Ski area op­er­a­tor gave all a big lift

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse Paul Cour­tesy of Beth Garst

Ike Garst, an Iowa farm boy who bought Berthoud Pass Ski Area and was the first op­er­a­tor in Colorado to let snow­board­ers ride chair­lifts, be­came an in­ad­ver­tent father fig­ure in a sport he never even tried.

But he would sell a lift ticket to any­one who would pay — no mat­ter how they got down the hill — which made him an in­stant hero among those who used his moun­tain to test funky boards en­gi­neered to ride the white surf of Colorado’s Rock­ies.

“It was very un­pop­u­lar,” his wife, Lucy, said late this week. “The other ski ar­eas gave us grief. The ski pa­trol gave us grief. The ski school gave us grief. When you’re sand­wiched be­tween Win­ter Park and Sum­mit County, you have to do some­thing to at­tract skiers to your area. We were more than happy to help that sport grow.”

Garst died Tues­day in hos-

pice care. He was 66. He had bat­tled brain can­cer for a dozen years, Lucy said.

Garst bought Berthoud Pass Ski Area — then Colorado’s old­est — in 1977, when he was just 26. He had moved to Colorado from Iowa in search of bet­ter out­door op­por­tu­ni­ties. He started out work­ing in a ski rental shop in Key­stone be­fore pur­chas­ing the tiny re­sort atop the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide, mak­ing waves soon af­ter by be­ing the first ski hill in Colorado — or per­haps any­where — al­low­ing snow­board­ers to ride its lifts.

From there, Garst’s op­er­a­tion be­came a hub for the bur­geon­ing sport, draw­ing the likes of snow­board pi­o­neers Jake Bur­ton and Tom Sims. And grow it did, with Berthoud Pass of­fer­ing some of the first snow­board­ing con­tests ever held.

“Ike ba­si­cally said from the be­gin­ning that if some­one was will­ing to pay for a lift ticket, he was happy to let them do so,” said Colin Bane, a Den­ver-based snows­ports jour­nal­ist who cov­ered Garst and knew him well. “Ike did it just kind of on his own, and when the in­sur­ance com­pa­nies found out about it, they kind of freaked out.”

Even­tu­ally, how­ever, those same in­sur­ance com­pa­nies be­gan us­ing Berthoud Pass as a risk study. One of those early test sub­jects was David Alden, who be­came the ski area’s first snow­board in­struc­tor, and pos­si­bly the first any­where.

“It all hap­pened ran­domly,” Alden said. “I was a daily ap­pear­ance at Berthoud and be­came kind of a fix­ture there be­cause I was there so of­ten. One day — this would have been in the very early ’80s — Ike ap- proached me out in front of the lodge. There was some­one stand­ing at the ticket counter ask­ing (for a snow­board les­son).”

Ike hooked Alden up with the pupil, and “it went very well.”

“A few days later, when I showed up to the ski area, Ike handed me a lit­tle blue name tag that said ‘Dave Alden: Snow­board In­struc­tor.’ I just couldn’t be­lieve there was such a thing as a snow­board in­struc­tor and that I was one of them. It was kind of big deal.”

Alden, who went on to go pro, now runs the Colorado Ski & Snow­board Mu­seum in Vail.

“From the very be­gin­ning, Ike was ab­so­lutely ac­cept­ing of snow­board­ers at his moun­tain,” Alden said. “That was such an un­usual stance to take that we all felt a close affin­ity to Ike from the very be­gin­ning. We very quickly learned that you did not want to cross Ike on his moun­tain. He was a very tough pres­ence and held us to the high­est stan­dard he could hold a bunch of knuck­le­head kids on snow­boards who wanted to cut ev­ery rope that he put up.”

The Garsts sold Berthoud Pass in 1987. The ski area changed hands sev­eral times be­fore it landed with Grand County de­vel­oper Marise Cipri­ani. She shut­tered it in 2001, cit­ing fi­nan­cial strug­gles, and ran a Sno-Cat ski­ing op­er­a­tion for two more sea­sons.

Cipri­ani re­moved the lifts in 2003 and tore down the high-al­ti­tude lodge where the Garsts and their three daugh­ters had lived.

“This is a tragedy,” Ike told The Den­ver Post at the time. “It was a huge piece of Colorado his­tory that did not have to come down. It was a very vi­able op­er­a­tion when we had it, and it could have been again.”

He went on to teach busi­ness at Metropoli­tan State Univer­sity of Den­ver and else­where, en­cour­ag­ing the ca­reers of other Colorado en­trepreneurs — all the while keep­ing his per­fect ski form, mak­ing him easy to spot when com­ing down the moun­tain.

He never rode a snow­board.

Garst’s fam­ily has fond mem­o­ries of the quiet snows­ports revo­lu­tion that went on around them. Beth Garst, his el­dest daugh­ter, re­mem­bers catch­ing Bur­ton and Sims hang­ing around Berthoud Pass.

“I re­mem­ber when they built the first half-pipe, and it was hi­lar­i­ous,” she said of the struc­ture that is thought to be one of the first ever built. “Our handy­man went and just took this big diesel snow­plow and made a big mound of snow.”

She also re­calls her dad of­fer­ing lo­cal kids from Em­pire dis­counted ac­cess to Berthoud Pass, in­clud­ing jack­ets, lessons, tick­ets and rentals.

“He re­ally loved the Colorado out­doors,” Beth said. “I can’t ex­press to you how much this man loved the out­side. He rode a chair­lift on a fam­ily trip in the late ’60s and then de­cided he was go­ing to buy a ski area.”

A pub­lic me­mo­rial ser­vice for Garst will take place at 1:30 p.m. Satur­day at Trin­ity United Methodist, 1820 Broad­way, in Den­ver.

“From the very be­gin­ning, Ike was ab­so­lutely ac­cept­ing of snow­board­ers at his moun­tain.”

David Alden, the ski area’s first snow­board in­struc­tor

Ike Garst, who died Tues­day at age 66, op­er­ated the now-de­funct Berthoud Pass Ski Area with his wife, Lucy, for a decade be­tween 1977 and 1987.

Photo cour­tesy of Beth Garst

Ike Garst op­er­ated the now-de­funct Berthoud Pass Ski Area with his wife, Lucy, for a decade be­tween 1977 and 1987.

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