Winter fun from the 1880s to the 1960s
December 24, 2011
The arrival of winter provides new opportunities to avoid a sedentary life. For early settlers in the Roaring Fork Valley, hard work remained a year round constant.
With the falling snow and temperatures, skating, sledding, and skiing provided hours of social interaction, exercise, and a cure for the winter doldrums.
Ice skating was the most inclusive of all winter activities. A sport that contained serenity, exhilaration and a touch of romance, it crossed the lines of gender and age. The purchase of a pair of skates from a local hardware or toy store was financially feasible for most. Natural or manmade rinks were plentiful.
Although its exact location is lost to history, residents living in Glenwood Springs in 1885 enjoyed the use of a manmade rink. However, more often, the quiet frozen pools of the Colorado River provided the premiere skating opportunities.
These natural rinks also offered a chance for children to defy the wishes of their parents. Saddle and harness maker Peter Becker in January 1888 sternly instructed his sons, Pete and Jimmie, not to take to the thin ice of the Colorado River. However, he found both skating under the Cooper Avenue Bridge. After the angry father administered punishment at his shop, Jimmie shed his clothes. Three hymnals within the seat of his pants had eased the effects of his fate.
The pastime of sledding consumed the time of younger Glenwood Springs residents. Newspapers of the late 1880s indicate that measurable snowfall often did not occur until late December. But by January, coasting, as it was termed, occurred in earnest.
Any hill was fair game, and Glenwood Springs’ Eighth Street was the prize. However, coasting on town streets was prohibited by town ordinance. This did not deter a large group of boys in 1898 from the enjoyment of launching themselves from Eighth Street’s snowy shoulders. Authorities broke up the revelry, but the activity warranted the attention of the Glenwood Post newspaper, which reported the incident on its front page and reminded all of the illegality of the activity.
While skaters and coasters were honing their skills, the Colorado ski industry was germinating near Crested Butte. In the 1880s, skis were generally homemade from lengthy slabs of wood, possibly one inch thick in diameter, and attached to the foot by a leather thong. A single long wooden pole was used for steering.
Given the primitive nature of the equipment, few took up skiing as a sport. Instead, skiing was more often relegated to mail and supply delivery, avalanche rescue missions, and transportation when none other was available.
This changed after 1910 with advances in equipment, ski area development and increased transportation opportunities.
By the late 1930s, skiing had evolved into a sport and arrived enthusiastically in Glenwood Springs. A small ski area was formed on Lookout Mountain east of the town.
At roughly the same time, J.E. Sayre donated land to the west of town on Red Mountain for ski area development. In 1938, the Red Mountain Ski Area opened and expanded in 1941 when its first lift was installed. However, the area was doomed by unpredictable snowfall and competition from more sophisticated ski areas. Operations permanently ceased in 1966.
This closure, however, signaled a bright new beginning in Glenwood Springs’ ski industry. In 1948, brothers John and Don Vanderhoof and some friends determined that a location near the abandoned coal mining town of Sunlight would be a suitable place for a ski area. They named the new ski area Holiday Hill. In 1967, a change in operations renamed the area Sunlight.
Over the years, what is now Sunlight Mountain Resort has expanded and continues to provide affordable skiing and snowboarding to locals and tourists.
Skating, coasting, skiing and snowboarding have provided vigorous, refreshing exercise and social opportunities through the decades.
Back in the skating heyday, an elderly gentleman shouted to two young male skaters, “You should not skate on Sunday.”
One youngster retorted, “We don’t skate on Sunday. We skate on ice.”
While winter recreational activities sparked moral debates, all can agree that winter sports were and are the erasers of worry.