Brief by Central Staff
Ski History – April 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine
Until recently, it was presumed that recreational skiing began in the 1880s in Irwin, a mining camp in Gunnison County.
But the Rio Grand County Museum in Del Norte has discovered an earlier club. The March 3, 1877, edition of the San Juan Prospector, a newspaper published in Del Norte, had an article headlined “Summit’s Snow Shoe Club.”
These days, we differentiate between skis and snow- shoes, but back then, skis were often called “Norwegian snow shoes” or just “snow shoes.”
As for the “Summit” in the headline, it wasn’t Summit County, but the mining camp of Summitville at the headwaters of the Alamosa River. It’s the same Summitville that was much in the news a decade ago after toxic chemicals were released from a then- active mine into the river.
The skiing miners at Summitville had daily practice sessions and engaged in downhill racing. The Colorado Ski Museum in Vail announced that Summitville “will stand as the earliest ski club in the state.”
We have read that Summitville’s post office, when it had one, was the highest in Colorado and the United States. But it’s hard to tell now. The USGS lists the “populated place” of Summitville at 11,299 feet, and the “Summitville Mine” at 11,637. If the post office was at the mine, then it would be higher than the post office at the “populated place” of Climax, 11,365 feet above sea level.
The U.S. Postal Service standard address service reports that “Summitville is unacceptable,” while Climax remains in service as 80429 and, as far as we know, the highest post office in the U.S.