Tales from the Tread: Magnificent Marjorie Perry | SteamboatToday.com

Tales from the Tread: Magnificent Marjorie Perry

Candice Bannister
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Marjorie Perry, left, and Carl Howelsen are shown in this photograph.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/Courtesy photo

“Don’t let some of the best things in life escape you only because you’ve never tried them or because someone might think you are queer. You never know how your life might be changed by slipping off the highway sometime and following the little deep trail into the woods.” — Marjorie Perry

March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, the Tread of Pioneers Museum honors local women who made significant contributions to our community and broke the molds expected of “conventional” women of their time.

A standout in Routt County history was the magnificent Marjorie Perry. Her story begins in 1883 when she was born in Evanston, Illinois, where her father Sam ran coal mines. After the family moved to Denver when she was a child, Sam bought a mine near Oak Creek.

After Marjorie graduated from the prestigious Smith College in 1905, she headed to Colorado in search of mountains and open spaces to pursue her passions of hunting, horseback riding and skiing. With the help of Sam Perry’s employees at the Oak Creek mine, in 1913, her sister Charlotte and friend Portia Mansfield started the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat Springs.

Known as “very tough, witty, and Western,” Marjorie soon became the lead horse wrangler at the camp and eventually started the first horsemanship program. Perry-Mansfield still flourishes today as the oldest performing arts camp in the West.

On a rail trip through Hot Sulphur Springs in 1913, Marjorie discovered Norwegian stone mason and ski jumper Carl Howelsen as he “sailed on skis” at the town’s Winter Carnival. She knew he would love Steamboat Springs with its steep hills and deep snow, so she persuaded him to return with her. Everyone who witnessed Howelsen in action was astounded by his skiing and jumping feats that made him famous when he toured with the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The rest, they say, is history. Howelsen went on to found Steamboat’s annual Winter Carnival and renowned Winter Sports Club, built the first ski jumps and instilled a love of skiing and jumping as recreational sports. Up until then, skiing was mainly an essential mode of winter transportation, and most considered ski jumping downright dangerous.

Howelsen often took groups of ladies skiing, and Marjorie frequently joined. They called themselves the Ladies Recreation Club. Howelsen and Marjorie became very close, and the pair pursued ski expeditions together into the mountains, which became some of Marjorie’s favorite memories. When Howelsen later returned to Norway, the two corresponded until his letters became less frequent.

Marjorie was fearless on skis and horseback. Once, when stranded on a snowbound train on Rollins Pass, Marjorie skied down the tracks, flare in hand, to lead the snowplow train to the rescue.

In the summers, Marjorie would often ride her horse from her family’s Denver home to Steamboat Springs — a weeklong adventure she loved. On horseback or skis, she would explore the wild and unspoiled mountains all summer, and several little nooks became her favorite destinations. One such spot was in the Zirkel Wilderness above Luna Lake, where she built a little one-room cabin retreat.

In 1924, at Perry-Mansfield Camp, Marjorie met her lifelong companion, Eleanor Bliss. Bliss had attended Perry-Mansfield as a camper, and returned every year to visit Marjorie and ride horses. They went on many horseback adventures together, including the weeklong trips between Steamboat Springs and Denver. They traveled the world and were always happy to return to their beloved Steamboat Springs in the summers.

Marjorie finally retired from the sport of skiing in 1968, one year before she died at age 86. For her contributions to the fledgling sport of skiing in Colorado, Marjorie was posthumously inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1988.

Candice Bannister is the executive director for the Tread of Pioneers Museum. For more, TreadOfPioneers.org.

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