Thursday, January 9, 2003
Steamboat Springs For his latest project, documentary filmmaker Smokey Vandergrift found 16-millimeter film footage from a trip up a one-chair lift that, in the 1947-48 winter, went from the bottom of Howelsen Hill to the top of Emerald Mountain.
The lift was open only that winter and there are no known photos of it.
It's just one of the little treasures on Vandergrift's new film, "From Cow Town to Ski Town," documenting the history of Steamboat Springs. The film will be shown to the public for the first time tonight and then sold at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
Vandergrift coupled the chairlift footage in the film with a vinyl recording of the one-time local Wegeman brothers, Keith, Paul and Lauren, singing ski songs about the Yampa Valley. Keith and Paul were Olympians in the early '50s, while Lauren went on to be a successful singer in Hollywood.
Vandergrift also found the oldest known film of Steamboat, shot in 1928. He found it at the Tread of Pioneers Museum in an old cigar box. It is a home movie shot by matron of the arts Eleanor Bliss on rare 9.6-millimeter film. The images are of the Winter Carnival, ski jumping and pack trip in the Routt National Forest.
"You would just be amazed by it," Vandergrift said.
There are some other things that will surprise people who see the film. Vandergrift found photos of a Steamboat Springs Ku Klux Klan meeting in the early '20s with Sleeping Giant in the background.
"This part of northwestern Colorado was a center for the Klan," he said.
Here, the KKK's efforts were directed not against African Americans, but instead Eastern European Catholics moving into the area.
Vandergrift also uncovers the truth of Steamboat founder James Crawford's reason for settling into the valley.
Vandergrift said his research for the film led him to the conclusion that Crawford was interested in the area's coal. That's unlike the popular notion of Crawford falling in love with the area and being attracted by the springs.
"Crawford came from the coal. Of course, he liked the location, too," he said.
Vandergrift's goal in making "From Cow Town to Ski Town" was to correctly document Steamboat Springs, but doing that took longer than he thought it would. The original product was going to be a half-hour-long documentary completed in time for the Centennial Anniversary of Steamboat in 2000. The project needed more time. He said the film was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he wanted to do it right.
"I wasn't going to make a marketing film. I wanted to tell about how the town really evolved," he said.
Vandergrift worked on the film for two years, ultimately extending it to an hour long.
He estimated putting about 400 hours of work into the project, with 50 hours of footage that he shot himself and 200 to 300 hours of stock footage.
"I scoured the countryside looking for pictures," Vandergrift said.
He also collected interviews taken over the years with some notable figures in Steamboat's history, such as the first local Olympian, John Steele, as well as Dorothy Wither, Eleanor Bliss and Hazie Werner.
Vandergrift even uncovered the only known footage of Buddy Werner skiing on Mount Werner, which was named in his honor after his death.
Local musician and entertainer Dave Moran narrates the movie, which features music by local artists.
"From Cow Town to Ski Town" is being played at 9 p.m. at Centennial Hall. It's free, but donations will be taken.