Saturday, January 5, 2013
Steamboat Ski Area celebrates 50th anniversary
Steamboat Ski Area’s original base lodge was an example of classic 1960s and early 1970s ski area architecture: the A-frame.
The Steamboat A-frame, long gone from the base area, was located, logically, at Christie Base, at the bottom of the only chairlift on the mountain when Steamboat Ski Area opened in January 1963.
Jay Fetcher, the son of late former ski area President John Fetcher, recalls working as an unpaid lift operator and ski shop assistant at the A-frame on winter weekends in high school.
He was stationed at the bottom of the chairlift, and there was no lift operator at the top to know whether passengers successfully were getting off the chairs or piling up on top of one another the way they did in some of the Warren Miller movies of the 1970s.
“If someone didn’t get off the lift at the top, they just rode back to the bottom again because there was no one to stop it,” Fetcher recalled last month.
Although he wasn’t being paid an hourly wage, there was a fringe benefit for Fetcher: He always could get a basket of french fries from the snack shop run by Ralph Selch. Selch was better known in those days for the dairy he ran in downtown Steamboat near Yampa and 12th streets.
Selch’s history at the ski area actually goes back to December 1961, when ski area pioneer Jim Temple opened a surface ski lift, Cub Claw, just for that winter. Selch was grilling hamburgers in the old South Ranch House that winter. But the fledgling ski area cleared just $300 (not on hamburger sales — on lift ticket sales) by April 1. And that was with Temple declining to pay himself a salary. When the snow melted that spring, Temple pulled back from constructing a permanent chairlift.
Selch, born in 1928, joined the National Ski Patrol at age 15 in 1943 and continued in that role for 40 years.
Fetcher had another role at the A-frame in 1963. The famous Werner skiing family had a sporting goods shop, the Storm Hut, in downtown Steamboat. Skeeter Werner, who competed in the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina, Italy, opened the second Storm Hut — and the first ski shop on the mountain — in the A-frame. Fetcher was an employee there, fitting boots on customers.
“It was such a tiny shop,” Fetcher said.
Say what you want about A-frames, but nobody can deny that their roofs shed snow. ■