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Colorado Ski & Recreation History

Two skiers ski down hill

Skiing at Ski Cooper- Leadville, Colorado


The recruiting efforts by the National Ski Patrol System brought some of the world's most accomplished skiers into the 10th Mountain Division. International champions, collegiate skiers, ski school instructors, and U.S. competitors all enlisted to serve in U.S. Army's mountain troops. The volunteers read like a Who's Who of the slopes. Among the most famous members of the division were the Norwegian ski-jumper Torger Tokel, international alpine champion Friedl Pfeifer, East Coast down hill racers Rudy Konieczny and Wendy Cramm, and collegiate coaches Walter Prager and Everett Bailey of Dartmouth and the University of Vermont respectively. College and university students and alumni enlisted with skiing powerhouse Dartmouth contributing Percy Rideout, Larry Jump, John Litchfield, and Jacob Nunnemacher. Renowned ski instructors from Mount Hood, the Adirondacks, and Sun Valley also enlisted.

While stationed at Camp Hale, members of the 10th Mountain Division had been impressed with the terrain and quality of snow in the Colorado Rockies and saw a potential for post war development. The return of the ski troopers to civilian life ushered in the beginning of Colorado's big-time ski industry, as several men lived up to their wartime promise to return to the state. They brought with them the expertise, vision, and organizational skills that led to the development of Aspen, Arapaho Basin, Vail, and the 10th Mountain Division Trail and Hut System.

The first resort to receive aid from a 10th Mountain veteran was Aspen. Prior to World War II, Aspen had the rudimentary beginnings of a ski resort due to the work of the Highland-Bavarian Corporation. Investors hoped their enterprise would rival Sun Valley, but the onset of war had derailed plans for further development. When Friedl Pfeifer returned to Aspen after the war, Walter Paepcke, a Chicago businessman and his wife, Elizabeth Paepcke had cultivated an interest in the town. Pfeifer sought investors, researched land rights and possibilities for a chair lift, and brought 10th Mountain colleagues Percy Rideout and John Litchfield to town to launch the Friedl Pfeifer Ski School. In 1946, the efforts paid off when Paecke joined him and other investors, including Charles Minot Dole of the National Ski Patrol, to form the Aspen Skiing Corporation. The venture proved to be highly successful and revitalized the old mining town.

Mountain scene with graphic design of lines and leaf imposed
Aspen Mountain had the World's Longest Chairlift in 1947

In the 1950s, Pfeifer turned his attention to expansion and new development in the Aspen area. Lacking the support of the Aspen Skiing Corporation, he purchased land at Buttermilk Mountain, financed the operations personally, and opened Buttermilk for skiing in 1958. When Whipple Van Ness Jones opened Aspen Highlands in 1958, another 10th Mountain veteran, Peter Seibert, was brought in as a manager for the facility.

The next ski resort developed by 10th Mountain alumni was Arapaho Basin. Tenth mountaineer Larry Jump and Sandy Schauffler had been retained by the Denver Chamber of Commerce to explore possibilities for a facility easily accessible for Front Range skiers. Camp Hale soldiers had known about Arapaho Basin since WWII. Located at Loveland Pass, Arapaho Basin lay along the route that military personnel had taken from Camp Hale to Denver on weekend excursions. After researching the area, Jump and Schauffler recognized the potential for development and formed the Arapaho Basin Corporation with investors involved in the ski industry. From its inception, the resort catered to day skiers form the Denver area. It opened in 1946 with a rope tow charging $1.25 for a day lift ticket, and by the 1948-1949 season, two chair lifts operated.

During the time Peter Seibert worked as a manager at Loveland and Aspen, he had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of building his own resort. In 1957, a skiing friend and prospector, Earl Eaton, took him to Vail, and he immediately saw the possibilities. That year the two formed a Gun Club to purchase land at the base of the mountain, and two years later gained a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build a resort. Vail Corporation began soliciting investors with sufficient capital to meet the Forest Service requirements and was able to begin construction in 1961 and opened in December, 1962. The resort got off to a very slow starts but by the end of the decade had established itself as a premier resort. Seibert remained involved with Vail until 1978, when he turned his entrepreneurial skills to Snow Basin in Utah.

Aerial View of Ski Cooper

Aerial View of Ski Cooper


No account of the contributions to the Colorado ski industry would be complete without mention of Fritz Benedict. Benedict was an architect drawn back to Aspen, Colorado, in 1945. An admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, he sought to meld nature with architecture and advanced his philosophies in designs for ski villages at Vail in 1962, Snowmass in 1967, and Breckenridge in 1971. He also made contributions to the ski resorts of Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and Winter Park. In addition, his love of nature and a desire to honor the military unit he served in led to the creation of the 10th Mountain Hut and Trail System, which opened with two huts in 1981.

While Colorado was a major beneficiary of the talent of the 10th Mountain veterans, nationally seventeen ski areas and 33 ski schools were founded or managed by them. While the most famous contributions are the resorts themselves, the men contributed to the industry in other ways. Stephen Knowlton was the first director of Colorado Ski Country and Merrill Hastings published the magazine Skiing. Other veterans, including John Woodward, Hans Hagemeister, and Don Goodman, became manufactures or distributors of ski equipment. The ski industry of today is indebted to the soldiers of the summit.

A comprehensive overview of the Colorado ski industry can be obtained by a visit to the Colorado Ski Museum.



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