Mountain name changed to honor Buddy Werner


— Many years before Mount Werner was renamed in honor of Steamboat Springs' first family of skiing the massive bald peak that dominates views from downtown Steamboat Springs had a simple name. Most local people didn't have to ask how Storm Mountain got its name.

However, the current name -- Mount Werner -- involves some explanation. The name of Storm Mountain wasn't changed until 1965, shortly after the death, in a Swiss avalanche in April 1964 , of homegrown Olympic skier Buddy Werner.

Werner competed in three Winter Olympics in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was widely acknowledged as America's greatest skier of the time. He never had his best race at the Olympics, but turned the world of Alpine skiing upside down by becoming the first American male skier to win a major European title. He was a three-time champion at Holmenkollen in Norway and won the Swiss Lauberhorn Combined in Wengen in 1958. Werner also won the famed Hahnenkamm Downhill at Kitzbuhel, Austria, in record time in 1959.

Storm Peak has always been a weather generator that made its 10,388-foot summit virtually impassable in winter. Except of course, on skis. The depth of the snow that lingered there into June also meant that early pioneers sought out routes around it.

The big mountain didn't even garner a mention in the first formal survey of the region.

Sureva Towler reported in her 1987 book, "The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs," that the mountain was missing from the 1873 U.S. Geological Survey carried out in this region by Ferdinand Hayden.

The name Storm Mountain first appeared on a U.S. Forest Service map in 1913 and was attached to the final five miles of the Park Range Preserve, which begins in Wyoming and has its southern terminus at Rabbit Ears Pass.

The name remained for most of the last century, until the untimely death of Buddy Werner on April 12, 1964. A month after his death, town councilman Merle Nash and town clerk Gates Gooding stood before the council and petitioned its members to consider taking steps to change the name of Storm Peak to Mount Werner.

The council endorsed the request on May 8, 1964, according to Towler. It received approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior in December and was made official in a dedication ceremony at Howelsen Hill during the 52nd Winter Carnival in February 1965.

Nash recalls that only one or two people spoke out against changing the historical name of the mountain and the town council achieved a unanimous decision in a matter of minutes.

"It was because of his legendary feats," Nash said. He gave most of the credit for getting the name of the mountain changed to the efforts of Gooding.

Both men were close to the great skier.

Tyler Gooding recalls that his late father took a strong interest in young Buddy's ski racing career and helped him get to some out-of-state races.

"They were very good friends and respected one another," Gooding said. "Dad loved Buddy. He helped him a lot."

As a young ski racer himself, Gooding recalled that Buddy Werner always had time for the youngsters in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

"When he was home he'd always come over and ski with the local kids," Gooding said. "He just impressed the heck out of us. He was the best skier in the world."

Nash has memories of being in a group of skiers, including Werner, who scouted routes on Storm Peak before there were any trails or lifts to the summit.

"There were no trails from Thunderhead up to the top," Nash recalled. "We used to climb up in March on the crusted snow -- Buddy, Jim Temple and John Fetcher. Buddy was looking for a continuous downhill from the top of the mountain to the bottom."

Other times, they rode horseback to the summit in summer.

On one trip, Nash recalled, the group used surveyor's flagging to mark a route from a landmark known as Temple's Crotch to the Vagabond trail.

"Four or five years later, after Buddy's death, Gordy Wren went in there and the surveyor's tape was still there," Nash said. "To this day, that cat track is still in there."


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