Tread of Pioneers Museum celebrates Steamboat Ski Patrol’s 75th anniversary
If You Go:
What: Exhibit opening reception
When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21
Where: Tread of Pioneers Museum, 800 Oak St.
Steamboat Springs — As a Steamboat Springs ski patroller in 1968, there were no radios, snowmobiles or phones, and Christie and Thunderhead were the only lifts at that time.
A lot has changed since then, but what remains the same is the patrollers affinity for the outdoors and their devotion to keeping people safe on the mountain.
“It’s a pretty big job out there, and you deal with everything from hangnails to deaths,” said Pete Wither, longtime Steamboat local who first started as a volunteer ski patrolman in 1959 at Howelsen Hill when it was the only ski hill in Steamboat. “It’s an exciting job and very rewarding.”
A 1970s ski patrol jacket from retired ski patrolman Frank Dolman, a makeshift evacuation toboggan purchased from an army surplus store and a flag commemorating a ski patroller’s retirement with signatures from fellow coworkers are just a few of the items found in the newest display at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
Earlier this month, the museum opened the “Ski Patrol in Steamboat Springs: Celebrating 75 Years” exhibit in celebration of Howlsen Ski Patrol, which started with a group of volunteers in 1941, and the Steamboat Ski Area Ski Patrol, which started in 1963.
“They are bankers, real estate agents and ranchers by day and then they volunteer at Howelsen Hill or Mount Werner at night, on the weekends or whenever they could, which is still kind of the story today,” said museum curator Katie Adams. “We want to honor those people past and present. They are not just out there to police the mountain, they are our friends and fellow skiers. We want them to feel appreciated too, and that’s a big part of this display. We know they’ve been working hard at this, so here’s a little of their history on the walls.”
Every object in the exhibit was given to the museum by local ski patrolmen, which falls within the storyline of the national ski patrol organization, which originally started in 1938 as a volunteer organization.
Wither, who worked as Steamboat Ski Area’s Ski Patrol director for 30 years and as a guide with Steamboat Powdercats for 29 years, said ski patrolling takes responsibility and reliability along with commendable ski abilities and the resilience to withstand the elements of any weather.
One of the biggest challenges Wither remembers from being a ski patroller was a day in 1971, when 70-mile-per-hour winds and blizzard conditions led to an evacuation of the gondola, which at the time, was the older Bell gondola.
On that day, an empty, descending cabin was dislodged from the cables at Tower Three. Wither recalls the evacuation starting around 1:30 p.m. and not ending until it was dark.
“It rose about 300 feet high at times,” Wither said. “It was between the middle of Heavenly Daze to Christie. We had to ride a contraption that was a bike cable rider to slide down the cable to go to the cabins and lower people with nylon string. The wind was so strong it was hard to get the ropes to the ground so we had to tie a bunch of ski poles to it so it would reach the ground.”
With no injuries, it was a day to be proud of, Wither said.
“It’s like a lot of things in life, you don’t know what you can do until you try,” Wither said. “That was a really big test for everyone involved that year.”
Wither said he was honored to contribute the flag that was presented to him on his retirement from ski patrol that commemorates 98 percent of the people who ever worked for him on ski patrol throughout the years.
“It is surreal that this is the 75th anniversary,” he said. “It brings back a lot of memories, and I’m honored to be part of it. This exhibit shows appreciation for the job that they do up there to keep people as safe as possible, marking hazard fences, avalanche control, evacuating lifts if necessary. And they are doing all that behind the scenes for the most part.”
The museum will be hosting an opening reception from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, welcoming anyone associated with ski patrol, past and present, to attend along with friends and ambassadors. There will be a video recording area for people to come forward and record their memories of the Steamboat Ski Patrol.
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