Vail’s new, improved Colorado Snowsports Museum is open, but not quite finished | VailDaily.com

Vail’s new, improved Colorado Snowsports Museum is open, but not quite finished

VAIL — It's taken years to accomplish, but the Colorado Snowsports Museum is ready to show a brand-new face to the world.

The museum, long located in the Vail Village Transportation Center, is in the final stages of a $2.4 million transformation. What used to be a bit like an attic full of artifacts is becoming a state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the state's snowsports history.

In order to get open for an event sponsored by the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships, the museum finished one exhibit area, dedicated to the 10th Mountain Division. That unit, which began in World War II, trained at Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville.

That high-elevation camp taught soldiers to ski and fight. The men who returned from World War II — the unit took heavy casualties in fighting from the Aleutian Islands to the Italian Alps — essentially invented the modern U.S. skiing industry. That's why the 10th had to come first.

There aren't many of those snow soldiers left, and all are now in their 90s.

One of those veterans is Dick Over. Over, a longtime Denver-area resident, is also a longtime friend of the ski museum. At a recent reception for donors and other museum supporters, Over got his first look at the new exhibit.

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"I more than approved," Over said.

The exhibit dedicated to the 10th has a good bit of restored video, something Over said helps tell the unit's story.

"I was thrilled with it," Over said. "I've heard some awfully good comments from people who remember those days."

Something for everyone

Those feelings were echoed by those who attended the Burton reception.

Museum director Susie Tjossem said Burton founder Jake Burton was effusive in his praise.

"The Burton people were just blown away," Tjossem said. "I can't say how many times Jake (Burton) came over to me."

The museum isn't finished yet.

In addition to the tribute to the 10th, the exhibit areas will include:

• Skiing through time, an exhibit that starts with those who used wooden planks and leather bindings as winter transportation and runs to the present.

• An exhibit detailing snowboarding and backcountry snowsports.

• Vail's DNA: the history of the museum's home resort.

• A rotating exhibit that will start with 100 years of ski fashion.

Instead of the attic full of stuff, Tjossem said fewer artifacts will be surrounded by high-tech images that can give visitors a more complete idea of the stories the exhibits try to tell.

The high-tech elements have been something to see as visitors of different ages interact with it, Tjossem said.

"Kids go up to the tech and just grab it," Tjossem said. The kids' grandparents, meanwhile, use the touch screens a bit more gingerly. But the reaction is the same.

"The kids ask 'can we come back?'" Tjossem said. And that's the point.

"We want it to be 'We have to go the museum when we come back,'" she said.

The work before the work

The first trip back for local kids should come Friday, May 4, the date when all of the museum's exhibits are expected to be in place.

To get from attic to showplace took a lot of work before all of the work required to transform the physical space.

A big part of that work involved raising the money to complete the job.

Harry Frampton is a donor to the project and the longtime former chairman of the Vail Valley Foundation Board of Directors.

Frampton said he's impressed with what he's seen of the museum. He also acknowledged the difficulty of raising money for a project that was nothing but drawings at first.

"No matter who you're raising money for, it's not easy," Frampton said. "Warren Buffet and Bill Gates get requests for more money than they've got."

But, Frampton said, the museum's board and staff "ground away, got it done and got into a full partnership with the town."

That partnership included the town-owned museum space. It also included a $500,000 donation to the project, payable when the rest of the fundraising was complete.

While the museum is in Vail, it's for the entire state. That hasn't always been an easy idea to pitch. Tjossem said the new exhibits have helped get the rest of the state's ski industry committed to the facility.

"If it weren't for skiing, we wouldn't be here," museum supporter Dave Gorsuch said. Gorsuch, whose business started in an old gas station in Gunnison in the early 1960s, said he's pleased with the museum's recognition of the rest of the state's resorts.

"It's great to recognize the history of skiing in Colorado," Gorsuch said. "It has to do with the entire state."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

If you go …

What: Colorado Snowsports Museum.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Where: Vail Village Transportation Center.

Cost: Admission is free.

More information: At the moment, the museum features just the gift shop and an exhibit focused on the 10th Mountain Division and its impact on snowsports. The rest of the exhibit areas will be installed in April, with a full opening scheduled for Friday, May 4. Visit http://www.skimuseum.net to learn more.