Ski or ride Snowmass this season and you’ll notice some gold trail signs stamped with a retro insignia. No, it’s not a new designation for a trail’s difficulty level — all the original trails from the resort’s inaugural 1967-’68 season got the golden treatment to commemorate the resort’s 50th anniversary, being celebrated all winter long.

And there’s quite a few of the them — 25, in fact — concentrated on the western side of the ski area where it all began 50 years ago. So, while you’re zipping up the Village Express sixpack, imagine the excitement an earlier-era skier must have felt back in December 1967, boarding the Fanny Hill chairlift to begin a long, three-chair ride to the top of the Big Burn, to be among the first to explore Snowmass’s 50 miles of carefully designed runs over 580 acres coated with fresh powder.

What's In a Name?

But what’s in a trail name? For Snowmass, that’s a story that begins well before its opening. In the early 1960s, locals were hired to scout the potential of a future ski resort on the vast flanks of Baldy Mountain — they often consulted a local sheep rancher, Sam Stapleton, about the terrain they were exploring, and the name “Sam’s Knob” stuck for that part of the mountain and the chairlift that accesses its trails.
"They often consulted a local sheep rancher, Sam Stapleton, about the terrain they were exploring, and the name 'Sam’s Knob' stuck for that part of the mountain ..."
For a few years in the 1960s, snowcat tours would shuttle small groups of lucky skiers up to the Big Burn for a blissful day of powder skiing and dining. The tours served to simultaneously test out the terrain and spread Snowmass’s fame before it opened — and the run Wineskin was named for the bota bags the ski guides would hang here and there in the trees, to the delight of their guests.

A Thoughtful Approach

When it came time to design and cut the ski runs, some of these same scouts and guides, who now knew the terrain like the backs of their hands, were entrusted with that responsibility. And as developers simultaneously planned a slope-side village and residential neighborhoods, it was these seasoned skiers who sometimes had to stand their ground about designing the trails to take advantage of the natural terrain, for the benefit of skiers, instead of catering to real estate interests.

“They were all passionate skiers, and that makes a difference,” says Snowmass Ski Area General Manager Steve Sewell. “When you look at some of the trails, such as Sneaky’s (originally called Upper Powderhorn), it perfectly follows the fall line. A great deal of thought went into it — and the amount of work!”
Here are a few more trail-name stories to impress your friends with at après:

Dallas Freeway is named after the Dallas Ski Club, which visited Snowmass from the beginning and whose members had a particular fondness for speeding down that trail on the Big Burn.

On Sam’s Knob, Zugspitze refers to Germany’s highest mountain, which looms over Aspen’s first sister city: Garmisch-Partenkirchen. (The two resorts became paired in 1966.)

Hal’s Hollow was named for Hal Hartman, one of Snowmass’s early explorers and a lead guide during the snowcat tours. Hartman was also, fittingly, the ski area’s first patrol director, and his son, Hal Hartman, Jr., followed in his footsteps as an accomplished ski patroller, then went on to a career in natural hazards analysis and applied physics.

A gnarled old tree on the Sam’s Knob’s east-facing ridgeline was the inspiration for Banzai Ridge, an unfortunate misspelling of the Japanese term for a miniature tree grown in an pot.

As for Fanny Hill, that’s a colorful label for the beginner trail that runs alongside the original ski village — where plenty of rear ends have come into contact with snow in the last 50 years.

Take a History Lesson

Explore more of Snowmass’s history, and learn more about the original trails, during on-mountain history tours, offered all season long at 10:30am, from the top of Sam’s Knob, and 1:30pm, from the Elk Camp trail map.

Published November 2017

About the Author

Catherine Lutz
Catherine Lutz

CATHERINE LUTZ

Catherine Lutz is an Aspen-based freelance writer and editor who helps craft stories and content for the Aspen Institute, Aspen Sojourner magazine, Powder magazine, and many others. An avid skier, paddleboarder, and mountain biker, she’s now vicariously experiencing a second childhood through her two young children in one of the best places on the planet to raise a family.

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