Here in Colorado, skiing isn’t just a fun activity. For many, it’s a complete lifestyle. To go along with this way of life, we have some of the best ski mountains in the world, with U.S. News’ Travel Report ranking four Colorado resorts in their top 15. These include Aspen, Vail, Telluride, and Breckenridge.

Even though these are consistently ranked towards the top of global polls, we are also the host to a plethora of underrated slopes. For example, Ski Cooper on the Front Range is a hidden gem that locals absolutely adore.

However, for many Colordans today, skiing is seen as a recreational activity that can get our adrenaline pumping in the cold winter months. Very few use skiing as a way of getting around for their jobs.

As it would turn out, the introduction of skiing in Colorado served a much more utilitarian purpose than how we see it today. In fact, the history of skiing in general was seen more as a mode of transportation rather than the fun winter sport it has become today.

We Aren’t Exactly Sure Who Invented Skiing, But It Has Ancient Origins


From its inception, skiing was seen as a way of aiding people in cold climates in getting around their environments. It is believed the people who invented the concept of skiing were the Sami, an indigenous tribe in Scandinavia. They used skis as a mode of transportation to aid them in hunting.

However, the first mention of skis can actually be traced back to Northern China. Their skis were about 6.5 ft long and were for some reason encased in horse hair. The oldest pair of skis ever found are actually a pair from Norway that are 1,300 years old.

Early Coloradans Used Skiing as a Form of Transportation

Colorado Historical Society
Colorado Historical Society

In the 19th century, people started to come to Colorado as a part of the gold rush. In doing so, they encountered the area’s cold and brittle climate for the first time.

In those days, gold miners headed into the hills to try to give themselves and their families a fortune. However, the brutal cold and deep snow of the Rocky Mountains made that difficult.

However, people who traveled from Scandinavia introduced skiing to the miners of Colorado as a way of getting around in these harsh conditions. Through skiing, miners found a way to get around the frozen wonderland that is the Rocky Mountains in a much more comfortable and quick fashion.

In Colorado’s Frontier Era, Mail Men Had to Ski to Deliver Mail to the Most Remote Parts of the State


As mining began to take off in Colorado, people started to settle in remote mining towns that were essentially cut off from much of the country. Pairing this with the harsh winter conditions made the task of sending and receiving mail a difficult challenge.

Instead of leaving these people out to dry, local governments in the territory actually equipped mailmen with huge 11 ft skis to go to these remote mining villages to deliver mail.

One man in particular, “Father” John Dyer, became a local legend for his mail deliveries. He originally skied to these places as a minister to spread Christianity, but started to carry mail as a way to make money on his journeys. In doing so, he became a local legend whose name is forever tied to Colorado folklore.

After the Gold Rush, Skiing in Colorado Began to be Seen as Recreational

YouTube // Rocky Mountain PBS
YouTube // Rocky Mountain PBS

As the mining craze in Colorado began to quiet down at the tail end of the 1800s, the popularity of skiing as a form of transportation began to wane as well. However, beginning in the early 1900s, skiing in Colorado began its life as one of the state’s favorite pastimes.

In this time, not only were local races all the rage, but ski jumping had become a popular activity to pass the time in the long winter months.

It was a part of this craze that led Carl Howelsen to open Colorado’s oldest ski area, Howelsen Hill, in 1914. Located in Steamboat Springs, Howelsen Hill is a relatively small skiing spot compared to many of the other slopes around the state, but has produced almost 90 different Olympians. It is still to this day a breeding ground for elite ski jumpers, which was the goal from its very inception.

Places like Monarch Mountain in Salida, Colorado, is another pioneer in that it was one of the first to set the blueprint for modern recreational ski resorts. It opened all the way back in 1939, predating most Colorado ski resorts, and is still going strong today.

Through Howelsen Hill, we are able to see how the perception of skiing completely changed in Colorado. It was once used almost solely for transportation in the hostile frontier, but eventually became a statewide obsession for Coloradans that still lives to this day.

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Gallery Credit: Wesley Adams

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