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