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Mountain 101: 'Ski Texas'
An unthinkable slogan that might very well have happened
John Fayhee

I understand this will shock the snot out of anyone who knows me, but I recently found myself in some lighthearted barroom banter with an overly proud third-generation Houstonian, who, from my then-somewhat-inebriated perspective, was coming on a bit heavy with the kind and degree of native-son bravado that seems woven into the DNA of the spawn of the country’s second-largest state.

The gist of his drawl-laden argument — which began, if memory serves, when I asked if people from Texas are legally required to take a test before being issued a driver’s license — was that, without tourists from the Lone Star State, the Mountain Time Zone would economically wither away and die. He did not seem to hear me when I responded by stating that that’s a trade-off I would be more than willing to risk, even if it resulted in me standing chagrined in front of the Hotel Jerome with a wooden begging bowl while wearing a Dallas Cowboys hoodie.

Before those last words trickled from my tongue, the man, whose name was, of all stunning spins on the concept of appellation, “Tex,” flummoxed me with a bit of debate strategy so disorienting it bordered on foul play: He actually introduced some verity into what until that point had been a delightfully fact-free tête-à-tête. Caught me totally off guard!

“Hay-ull, boy,” Tex stated, “if it weren’t for a quirk of history, we’d be sittin’ in Texas right now. The local advertising slogan would be ‘Ski Texas.’ Texas would be the ski capital of the entire planet! We could have hosted the Winter Olympics!”

Sadly, he was right.   

There is a saying among more geo-culturally chauvinistic Coloradans that, if God had meant for Texans to ski, He would have given them mountains and snow. Well, He did — at least while the Republic of Texas existed from 1836-1845.

Simply put, the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 settled a border dispute between the United States and Spain caused by ambiguities resulting from the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. In addition to ceding Florida to the U.S., the treaty firmly established the boundary for U.S. territorial claims through the Rocky Mountains and west to the Pacific Ocean.

When Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, its northern boundaries were, by default, defined by the terms of the Adams-Onis Treaty, which meant that a large swath of what is now Colorado became part of the short-lived Republic of Texas. 

The part of what is now Colorado that was part of the Republic of Texas is basically the Rio Grande from the New Mexico border upriver to its headwaters near Creede, then north to what is now the Wyoming border, then east along the Wyoming border to a point due north of Leadville, then downriver along the Arkansas River to the eastern border of Colorado.

That means the unthinkable: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, Buttermilk, Sunlight Mountain, Crested Butte, Vail, Beaver Creek, Monarch, Ski Cooper and Steamboat ski areas are located in what used to be Texas! Yee-haw!

Fortunately for Colorado’s self-esteem, when Texas applied for admission to the U.S. as the country’s 28th state in 1845, it wanted to do so as a slave state. But the Compromise of 1820 forbade slavery north of 36-degrees, 30-minutes north latitude. So, Texas had a choice: enter the Union as a non-slave state or lop off a significant chunk of the northern part of its territory. It chose the latter, relinquishing all of its land north of 36-30 to the U.S. government.

To the eventual relief of all Coloradans, “Ski Texas” bumper stickers remain pretty much an inside joke among those very few residents of the Lone Star State inclined to bring historic facts to bear in the middle of barroom discourse.

RFWJ contributing editor M. John Fayhee is the author of 10 books, including “The Colorado Mountain Companion,” from which this column is excerpted.