The late Martin Hart, who died Jan. 3, pressed for the development of a major new ski area on Mount Baldy overlooking Lake Catamount in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although the Catamount ski area never came to pass, Hart always will be remembered for his tenure at Steamboat Ski Area, with the development of direct air service, Sunshine Bowl and the eight-passenger gondola.

Steamboat Pilot/file

The late Martin Hart, who died Jan. 3, pressed for the development of a major new ski area on Mount Baldy overlooking Lake Catamount in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although the Catamount ski area never came to pass, Hart always will be remembered for his tenure at Steamboat Ski Area, with the development of direct air service, Sunshine Bowl and the eight-passenger gondola.

Former Steamboat chairman of the board Martin Hart dead at 77

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Steamboat under Martin Hart

•1981: First snowmaking

•1984: Sunshine Bowl skiing and Ragnar's restaurant

•1986: New eight-passenger gondola runs to Thunderhead

photo

Steamboat Pilot/file

Martin Hart, from left, of the Northwest Colorado Ski Corp. — former owner of Steamboat Ski Area — Hans Geier with scissors and guests from the Doppelmayr lift company dedicate the new Silver Bullet Gondola in December 1986.

— Martin T. Hart, the prolific Denver businessman who presided over a group of investors that owned Steamboat Ski Area from 1980 to 1989, died Jan. 3 at age 77.

He would have celebrated his 78th birthday Jan. 20. Services for Hart will be held Saturday at Regis Chapel in Denver. Viewing begins at 9:30 a.m., with the funeral service to begin at 11 a.m.

Hart was born Jan. 20, 1936, on a farm in Delphos, Kan., the son of Lawrence and Mary Hart. He left the farm, earned an accounting degree from Regis University, married and had five children and 11 grandchildren.

Hart brought his expertise on the boards of diverse companies to Steamboat and helped the ski area to modernize.

It was under Hart’s guidance as chairman of the Northwest Colorado Ski Corp. that the ski area added its first snowmaking system to help ensure a Thanksgiving opening. In 1984, Sunshine Bowl added 400 acres of easy intermediate terrain to the ski area, leading to the Rendezvous Saddle dining area.

Rod Hanna, who was the director of public relations and advertising at the resort during Hart’s tenure, said Hart ushered the ski area into a new era.

“I think he was the person most responsible for what Steamboat is today,” Hanna said. “He was there at a critical time and took Steamboat into the big leagues of ski resorts. He was a business genius.”

When the ski area was sold to Kamori Kanko Co. Ltd. in 1989, Hart continued to serve as chairman of the board of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and Heavenly Valley Ski Area until 1991.

During his tenure in Steamboat, the old six-passenger Stagecoach gondola was replaced in 1986 by the faster, eight-passenger gondola that still serves the resort. When it was new, the Doppelmayr gondola was the first eight-passenger high-speed gondola in the world.

Former ski area President Hans Geier shared an anecdote about a trip he and Hart took to Austria and Switzerland to inspect progress on the new gondola and just how close it came to being fire-engine red instead of its current muted gray color scheme with the Steamboat logo.

“He came with me to Austria to meet the Doppelmayr Group in Austria, and later, we went to Switzerland to meet the manufacturer of the cabins,” he said.

Geier recalled how the contract on the cabins had been signed in June 1986, and they were scheduled to be in place on Mount Werner that coming ski season.

“As we drove into the parking lot, here was this fire-engine-red gondola cabin,” Geier said. “In those days, the Forest Service got involved in colors on the mountain, and they were not happy with our red gondola cabin. It would have been difficult to get it approved, and we had no time to waste.”

Hart’s career in business extended well beyond the Yampa Valley.

While working as the managing partner of the Denver office of a major accounting firm, he assisted in taking Pizza Hut Inc. through an initial public offering in 1969. He then served on its board of directors until 1977, when he and the president, Frank Carney, brokered a merger with PepsiCo.

