Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: Ski pioneer Perry brought Howelsen to Steamboat

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

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Marjorie Perry was among the most adventurous of Steamboat’s early outdoorswomen. Now, her nephew's wife, Ruth Brown “Ditty” Perry, 94, has self-published a collection of family photos and biographical sketches of Marjorie Perry's life in the Steamboat Springs area titled "Marjorie Perry: An Outstanding Woman of the West."

— Marjorie Perry was a key figure in the modern history of Western Colorado. She was a rancher, adventurous skier, remarkable horsewoman and, luckily for all of us, insisted that her friend Carl Howelsen travel west from Hot Sulphur Springs, where he already had demonstrated ski jumping, to Steamboat Springs.

Of course, Howelsen taught Steamboat youngsters how to ski jump, and with Perry’s help, established the town’s first Winter Carnival nearly 100 years ago.

Without Marjorie Perry acting as the catalyst, Steamboat’s rich tradition of competitive skiing might have followed a far different path or possibly never might have taken hold to begin with.

Now, her nephew's wife, Ruth Brown “Ditty” Perry, 94, has self-published a collection of family photos and biographical sketches of Marjorie Perry's life, and particularly her years in the Steamboat Springs area, titled “Marjorie Perry: An Outstanding Woman of the West.”

When Routt County documentarian Frank Vandergrift approached Ruth Perry at her Carbondale home a little while back to seek permission to record her memories, she declined. But thankfully for the rest of us, Ditty was inspired to undertake a new book about her husband's aunt Marjorie Perry. And Vandergrift, in the true spirit of a documentarian, aided her in that effort along with others as she persevered through a broken hip.

The result is a gift to the community and to the record of ski history in Colorado.

Marjorie Perry was born in 1882 in Chicago and moved to Denver with her family in 1886. She and her parents took cross-country horseback trips to visit Steamboat Springs.

Her father, Sam, was involved with the development of the Moffat Railroad, and she was known to have skied ahead of snowbound trains.

The family acquired a ranch in Strawberry Park, and Marjorie helped her younger sister, Charlotte, and Portia Mansfield to establish a performing arts camp there in 1913.

For many years, Marjorie kept a cabin of her own there.

In an interview with The Denver Post at her suburban Denver home in May 1969, Perry, then 87, said she finally had put away her 8-foot-long cross-country skis for good just the year before.

The new book about Perry’s life is a treasure for its photographs, many of which I never have glimpsed before, including one of Howelsen with a group of younger Norwegian ski jumpers posed along the banks of the Yampa River.

There are pictures of Perry cuddling with an orphaned bear cub like it was a big puppy, of ski expeditions to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, of slalom courses and of early Winter Carnivals (Perry missed only one in more than 50 years).

Perry was an avid hunter and horseback rider and often took the campers from Perry-Mansfield to ride on her own Soda Creek Ranch. Longer outings went all the way to the Perry cabin at Luna Lake (now in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area). All of it is recorded in crisp photos in the new spiral-bound book.

So, you’re probably wondering when you can get your hands on a copy. Vandergrift is working to place a few copies in local stores, so you’ll have to stay tuned.

Marjorie Perry was an early member of the Colorado Mountain Club and was named to the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1988. There won’t be another like her anytime soon. Ruth Perry’s book is a fitting legacy to an outstanding woman of the West.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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