Steamboat Ski Area celebrates 50th anniversary
As thousands of ski vacationers poured into Steamboat Springs during the final two weeks of 2012, it wasn’t difficult to understand why. A series of heavy storms had buried the slopes of Mount Werner with 4 feet of dry, light snow. It was the Champagne powder of legend, the kind of snow that allows mere mortals to dance with gravity in ways few sports other than skiing allow.
When skiers and snowboarders feel they are one with the mountain and attuned to the fundamental laws of physics, it produces a sensation that can cause grown men and women to yip coyotes.
And after a half-century, isn’t that what a perfect ski day in Steamboat is all about?
Steamboat Ski Area will begin a celebration of its 50th anniversary this week, and one easily could trace that history by devoting a book to the parade of landmarks like new trails, new chairlifts, changes of ownership and even new snowmaking guns.
Instead, with this new edition of the Sunday Steamboat Pilot & Today, we hope to share stories you might not have heard that offer a new perspective of the first 50 years of the ski area.
We’ve also created the opportunity for you to add your own memories to the record. Write a brief account of your favorite memories of Mount Werner, maybe upload a photo or two to accompany them and email them to share@SteamboatToday.com. Tell us the approximate date, and we’ll even add you to a comprehensive online timeline of ski area history.
Truths, not myths
Steamboat always has benefitted from the conjoining of the great American cowboy/cowgirl myth and the sense of freedom derived from skiing. But Steamboat’s ranching heritage is no myth. Early Steamboat Ski Area pioneers, people like Jim Temple and John Fetcher, knew almost everything there was to know about beef cattle from working on their own ranches. And they drew from their knowledge of the land to help realize the dream of a ski area on Storm Mountain. And it didn’t hurt that they knew people who knew their way around heavy equipment.
With the perspective of 50 years, the ambitions that Temple and Fetcher each nurtured to create a new ski resort — absent any real source of capital — appear to have been folly. But they got it done through force of will.
Steamboat would not be the storied resort that it is today without strong executives, mountain managers, department leaders and their employees who exhibited similarly strong resolve and a love of the Yampa Valley through a series of sometimes tumultuous changes in ownership.
When Steamboat Ski Area has been sold to new financiers, there always has been a team of rock-steady Steamboat loyalists to see us through. People like Deb Werner, Pete Wither, Steve Elkins, Irene Nelson, Rod Hanna, Billy Kidd, Trish Sullivan, Barry Smith, Chris Diamond, Jim Schneider, Doug Allen, Davey Crisler, Roger Perricone, Ed Degroff, Barb Jennings, Vicki Marsden, Gary Mielke, Jeannie Patton, Andy Wirth, John Kohnke and many more who were Steamboaters first and ski area employees right after that.
And of course, this is your mountain, too. All but the lowest slopes at Steamboat Ski Area are built on Routt National Forest. And men and women from the U.S. Forest Service have played a role in shaping recreation on the mountain.
It’s our mountain
When skiers and riders float through the tree runs of Priest Creek, swoop from mogul to mogul on Tornado, or channel the kinetic energy in their skis and snowboards on a long, swooping trip down Heavenly Daze to See Me, they become the owners of the mountain as much as anyone or any company can be.
My enduring memory of a special day on Mount Werner took place on a cold January morning — I want to say that it was 1981. The snow was up to my thigh, and my buddy Mark Skeie and I had ducked into a special place in Closet where we frequently skied a tight line of aspens like jewel thieves picking a lock that allowed us to enter an open glade that others missed skiing.
The snow was utterly unblemished, and Mark was positioned just to my right as we tracked it up. I happened to glance his way at the very moment a grouse exploded from its warm snow cave into Mark’s chest, where it flapped its wings several times before streaking away.
I know I’ll never see that again, but I hope you’ll get out on the mountain in this season of powder aplenty to make a 50-year memory of your own.