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Max Dercum

Hall of Fame Class of 1983

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Information submitted in a nomination letter to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame by I. William Berry.

Max Dercum was one of the seven founders of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and as a member, authorized the book “The Official American Ski Technique.”

Max Dercum is the Pied Piper who lured the beginner, the gentle instructor when arrogance was the rule of the slope, the dreamer who foresaw in the 1960s that Keystone would not only be a fine ski mountain. It would anchor one of the most important ski resorts in the country – a resort that would incorporate not only Keystone by Arapahoe Basin, a major convention center, tennis camp, a lake and most of all, embody the future of American skiing without losing its past. During the summer of 2004, Keystone Resort renamed its original ski area Dercum Mountain for its founder, Max.

When Max joined the world of skiing in the 1930s, he brought a formal education with him: a degree in forestry from Cornell University (where he was a member of the first ski team), The University of California (where he also taught skiing) and Penn State where as an assistant professor of forestry, he found time to form and coach the first college racing team.

Whether this essentially peripheral contact with skiing would have expanded on its own is moot. In 1937-38, the Pennsylvania Railroad contacted him to consult in designing an area. He took a leave of absence from Penn State to tour Europe and study how areas were designed there. Even though he returned to the Penn State Forestry faculty, it was obviously just a matter of time until he hit the ski area business full-time.

That seemed to happen in 1940-41 when he first came to Colorado and found what was later to become A-Basin and Ski Tip Ranch. When the war broke out, he headed out to Washington State for an essential-industry position in logging. After the war ended, it was back to Colorado where he worked with such greats as Dick Durrance, Larry Jump, Thor Groswold and Sandy Schaeffler to put together the A-Basin (Arapahoe Basin).

For most people, that would have been sufficient, especially since Max was also building Ski Tip Lodge and breaking new ground in teaching (at the same time). “But all that time”, he says, “Keystone was just sitting there waiting to be developed. It was just a matter of time.” In the early 1960s, Max got a three-year U.S.F.S. permit, built the models and began to hit the road-show circuit to entice a large corporate sponsor. Earlier than most, he knew that the shoe-string methods of the 1940s (under which he built the A-Basin) would not work in the 1970s. In time, he attracted Ralston-Purina and they went along for half the money with ne provision: “Give us a way to get our Iowa wives from the top to the bottom.” Max designed Schoolmarm, Keystone which today is the keystone of Summit County, Colorado and it was launched. Max Dercum’s career was capped.

Max Dercum’s skiing career also included being one of the seven Founding Directors of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) in 1961 in Big Mountain, Montana. As a master racer, Max won many trophies during the 1980s through the 1990s in Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Switzerland and the U.S.A.

Max Dercum was elected to the NASTAR Ski Hall of Fame (1975), Colorado Ski Hall of Fame (1980) and the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1983.

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