Library Corner: Grand County’s storied ski history

Donald Dailey
GCLD guest writer

Skiing in Grand County goes back well over a hundred years. Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Club was established on October 23, 1911, by Swiss immigrant John Peyer and 25 members.

Owing to Peyer’s response to a Middle Park Times editorial, enthusiasm was ignited for hosting Colorado’s first winter carnival on New Year’s weekend. The Denver Post and Steamboat Pilot published details, leading to the creation of sledding, skating, and skiing events.

Taking notice were two Norwegian immigrants, Carl Howelsen and Angell Schmidt. They boarded a train in Denver with others bound for the winter carnival on December 29. At Rollins Pass-Corona Station, Howelsen and Schmidt disembarked and skied 44 miles in nine hours to Hot Sulphur Springs. Upon their arrival, they were greeted and hosted by Peyer.

Sled events opened the winter carnival. A sled driver won a quarter-mile race with a time of fourteen seconds. Carl Howelsen made the same run on skis in 11 seconds. At a Grand Ball closing ceremony, the Norwegian celebrities were introduced.

As a bonus, the audience was invited to gather at noon the next day for a demonstration of ski techniques: cross-country, downhill, and jumping. The crowd was most amazed by Howelsen’s and Schmidt’s jumping. The club invited the Norsemen to return in six weeks, assuring them that all three disciplines of skiing would be on the program. Work began on a new ski course and jump slide.

February 10-12, 1912, was set aside for the first (official) Winter Carnival west of the Mississippi River and the Annual Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Club Carnival, where professional and amateur ski races were introduced.

The technical innovations of the Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports club included the following: hosting the first winter sports club in Colorado, first in winter tourism, the original Colorado Ski Train destination, the birthplace of Colorado’s skiing industry, the first to debut skijoring in the United States, and the first Colorado winter carnival filmed and shown across American movie screens.

Three Grand County natives were members of the Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Club. They are now enshrined in the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame in Vail. They are Horace Button, All-American skier; Jim Harsh, Colorado’s first U.S. Nordic Combined Olympian; and Barney McLean.

Switzerland sent Peyer to Hot Sulphur Springs, while Hot Sulphur Springs sent McLean to Switzerland, as captain of the United States Alpine Olympic Ski Team. I opine that Peyer should join Horace, Jim, Barney, and Carl Howelsen in the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame.

Grand County and its skiers have played a vital and significant role in helping the sport become what it is today.

For further learning about winter sports, check the 790s of our non-fiction section. There are a wide variety of books regarding Grand County’s contribution to the ski industry in our local history section, including “Skiing in Middle Park, Vol 4, No.1, 1859-1950.” Or, use Access Grand to check out a pass to visit the ski exhibit in Pioneer Village Museum in Hot Sulphur Springs.

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