Getting up the mountain: Installing the first chairlift at Steamboat Resort was no easy feat
Opening of the Christie chairlift in January of 1963 is considered the start of Steamboat Resort
Locals like Pete Wither started skiing on Mount Werner years before there was any lift to bring them up the mountain. Instead, Wither recalls riding up to the top of what is now Christie Peak in a Jeep on a road that wasn’t plowed very well.
“It was pretty rough actually,” Wither said. “We’d take turns driving, and everybody would get a run down.”
They didn’t do it often — a couple times a year at most — and it would take about an hour to make the trek up what was called Storm Mountain at the time. Jay Fetcher, the son of one of the ski area’s founders John Fetcher, questions why they did it at all.
“The trails were cut, but the lift wasn’t up. This is when the little old poma (lift) was at the base,” Jay said. “I don’t know how they did that or why.”
Jim Temple, whom Jay credits with creating the vision for the ski area, eventually got that first poma lift in place, but the first chairlift on the mountain didn’t open until Jan. 12, 1963. That opening day — 60 years ago this month — saw just 12 total skiers and garnered $13.75 in ticket sales, according to records taken by John at the time.
John noted in those records that the first day may not have made for great skiing, as it was 25 degrees below zero. The second day was warmer at 20 degrees below.
Wither said he remembers working to install that lift, spending weeks to dig holes for lift footings by hand and using a makeshift boom on the back of a bulldozer to get the towers in place.
Just a handful of guys would tie the rebar by hand, and they used a cement mixer on the mountain to pour the footings.
“We mixed cement all day long,” Wither said.
He was given three options for payment for his work. He could take stock in the early resort, get some land at the base area or take a cash payment, with the latter being the least enticing option for the cash-strapped venture.
Still, Wither said he went with the cash, adding “you can’t buy beer with land.”
Jay remembers his father driving their ranch truck all the way to California to pick up the initial bullwheels for the first lift, which would eventually be called Christie.
In a collection of home movies narrated by John, he recalls there was a competition between the contractor putting up the first A-frame building on the mountain and the crew putting the lift together.
“I think we won the race by one day,” John recalled.
Once the lift was in, Jay said, he remembers using bags of fertilizer to test it, putting them on each of the chairs to show it would work properly when skiers got aboard.
When the lift opened, Jay was enlisted to stand at the bottom taking tickets, but there was no one stationed at the top, as employees were hard to come by.
“As you rode the Christie up, if you didn’t get off you just went around the bullwheel and came back down,” Jay said. “There was nobody there to stop the lift if they didn’t get off or they fell, and there were people that did that. You’d be riding up Christie, and you’d see people coming back down because they failed to get off.”
An early picture of the Christie lift features Carl “Shorty” Bashor, whose family owned a ranch near where Bashor Bowl is on the mountain. In his narration, John says they bought that 40 acres for $7,500.
“It’s named for him, not because you go bashing around on your skis,” Jay said.
Wither, who still frequently skis at the resort, recalled how different the skiing is now compared to the early days when there wasn’t any grooming. He was working as a ski patroller at Winter Park in the first year, occasionally getting over to Steamboat to ski.
The runs off of Christie Peak at the time were See Me, Vouge and Sitz, with the latter getting its name from the depression in the snow formed when someone fell. Before grooming, Wither said, it was common skier etiquette to pack down those depression marks.
“That was where we skied, and it was pretty good,” Wither said. “Nothing at all like it is now, but it was good for that time.”
The first year in 1963 didn’t see the boon of skiers that are common on the slopes 60 years later.
The year ended with just over $3,300 worth of daily lift ticket receipts and just shy of 3,000 total skiers, nearly half of whom got on the mountain with a free pass, John’s records show.
Jay recalled one entry for late February 1963 in his father’s diary that gave him a chuckle. It also shows how far Steamboat Resort has come.
“‘Good day,’ my dad wrote in the diary,” Jay said. “$350 income.”
Steamboat Resort is celebrating its 60th anniversary on Saturday, Jan. 21, with something new: a drone show. The show is set to start at 5:30 p.m. and will feature 150 lighted drones telling the story of the resort, along with a torchlight parade and a performance by the Steamboat Skating Club on Skeeter’s Rink. Anywhere in Steamboat Square should offer good views of the show. Weather could push the show back, so keep an eye on Steamboat.com for any changes.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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