Revisiting the roots: Steamboat Resort celebrates 60 years

The Cub Claw poma lift, shown in early 1962 with lift operator Martin Kleinsorge, was the first lift servicing skiing at what is now Steamboat Ski Resort. The 2,200-foot surface lift opened to paying customers on Dec. 22, 1961.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/Courtesy photo

As Steamboat Resort marks its 60th anniversary this month, changes at the ski area have become more and more remarkable each year from its initial beginnings with a single Cub Claw poma lift and $2 lift tickets.

Steamboat Springs resident Pete Wither, 80, who has skied at the resort every year since it was created, remembers being part of the summer scouting trips in the late 1950s to determine the best place to build runs.

Wither said the foresight of third-generation Routt County rancher Jim Temple, who had worked as a ski patroller in Utah for six years, spearheading the creation of the ski area and purchasing ranch land at the base represent key milestones in the resort’s development.

Temple broke ground on the ski area on July 6, 1958, after several years of studies and surveys, according to archives at the Tread of Pioneers Museum. A 2,200-foot Cub Claw poma opened for paying customers on Dec. 22, 1961. An A-frame Storm Hut was added in November 1962 with room for 250 skiers to warm up, an upstairs snack bar and a downstairs ski shop run by Skeeter and Buddy Werner.

As a teenager, Wither helped to hand dig the three holes for each tower for the first double-chair lift, first called Bear Claw and later renamed Christie. Some of the other men on the digging crew included Temple, Gordy Wren, Marvin Crawford and John Fetcher. Wither remembers digging the 10-foot foundation holes and mixing the concrete took about one month per tower.

In a 75th anniversary edition of the Steamboat Pilot in 1960, an advertisement titled “Why Storm Mountain?” touted the benefits of the ski area development at a time when employment in the county was dominated by ranching and coal mining.

“Storm Mountain brings a new major industry to Steamboat Springs,” the advertisement read. “Skiers will add new dollars to the lagging winter economy. It brings a new payroll to Steamboat Springs. It will be a new major source of revenue for the county through taxes. It will bring other new industries to the area. Year ‘round mountain playground will bring new permanent residents to this area. All of the people who purchase our product will come in person to buy it. They stay for a while and leave their DOLLARS for a happy vacation. The boom that these DOLLARS create benefits everyone in this community.”

Both Wither and Routt County resident Bill Fetcher, 76, who was the first lift operator on the Cub Claw poma, rank the development of high-speed detachable lifts and snow-making equipment as top achievements through the decades.

“With the advent of the high-speed and detachable quad, you can get so much more skiing in a lot shorter time,” said Wither, who served as director of ski patrol from 1983 to 1998.

The A-frame warming hut called Storm Hut was built in November 1962 and once sat where the TBar restaurant is now.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/Courtesy photo

Fetcher, who still snowboards and skis, said the various terrain expansions through the decades were important steps for the ski area, but he believes a more significant milestone was the completion of the six-passenger, 3,300-foot Bell “Stagecoach” Gondola in 1970.

“The first gondola really put Steamboat on the map. Prior to that, people viewed Steamboat as a mom-and-pop ski operation,” said Fetcher, a local historian. “The investment in putting in Bell Gondola in 1970 really made skiers do a double-take.”

Wither and Fetcher explained that the modern ski resort’s 60th anniversary date is based on the first day the resort sold tickets to the public for the original Christie double-chair lift on Jan. 12, 1963.

Storm Mountain Ski Area was renamed to Mount Werner in February 1965 in honor of Steamboat native and three-time Olympian Buddy Werner, who died in an avalanche near St. Moritz, Switzerland, in April 1964 as part of filming a ski movie.

Routt County resident John Fetcher, who died in 2009, stands on skis at the bottom of the first double-chair lift at what is now Steamboat Ski Resort. The lift opened to paying customers on Jan. 12, 1963, and was called the Bear Claw and then was renamed to Christie.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/Courtesy photo

A new 60th anniversary exhibit at the Tread of Pioneers Museum features early tickets, brochures and ski trail and logo changes through the years. The display is part of the museum’s Ski Town, U.S.A., exhibit throughout 2023, Curator Katie Adams said.

The exhibit illustrates the original Storm Mountain and then Mount Werner, which was later renamed Steamboat Ski Resort after the area was purchased by LTV Recreational Development Inc. in 1969 for $8 million.

The ski area’s history is recounted in several books ranging from “The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs” written by Sureva Towler in 1987 to the commemorative “Steamboat: Ski Town USA” authored by Tom Bie in 2006. A 20-minute video called “Stormy: The Story of a Mountain and a Man” about Temple’s historic efforts can be viewed online via the museum’s YouTube page.

The Tread of Pioneers Museum staff, with help from families involved from the resort’s beginning, continue to document the ski area’s development.

“Stormy: The Story of a Mountain and a Man”
Jim Temple, remembered in a display at Tread of Pioneers Museum in downtown Steamboat Springs, spearheaded the creation of what is now Steamboat Resort.
Tread of Pioneers Museum exhibit
Brochures from the 1960s from the history archives at the Tread of Pioneers Museum helped to promote the growing ski area.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

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