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SkiCo celebrates 75 years since the official opening of Aspen Mountain's original chairlifts

1963.041.0004_Grand Opening of Lift One, 1947
Courtesy of Aspen Historical Society
Chicago philanthropist Walter Paepcke, from left, Aspen Mayor A.E. Robison and Colorado Gov.-elect William Lee Knous gave opening remarks at the dedication of Aspen Mountain’s Lift One on Jan. 11, 1947.

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."

Lift One Ajax
Courtesy of Aspen Historical Society
Grover Collection
A view of Aspen Mountain’s Magnifico, Roch Run, and Corkscrew trails and the newly built Lift One as seen from Durant Avenue in the winter of 1947.

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.

3 SundeckAjax_Tim Willoughby.jpeg
Courtesy of Tim Willoughby
The original Sundeck restaurant at the top of Aspen Mountain was built in 1946 and designed by Aspen’s resident Bauhaus artist, Herbert Bayer.

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.”

1988.035.0035_Lift One Dedication, 1946
Courtesy of Aspen Historical Society
Knowlton Collection
Aspen Skiing Co. co-founders Friedl Pfeifer and Percy Rideout stand on either side of French ski racer Georgette Thioliere at the grand opening of the original Lift One in 1947. At the time it was built, the chairlift was the longest in the world.

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.”

5 LiftTwoAjax_Tim Willoughby.jpeg
Courtesy of Tim Willoughby
This view shows Lift Two going over Tourtolotte Park on Aspen Mountain. The building of Lift One and Lift Two marked the beginning of top-to-bottom, lift-served skiing in Aspen.

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.”

6 JeanneWilloughbyLiftTwoAjax_Tim Willoughby.jpeg
Courtesy of Tim Willoughby
In this undated photo, Tim Willoughby’s sister, Jeanne, sits on Lift Two at its loading point. Their father, Fred, helped build Lift Two, which connected the original Lift One to the top of Aspen Mountain.