Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Summit Daily News and was shared via AP StoryShare. It was written by Cody Jones, a Summit Daily staff writer.
By Cody Jones
Every year the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame in Vail inaugurates a new class of snowsport legends to its hall of fame. The 2022 hall of fame class features five members and among them is Loveland Ski Area pioneer Chester “Chet” Upham Jr. No one has played a more integral role in the history of Loveland Ski Area than Chet and the Upham family. Upham, who originally hailed from Mineral Wells, Texas became a partner in the Loveland Ski Tow Company in 1956.
At that time, Loveland Ski Area was known as Loveland Ski Tow Incorporated and consisted of only tow rope ski lifts. Shortly after Upham became a partner with the company, he was successful in convincing his fellow partners that the ski area needed to install its first chairlift. The chairlift would be called Lift 1, and was only the third of its kind in the state of Colorado at the time. After Upham’s death in 2008, Lift 1 was renamed in his honor to “Chet’s Dream” due to his impact and legacy at the ski area. After successfully installing the first chairlift at the ski area, Upham, alongside his wife Virginia, bought out the other partners of the Loveland Ski Tow Company in 1972.
Chester “Chet” Upham Jr. unloads from a ski lift at Loveland Ski Area. Since purchasing the ski area in 1972, Upham has had a monumental role at Loveland Ski Area. Besides being an innovator for the ski industry, Upham helped instill family values at the independently owned ski area. Due to his contribution to the ski industry, Chet will be inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame on August 21.
It was at this time that Loveland Ski Area was shaped into the ski area that is loved by many to this day, “Chet and Virginia took a very personal approach to owning and running Loveland Ski Area,” Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Loveland Ski Area Rob Goodell said.
After buying out the partners in 1972, Upham made it his mission to provide high-quality skiing to his guests all while providing a family-like atmosphere for everyone — from the guests to the employees. According to Goodell, while Upham was in the oil and gas industry in Texas he was always known as Mr. Upham. At Loveland Ski Area, however, Upham insisted he and his wife be addressed by their first names.
“He wanted to know everyone from the dishwasher to the lift attendant,” Goodell said. “A very personal approach and that is a culture that we try to keep going today.” Much like his early influence on the ski area, Upham continued to find innovative ways to advance Loveland Ski Area. This included the use of snowmakers which allowed the ski area to produce artificial snow.
“He was very innovative,” Goodell said. “An engineer by education, and (he) took a lot of the principles from the oil and gas business and brought it to the ski area, specifically with snowmaking.” Upham figured out the air compressors and the pumping of the water that is required for efficient snowmaking. Upham even bought excess air from the Eisenhower Tunnel in order to make snow which was innovative at the time.
Beyond paving the way for other ski areas, Chet, alongside his family, remains unique. To this day Loveland Ski Area is still one of the only independent, family-owned ski areas not only in the state of Colorado but across the U.S.
Chester “Chet” Upham Jr. poses for a photo while out for a day of skiing at Loveland Ski Area.
Loveland Ski Area/Courtesy photo
“Loveland is Colorado’s longest operating — privately owned ski area,” said Dana Mathios, curator and director of collections at the Colorado Snowsports Museum. Although both Chet and Virginia have passed away, the Upham family continues to own Loveland Ski Area. As a result, the ski area still prides itself on providing an atmosphere that Chet and Virginia would be proud of today.
“He wanted to keep it accessible, for families especially,” Goodell said. “We still strive for that today. It is a very challenging market. As we meet as a board, which includes the next generation below Chet and Virginia and the next generation after that, it is still very important to them to really try to keep the sport as affordable as possible.”
For those who work at Loveland Ski Area, the induction of Upham into the hall of fame is a huge honor after the impact the Upham family has had on the ski area over the years.
“Chet’s vision influenced the industry through many Loveland ‘alumni’ who went on to have an impact on the Colorado ski industry,” Mathios said. “Five of his former employees are Colorado Snowsports Hall of Famers.”
Upham will officially be inducted into the hall of fame on August 21. Upham will join other snowsport titans Ron LeMaster, Jeannie Thoren, John Dakin and Peter Rietz. To purchase tickets for the hall of fame induction ceremony visit Colorado Snowsports Museum.