Skico celebrates 75 years since the official opening of Aspen Mountain's original chairlifts
The Aspen Skiing Co. celebrated its 75th anniversary on Tuesday.
Skico was founded by Austrian ski racer and instructor Friedl Pfeifer, Chicago philanthropist Walter Paepcke and others in 1946, and the Aspen Historical Society places the company's 50th anniversary in 1996.
But Skico pegs its anniversary to the grand-opening event held on Jan. 11, 1947, to officially open Aspen Mountain’s original Lift One (and Lift Two).
The building of the two lifts marked the beginning of top-to-bottom, lift-served skiing on Aspen Mountain and a huge leap forward for Aspen "the ski resort."
At the time, Lift One was the longest chairlift in the world, even though it didn’t reach the top of Aspen Mountain and the new Sundeck restaurant. To do that required a second lift, Lift Two.
Tim Willoughby grew up in Aspen and writes a weekly history column for The Aspen Times. His family helped build both lifts.
“Various parts of my family were part of the formation of the Aspen Ski Club and had been working on getting Aspen into the ski business for a long time before Lift One was built,” he said.
Colorado's governor-elect, William Lee Knous, and other dignitaries attended the grand-opening celebration for the new lift system in January 1947. According to the Aspen Historical Society, the public celebration included a high-speed-skiing exhibition, a ski-jumping competition and a ceremony at the Sundeck.
According to Willoughby, there was also a ceremony for locals when the lifts first started spinning in December 1946.
“That was very special because that was for the people who built the lift and the community that had worked to get it there,” Willoughby said. “So, on that one, the mayor got to ride the first chair and my uncle Frank, because he was the president of the Aspen Ski Club, was the second chair up.”
When Skico decided to build the chairlifts, Willoughby’s uncle, Frank, did the survey work and laid out the lift lines. Skico also hired his father, Fred, who was the foreman at the local Midnight Mine.
“They needed locals to help build the lift, and most of those were people who worked for the mine,” Willoughby said.
His father ended up being in charge of a lot of the construction and became the operations manager on Aspen Mountain during the first year. Willoughby said operating the new lift system was hard work and his father was always having to fix it.
“He worked every single day that whole first winter, never had a day off,” Willoughby said. “He had to go up the mountain every morning and start the gas motor to run the lift because the electric motor hadn't come.”
After that first year, Willoughby’s father left the job and returned to his work at the Midnight Mine.
“It's kind of funny because my uncle was the skier, and for my uncle, it was like the greatest life dream,” Willoughby said. “And for my father, he just wanted to be done with it and get back to mining.”
But Willoughby said that doesn’t change the fact that his father was part of a generation with a shared dream.
“For them, it was a major part of their life's work,” he said. “They got to see Aspen become so well-known and so many people enjoying the mountain, and that was really special for them.”