Ski artifacts: Aspen’s original Lift 1 and 10th Mountain Division toboggan
and Hall of Fame
Special to The Aspen Times
• Aspen’s original Lift 1 was finished late in 1946, and Friedl Pfeifer and his daughter received the honor of taking the first ride on one of the 124 single chairs. One of these original Lift 1 chairs will be on display when the Colorado Snowsports Museum reopens in December.
• The rare 10th Mountain Division toboggan, dubbed the Sled-Toboggan Convertible by the Army, is slightly more than 7 feet tall and 20 inches wide and was commissioned for use in World War II.
Editor’s note: The following is part of a series of articles compiled by the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame that will take a closer look at some of the artifacts and stories contained in the museum’s archives. The Colorado Snowsports Museum, located in the Vail Transportation Center, is currently undergoing a $2.4 million privately funded transformation that will refurbish the 24-year-old facility, add new exhibit space and modernize exhibits with interactive technology.
Skiing and the 10th Mountain Division are the cornerstones of Vail’s history and success, which the museum preserves and celebrates year-round. The museum has been a favorite family-friendly visitor attraction in Vail for 41 years and, with these improvements, will become the most comprehensive ski museum in the world.
VAIL — In the years following the end of World War II, Aspen found itself experiencing growing pains as 10th Mountain Division veterans such as Friedl Pfeifer and Fritz Benedict resumed their work developing a ski mountain. Everyone was in agreement that the area needed a better lift in order to be viewed as a serious resort — one that went all the way to the top of the mountain.
Frank Willoughby, the founder of the Aspen Ski Club, set about widening the fire roads up the mountain with a bulldozer. Bob Heron, the Denver engineer who had designed the portable combat lift used by the 10th in its assault on Riva Ridge, came up with a similar design for the lift, cannibalizing abandoned mining hoists on the mountain.
Only a handful of other U.S. ski areas featured chairlifts in 1946. Built by American Steel and Wire and installed by Heron Engineering Co., the price tag for Aspen’s new Lift 1 was $250,000. Despite similar claims from Sun Valley, Aspen claimed it now had “the longest ski tow in the world.”
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The lift was officially opened Jan. 11, 1947. Newly elected Gov. William Lee Knous and other dignitaries rode a special train from Denver, christening the chair with a bottle of Champagne. A crowd of around 2,000 turned out to enjoy the accompanying festivities, including a parade, fireworks and a ski-jumping demonstration.
Truth be told, the “longest ski tow in the world” was actually two separate lifts: Lift 1 from the base of the mountain to midway and Lift 2 from midway to the Sundeck, where beer, pop, ham sandwiches and coffee were served. On a good day, the ride from the base to the top took about half an hour. However, Lift 1 had a bad habit of stopping — frequently.
A warming hut was located at the midway point, featuring a wood stove that gave chilly skiers the chance to warm up before continuing their journey to the top. Each chair also came with an attached blanket to provide additional warmth and protection on cold, windy days, as the total length of both lifts was just more than 2.5 miles.
The second leg of the journey proved to be a bit less sophisticated than the first, as the wheels that the lift cables ran through were located directly above the chair’s occupants. As a result, oil and grease had a bad habit of dripping on the passengers. However, one year later, Lift 1 was touted as an engineering marvel and featured in a Popular Mechanics magazine cover story.
And just as the builders had hoped, Lift 1 did indeed help to jumpstart the development of the ski area. Over the next two decades, the surrounding blocks were rapidly developed, new lifts were built and, at the end of the 1971 season, Lift 1 took its final trip up Aspen Mountain, replaced by a new double chair, Lift 1A.
10th Mountain Division toboggan
The Colorado Snowsports Museum’s extensive list of 10th Mountain Division artifacts was enhanced with the acquisition of a rare toboggan that was initially intended for use by the mountain troops during World War II. When the current transformation is complete, the museum will house the most comprehensive collection of 10th Mountain artifacts in the world.
The sled, dubbed the Sled-Toboggan Convertible by the Army, is slightly more than 7 feet tall and 20 inches wide. Commissioned for use in World War II, the date stamped on the toboggan is “6-7-45,” which means the war had ended before it became available.
The entire toboggan still has its original paint, and the date explains why it is still in very good condition and looks like it has never been used. It does have some fading with age, probably from sitting in a warehouse or outside in the sun.
The toboggan’s runners extend out and lock in place, possibly for use in deeper snow, while also collapsing back into the sled for snow packed trails or storage. This lightweight style of toboggan was initially pulled by four soldiers on skis and was used to carry gear as well as wounded soldiers.
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