In the Yampa Valley, Hart always will personify the long community debate about his efforts — together with Mitchell Energy, of Houston — to win U.S. Forest Service and local government approvals to develop a second destination ski area and resort village in the upper Yampa Valley at Lake Catamount.

Proposed for 3,266 acres about 7 miles south of Steamboat Springs, the Catamount ski area was planned to host as many as 12,000 skiers per day on Mount Baldy and also would have included a marina, two golf courses and 3,750 dwelling units, plus hotels and shops.

The case was made that Steamboat needed a second ski area to compete with Aspen, Vail and Summit County, which already had multiple ski mountains for vacationers to choose from.

The proposal won Forest Service approval in 1993, but Mitchell Energy withdrew from the development process in June 1995 after spending millions on the planning process.

Catamount roused the concerns of Steamboat residents who were concerned that it would forever change the valley’s rural character and, in particular, impact historic ranching in Pleasant Valley, and they consequently dug in their heels.

Although he became a lightning rod for criticism, Hart maintained a gentlemanly disposition throughout many strident public meetings.

Ultimately, Hart’s version of the Lake Catamount development lost its momentum after Mitchell Energy, which developed the massive Woodlands residential project outside Houston, stepped out.

Today, there is a low impact residential development at Lake Catamount with a relative handful of residential estate homes, conservation easements and a Nordic skiing operation.

Another player in the Catamount years was now-retired Routt National Forest Supervisor Jerry Schmidt, who issued the Forest Service permit for Hart’s vision of Catamount.

“In those days, it was strictly business between Martin and I,” Schmidt said this week from his home in Laramie, Wyo. “We went through a difficult process and never even had a cup of coffee together.”

But later, after a chance meeting at a wedding, the two men reconnected. Hart persuaded Schmidt to form a consulting company to help private landowners in the Mountain West guard against wildfire and improve their land for wildlife. They never did business, but Hart continued to show an interest in the company, Schmidt said.

“He was a really good strategist, and from conversations with other people over the years, I learned that he helped people with jobs and careers out of his own kindness,” Schmidt said. “He had a really good heart."

Hanna recalled that Hart’s collaboration with former Routt County Commissioner Bill Haight on the lengthening of the runway at Yampa Valley Regional Airport probably did as much as anything to transform the resort.

“When we realized in the mid-'80s we needed to get direct flights in here, Martin worked a deal with Bill Haight for the county to supply its personnel and road building equipment to expand the runway, and the Ski Corp. put in about a million dollars,” Hanna said. “The result of that is what you see today, the direct airline flights to Steamboat.”

For additional information about memorial arrangements, call Pamela Baker or Trudy Fike at 303-322-7775.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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Comments

Clay Ogden 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I have to admit I find this to be the golden age of the ski area ... I'm sure because I moved here in 1982. Mr. Hart and Mr. Geier ... while not easy to work for ... set a high bar for excellence and vision ... mostly squandered during the ASC (Les 'Madoff') years.

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Fred Duckels 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Other than Martin the ski area has been a hard time for most owners but he had the gift to make it work and seemed to enjoy life in the process. He will be missed. His dream of the Catamount area was crushed by the environmental movement which I consider a mistake. This was possibly the last area on forest service land and we will live to regret that decision.

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rhys jones 11 months, 2 weeks ago

If the '76 Winter Olympics in Denver had not been voted down, it would have been a highway Olympics -- some events in Denver, some at Vail, some Winter Park, and some here.

One reason for this is because Steamboat is NOT a "World Class" resort. We can't host a World Cup Men's Downhill. A qualifying line does not exist on our mountain, and it never will. That's why that event is always held at Aspen or Beaver Creek or someplace else. Women, yes. Men, no.

That was the reason for Martin Hart's Catamount dream: The course is there. A natural line, which would qualify under World Cup criteria. Then we could truly claim World Class status.

Unfortunately, Martin's dream preceded him in death by many years -- but I was saddened to read of his passing anyway. I liked Martin. God rest his soul.

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