Breckenridge’s rich history of athletes

From Olympic skiers and skeleton racers to mountaineering champs and X Games medalists, Breck has always been a hot-spot for the world’s best.

Since Breckenridge Ski Resort first opened in 1961, it has served as a stomping ground and an incubation zone for a steady lineup of winter sports stars.

Actually, the resort itself wouldn’t even exist if not for a couple of Olympic skiers.

TrygveBerge_retro
Trygve Berge in an old Breckenridge, CO poster.

The ski resort was founded by Norwegian Olympians Trygve Berge and Sigurd Rockne, both of whom ran the area’s first ski school and envisioned the area, which began on Peak 8, one day occupying the entire Tenmile mountain range. A few years later, the two Norwegians invited their friend and compatriot Olav Pedersen to join them as a ski instructor. Pedersen, who had a background in both alpine and Nordic skiing, was a pioneer for teaching skiing to the visually impaired and was pivotal in creating the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, one of the world’s most respected organizations for adaptive skiing and for providing outdoor experiences of all sorts to individuals with disabilities and special needs. Another co-founder of the BOEC, Gene Dayton, has been a driving force behind the local Nordic scene. With his family, including son Matt Dayton, an Olympic Nordic Combined skier who barely missed the podium, finishing fourth in Salt Lake City 2002, operate both the Breckenridge and Frisco Nordic Centers.

C.J. Mueller at Breck's Opening Day 2014.
C.J. Mueller at Breck’s Opening Day 2014.

Recently inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, Breckenridge resident C.J. (as in, “Crazy John”) Mueller was a speed skiing pioneer in the 1980s and was the first person to exceed 130 mph on skis. He finished top 10 in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France and was once clocked at skiing a mind-blowing 137 mph. Now retired, on any given day, you’re likely to find him skiing at Breck. Blink and you could miss him.

One Olympic athlete you’re not likely to find training in any obvious place is local Katie Uhlaender. The three-time Olympian’s sport of choice involves charging head-first down an icy track at 80 mph. Yup, she’s a skeleton racer. She has landed two Skeleton World Cup titles and in last season’s Winter Games in Sochi, missed the podium by a mere 0.04 seconds, finishing fourth.

Another local lady who has made a name for herself in adrenaline pursuits is adventure racing world champion Monique Merrill. Also a ski mountaineering national champion, Merrill has won Breckenridge’s lung-busting Imperial Challenge a whopping six times. When she’s not hauling herself up a mountain at bionic speed, Merrill can be found at organic breakfast/lunch haunt Amazing Grace, which she owns and operates.

Of course, Breck’s Peak 8 is where many park and pipe pros learned and still refine all of their biggest tricks. The resort is celebrating its 30th anniversary of snowboarding this winter, and some of its kingpins include Chad Otterstrom, a pipe and slopestyle rider who landed a couple of top 10s in the X Games, occasionally judges the event and still enters the odd competition (he finished on the podium last summer in a minipipe contest at Mt. Hood) and lives in Breck. There is also JJ Thomas, who cut his teeth on Breck’s pipe and landed a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympic halfpipe in Salt Lake City. Breckenridge’s most decorated snowboarder (so far), would probably be two-time Winter X Games halfpipe gold medalist Steve Fisher. He won in 2004 and then beat out Shaun White in 2007. He doesn’t do those big comps anymore, but you might still catch him going huge in the Peak 8 Superpipe.

Eric Willett filming himself with a GoPro.
Eric Willett filming himself with a GoPro.

This brings us to the current stars on the Breck Epic Team. A Breck local through and through (born and raised), slopestyle rider Eric Willett was invited to his first X Games in 2010 and came home with a silver medal. He added gold in the X Games in Tignes, France that same year and has added a pair of bronzes, too. He also won the Dew Tour in 2012 and was third in the overall rankings and was back at it in December with a top 10 finish at the Dew Tour, but then crashed and sustained a back injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. He’s back on his board now and is looking forward to great things next winter.

Bobby Brown and Keri Herman Grand Prix
Bobby Brown and Keri Herman both won Gold at the 2014 Sprint U.S. Grand Prix in Breck.

Proving that the best of Breck athletes are here and now, let’s turn our attention to the skiers on the Breck Epic Team. British skier James Woods has landed two Winter X Games bronze medals in slopestyle and was the 2013 World Cup champ. Then there’s Keri Herman, who represented the U.S. last season in Sochi, finishing 10th in the inaugural Olympic slopestyle event after a huge win in the Breck Grand Prix and a silver medal at the Park City Grand Prix. The former University of Denver ice hockey player also has won three X Games silver medals and was the 2013 World Cup slopestyle champion.

Breck’s most shining star at the moment would have to be slopestyle skier Bobby Brown. Also a member of the inaugural U.S. slopestyle team in Sochi (where he took ninth after fighting back from injury), Brown has pioneered some of the sport’s biggest tricks (including a triple cork 1440) and was the first skier to win two X Games gold medals in 2010, in slopestyle and big air. The next year he was the Dew Tour’s slopestyle champion, landed another X Games gold in big air in 2012 then fought back into competition after two broken ankles in 2013. You may have seen him back in top form this past December, winning gold at the Breck World Cup/Grand Prix slopestyle. Also, after a harrowing crash in this January’s X Games that split his helmet in two, Brown surged on to take his fifth X Games medal – the silver in big air.

– Shauna Farnell

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