Work of Leadville topographic carver spills into valley


Peter Frykholm was not exactly breaking new ground when he, along with his wife, Amy, opted to move to the Colorado high country sans anything remotely resembling a plan more detailed than winging it. Having grown up in Colorado Springs, and having attended Colorado College, Frykholm was already familiar with the land of vertical terrain when he opted to move to Leadville in 2000. But, as far as a specific vocational objective, like many before him, the idea was to simply see what fell into place.

“My wife was working on her doctorate at Duke University in North Carolina,” Frykholm said.”She had a year to work on her dissertation, and, for that, we did not need to stay back East. Leadville had always been in the back of my mind because it’s just such a cool town. I skied at Ski Cooper when I was a kid. So we decided to spend that year in Leadville.”

Once his wife finished her doctoral work, she began the process of trying to hunt down a real gig. But that did not go so well. In the meantime, the Frykholms stayed in Leadville. And they stayed in Leadville some more.

It did not take long for a year-long residential lark to become home sweet home.

“We had the discussion about whether we should move to another place in search of employment in hopes that we fell in love with the place we moved to, or whether we should stay in a place we already loved and try to figure the job thing out.”

Not always an easy equation to balance.

“Like just about everyone who moves to a mountain town, I scrambled to find work,” Frykholm said. “I worked as a freelance copy writer, as an academic coordinator for Upward Bound and as assistant recreation coordinator for the Lake County government.

“Though that work was important, I had trouble after a few years finding it to be meaningful. I got to the point where I sat down and tried to determine what it was I loved to do. I knew that I loved woodworking. And this was about the time that 3D printing technology was really becoming available,” he said.

Frykholm looked up from his musings one day and let his gaze wander toward the summits of the two mountains that dominate Leadville’s western horizon — Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the two highest peaks in the entire Rocky Mountain chain. He focused on the striations and undulations of the topography defining those two very different peaks.

An idea began to form.

“Leadville is a big Fourteener-bagging town,” Frykholm said. “There are a lot of products associated with Fourteener bagging. I decided to try to combine my love of woodworking with the opportunities presented by the Fourteeners. I knew almost as soon as the idea came to me that I would pursue it.”

That idea was to make and purvey highly decorative three-dimensional renderings of Colorado’s Fourteeners.

Thing is, Frykholm had no background in any related field.

“I had no engineering background and no GIS background,” he said. “I majored in Russian history in college. That was great. I learned Russian and got to study abroad, but I had no clue how I would end up using that degree. Before moving to Leadville, I worked in education and the nonprofit world. The thing about Colorado College is that you study one subject at a time. You learn how to focus your attention on one subject. That’s what I decided to do.”

In 2010, with no fanfare whatsoever, Frykholm moved his family, which by this time included a son, to Chicago, where he enrolled in a year-long manufacturing technology program at the College of DePage.

“We chose Chicago, because the magazine that my wife worked for, and continued to work for, is located there,” Frykholm said. “She could easily commute downtown, and I could get in-district tuition.”

Translating his altitudinous intentions to the pancake-flat Windy City was not so easy.

“The instructors couldn’t fit their heads around what it was I wanted to do,” Frykholm said. “They were used to trying to figure out ways to manufacture a million widgets in such a way that they could save half-a-cent per ton. I really had to figure out for myself how I was going to learn how to do what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until literally the very last day of my program that I was first able to work with a computerized 
woodworking machine. I programmed it to make a wax rendering of the Mount of the Holy Cross. It came out perfectly. I knew then that it was not a wasted year.”

Frykholm moved his clan back to Leadville, bought a $5,000 machine and acquired a reliable source of beetle-kill wood from his brother, who lives near Gold Hill in Summit County — the heart of one of one of the most heavily hit pine bark beetle areas in the state.

“He has a wood-working shop there named Beaverworks,” Frykholm said. “So he was already harvesting beetle-kill wood for his own projects.”

Frykholm initially focused his creative efforts on the Fourteeners, but soon expanded into Colorado’s ski areas and mountain ranges.

He offers numerous standardized pieces focused on the Roaring Fork Valley, including carvings of Aspen and Aspen Highlands ski areas, Independence Pass, the Four Pass Loop, the Maroon Bells and the Elk Range.

Frykholm programs a given topography into his computer, which then translates that topography into wood. Depending on the size of the piece, it can take an hour or most of a day.

Once the actual computerized carving is complete, Frykholm sands the rough edges into a finished product.

His offerings cover the gamut from smaller carvings of individual peaks that are mounted on a base and suitable for display on a mantel or bookshelf to larger pieces that are framed and ready to be hung on a wall.

Though he manufactures a wide array of standardized geographies, Frykholm said the favorite part of his job is doing custom work.

“When someone orders a custom job, whether it’s of a favorite mountain or a ski area, there is almost always a story associated with the project,” Frykholm said. “It was a place where someone last hiked with their mother. Or it was their first climb with their wife. I love that aspect of the job.”

He also loves that each piece has its own identity.

“The beetle-kill wood had knots and grains that make every piece unique,” he said.

Frykholm plans to increasingly focus on the Fourteener market, which seemingly grows every year.

“The way people collect pins of the Fourteeners they have climbed, I would like for them to collect carvings of the mountains they have checked off,” he said. “We are also expanding into other geographies, like the Sierras and even Europe.”

Frykholm has purchased a new, $16,000 machine, which has allowed him to increase his productivity.

“We have also purchased a laser engraver, which will allow us to customize the carvings to show individual trails, routes of ski runs,” he said.

Despite having a business that is growing by leaps and bounds, Frykholm does not plan to go corporate. He wants to keep his operation, first, in Leadville and, second, very small.

“I can see somewhere down the line having one or two employees to help with the grunt work,” he said. “My son Samuel, who is now 14, helps out and maybe this will become his summer job. My wife does the books. It’s very much a family operation, and I want it to stay that way because I like hearing people’s stories when they place an order.

“I want the business to grow, sure. I want stores in Aspen to place orders for 20 Capitol Peak carvings. But do I ever want to get to the point where REI picks our products up? I can’t see that, because we would have to go with plastics rather than wood. I would lose the stories.”

Precision Peak products are currently on display at City on a Hill Coffee & Espresso on Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville.

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