, the area’s late owner and wife of renowned ski visionary Kingsbury Pitcher. Pitcher and her husband bought the area in 1976, and won praise for their dedication to their small, remote and yet totally enthralling patch of high country land, where the powder is the greatest incentive. In her memory, the lift will offer riders three minute laps in the 900-acre Alberta Zone of the ski area.
In Ski Country, the history is all around us, and just by touching the mountain, we all take part in the great story of skiing. Only time will tell which current people, places and events will be looked back upon as markers of the sport’s interesting and colorful history.
Justin Cygan is a fourth-year student at the University of Denver, where he studies International Relations and Journalism. Born and raised in Colorado, he learned to ski and snowboard at his home mountain of Loveland, where he still regularly rides today. When not chasing pow he can be found skateboarding, writing, reading, cooking and taking pictures in Denver and throughout the state. Justin is the proud father of a year-old aloe plant. Read more of Justin’s stories here.