Keystone, A-Basin co-founder Max Dercum dies at 98 |

Keystone, A-Basin co-founder Max Dercum dies at 98

Caddie Nath
Summit Daily News
Vail, CO Colorado
Arapahoe Basin | Special to the Daily

SUMMIT COUNTY – Co-founder of two of Summit County’s four ski resorts and local legend Max Dercum died Friday, just days shy of his 99th birthday.

Dercum passed away at a retirement home in Evergreen, where he lived, Jefferson County coroners confirmed. It is apparent he died of natural causes.

The champion skier, former forestry professor and visionary, along with his wife, Edna, was among a group of seven who started Arapahoe Basin in 1946 and was the driving force behind the founding of Keystone Resort in the early 1970s.

Remembered by friends as a bubbly, enthusiastic and spirited man, Dercum received his first pair of skis when he was just 6 years old. He fell so in love with the sport that he would eventually move to Colorado from Pennsylvania and become a founding father of the state’s flourishing ski industry.

“Nobody had a greater love of skiing than Max Dercum,” said Bill Bergman, Dercum’s long-time friend and co-founder of Keystone. “And probably nobody knew more about technique and equipment.”

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For the Dercums, it started at Arapahoe Basin in 1946.

The 80-acre parcel of land was purchased for $3,000. In the late 1990s, Dercum would remember members of the A-Basin founding family each pitching in $2 to pay the $10 incorporation paper fees.

That first year, 1,200 people skied from a mid-point towrope. They paid $3 for a ticket.

But, for the Dercums, one ski area wasn’t enough, and despite multiple challenges and roadblocks, Max never gave up on the idea of another hill at Keystone.

“He knew what he wanted,” recalled Bergman’s wife, Jane. “He wanted a mountain.”

So badly, that he already had a plaster-of-paris model of the runs he wanted to develop when he befriended the Bergmans after they moved in down the road from the Dercum’s Ski Tip Ranch.

One New Year’s Eve, the two couples began a partnership that would eventually lead to the birth of Keystone Resort. The Bergmans raised the money and found the investors to start the resort, and Dercum became head of the ski school. Dercum managed the trails and installation of the lifts, while Bill Bergman handled the business side.

“That’s been our whole life together since,” Bergman said. “I have admired him like I have never admired a person before in my life.”

Today, Keystone stretches seven miles over three mountains with 3,148 acres of ski and snowboard terrain.

In 1980, the Dercums were inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, and in 2003 Keystone Mountain was renamed Dercum Mountain in their honor.

Max Dercum was born Oct. 2, 1912.

He learned to ski early in life by studying the simple instruction manual that came with his boards.

In 1932, he became one of the founding members of the ski team at Cornell University. He would later study and eventually become a professor of forestry at Penn State. It was there that he met Edna – the couple married in 1937 – and formed a ski club and with it, his first makeshift ski area with cross-country trails, a jump and a small towrope.

In 1941, Max and Edna moved to Colorado planning to do the same thing on a bigger scale. Five years later, with the end of World War II, they would begin their work at A-Basin.

During his life, Max Dercum worked as a lift operator, ski instructor and patroller. He skied well into his 80s and remained strong and alert up to within days of his death.

Dercum and Bill Bergman spent last Saturday together, reminiscing about old times.

Dercum is survived by his two children Rolf and Sunni, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and extended family. Edna, to whom he was married for 71 years, died in 2008 at the age of 94.

Information on a service has not yet been released.

Alex Miller and the Denver Post contributed to the reporting of this story.

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