Longtime Keystone figures gather for closing day of the resort’s 50th season | AspenTimes.com
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Longtime Keystone figures gather for closing day of the resort’s 50th season

Children sit on the Argentine chairlift for Keystone Resort's first opening day in 1970.
Photo from Keystone Resort

Founding families and longtime employee swap stories of the resort and one of its original chairlifts, the Argentine, as it makes its final laps

Notable characters from the early days of Keystone Resort gathered in front of the Argentine chairlift on Sunday, April 11, to swap memories and take a final ride on the lift, which will be removed this summer. The closing day marked the end of Keystone’s 50th season.

The resort hosted its closing day and final operations of the Argentine lift on a sunny, windy April day, although there were fewer of the usual closing-day crowds and parking lot parties due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, a small group of people integral to Keystone’s history gathered to see off the Argentine lift, which was one of the original chairs installed at Keystone for its first operating season.

Skiers load the Argentine chairlift at Keystone on its final day of operation, Sunday, April 11.
Photo by Taylor Sienkiewicz / tsienkiewicz@summitdaily.com

In addition to the historic Argentine lift’s removal, Keystone will replace the nearby four-person Peru lift with a six-person high-speed chairlift as part of its capital improvement projects taking place this summer. The resort is also bringing lift-served skiing to Bergman Bowl as part of its summer projects.



Keystone co-founder Bill Bergman showed up in a Keystone ski jacket from the early days of the resort. Bergman, who helped bring Max Dercum’s vision for the ski resort to life, simplified the changes that have occurred at Keystone over its 50 years.

“There’s a lot more runs, there’s a lot more lifts, and we didn’t have snowmaking then,” Bergman said. “I’m the one who brought snowmaking out here.”



When asked about his favorite memory of Keystone, Bergman simply said, “the Dercums.”

Jody Churich (left), general manager of Keystone Resort, stands next to Keystone co-founder Bill Bergman (right) on the resort's closing day, Sunday, April 11.
Photo by Taylor Sienkiewicz / tsienkiewicz@summitdaily.com

Rolf Dercum, son of Keystone co-founders Max and Edna Dercum, said that the mountain was his father’s dream come true. He recalled how the resort came to be.

“(Max) made a beautiful model of the whole thing,” Dercum said. “… They were trying to find somebody to invest in this. He designed everything, and that’s when Bill said, ‘I can do this, I can put this whole thing together.’ And he did.”

Dercum said his father simply loved the idea of people coming to the mountain and having a “wonderful time out skiing.” He said that over the years, Keystone has become much more “professional” than how it started out. He said he feels the experience for customers has improved both in safety and enjoyment, with tweaks for efficiency added like using multiple lines to alternate people boarding chairlifts. Dercum noted he has many great memories of Keystone, but he went back to the basics of skiing with friends and family as his favorite.

“We had an awful lot of fun, teaching and skiing, doing things, partying … and then watching my kids learn to ski here,” he said.

Keystone Resort co-founder Bill Bergman is interviewed for the resort's opening day in 1970.
Photo from Keystone Resort

Steve Corneillier, who worked at Keystone for 44 years before recently retiring, reminisced about the Argentine lift. He recalled a major drought in 1976, and he said the Argentine was the only lift in the west open for Thanksgiving that year. Corneillier said that no lift tickets were sold, but visitors could pay $1 per ride.

“Because of snowmaking, and a lot of hard work by employees, we opened on schedule, and we stayed open until closing day,” Corneillier said of the 1976-77 ski season.

Corneillier said he chose to work at Keystone after serving in the U.S. Air Force because of its snowmaking capabilities. He said growing up in Minneapolis, he knew the value of snowmaking products. Corneillier started off at the resort in 1975 performing various tasks like shoveling snow, stacking firewood and loading lifts for $2.75 an hour. Prior to retiring, he was the general manager of golf and recreation at Keystone. Corneillier said it’s bittersweet to be replacing the Argentine lift.

“It’s like losing a friend, but every time I ski down this area I will always pause, look up the lift line,” Corneillier said. “And over the years that will grow in with the other trees, but I’ll always be thankful. Friendships, if they’re really good, they always endure.”

Keystone spokesperson Loryn Roberson said that the resort will be selling 20 chairs from the Argentine lift to benefit the Summit Foundation. A few chairs will be given to people who are part of Keystone’s history, including the Bergman and Dercum families, and some will be kept to be used around the resort. The remainder will be sold to employees. Money raised from selling the chairs to employees will go towards the EpicPromise Employee Foundation.

“Keystone employees are a huge part of our history,” Roberson said. “We want to make sure they have a piece of that history.”

 


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