The Unique Stories of Colorado’s ‘Lost’ Ski Areas

Submitted by Alec Stowell on Wed, 04/22/2020 - 12:20

CSCUSA Lost Resorts Poster-2
 

If you’re a Colorado native or a long time Colorado resident and you’ve enjoyed all the beautiful ski areas the state has to offer, I’m sure at some point you’ve wondered about the ones throughout history that haven’t had the same success and no longer exist.

There’s something particularly interesting about ski areas that fail – we want to know where things went wrong, so our other beloved ski areas don’t face the same fates. Well, I’m here to give you a brief history on some of the ski areas that Colorado has unfortunately lost over the last century, mostly due to financial issues. However, I want to make clear that this story is not meant to highlight failure and certainly isn’t written with a gloomy tone. Instead, this story should help celebrate the history of Colorado skiing and help us all appreciate even more the resorts and ski areas we get to cherish each year.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

Skiing truly began in Colorado in the mid-1800s by miners to gain access to high alpine mining camps. Skiing as part of the recreational activity wasn’t even a consideration, and the technology of their equipment is incomparable to that of today. Over the next hundred years, the idea of recreational skiing in Colorado was brought into fruition, beginning with Howelsen Hill, in Steamboat Springs. Howelsen Hill has its own unique history as it is the first ski area to open in the United States and is still home to many of Colorado’s Olympians and hall of fame recipients.

Though Howelsen Hill is still around and beloved by many locals and tourists apart, all the ski areas in Yampa Valley have not shared the same success story. Stagecoach State Park was planned to be home to one of Colorado’s largest resorts and designer, Steven Arnold, won an American Design Institute award for its plans. These included five base areas, thirty-four subdivisions, an entire golf course, twenty-two double chairs and a reservoir. This area was expected to be complete by 1972. By that time, they had managed to complete enough of the area to open and former Colorado governor, John Vanderhoof, was there for the opening ceremonies as local residents were off to enjoy their new resort. According to reports from a former employee, the whole operation failed because the focus was in the wrong area. The resort was meant to be a real estate engine and sell condos and homes and that wasn’t gaining the traction they expected, partially due to the OPEC oil embargo and the recession that followed. The funding was pulled for the operation just a year later which left an unfinished resort in the hands of owner, Chris Wittemyer, who has said he has no plans to attempt to reopen the ski area but has had some snowcat operations since its closing.

Squaw Pass Ski Area, located west of Idaho Springs near Mount Evans, was not the juggernaut that Stagecoach Ski Resort tried to be – instead, they wanted to be a smaller scale family ski resort. After being contracted to have a 1000-foot T-bar installed, the resort saw almost a decade of use before being closed. However, the area was infamously coined “The Ski School Ski Area” because ski instructors often outnumbered ski guests. Again, this ski area unfortunately saw its failure come down to finances, not because of its real estate endeavors, but because of mother nature. The area is located on Chief Mountain, which on average receives 175 inches of snow a year and on a down year could see as little as 75 inches. Due to insufficient funding, the ski area wasn’t able to afford its own snowmaking equipment, and with its particular location, it just wasn’t able to have enough snow to keep it alive. In 1972, the resort closed but that wasn’t the last it was heard of. Since then, it’s been sold twice to different owners with many locals holding hopes of a reopen. Unfortunately, the first owners faced similar issues when looking to reopen and couldn’t fund it properly while the current owners haven’t ruled out a reopening, but they would certainly need to make sure it’s funded properly and invest in snowmaking equipment.

Conquistador, a ski area that was located in the northern part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near the town of West Cliffe, was founded by Dick Milstein and didn’t receive quite the local praise that some of the other lost ski areas did. Milstein, who was involved in the development of Winter Park and Sunlight Mountain, said some of the locals loved the idea but some heavily opposed it. The resort opened in 1976 and with just two small pony lifts and minimal terrain, it wasn’t until its expansion in 1983 that it got its statewide recognition as a real ski resort, with an addition of more lifts, a lodge, and snowmaking equipment. The same story happened for Conquistador as the other resorts and funding ran dry and the government took over, only to also experience huge financial losses before ultimately shutting down the operations by 1988. This had a significant impact on the local economy as many jobs were lost in the process of its closure. The resort was purchased a few years after its closure and was renamed Mountain Cliffe, but due to poor snow conditions they were unable to gain enough traction to have a revival of the land. Eventually, the land was purchased again but with no intention to try to reopen any ski operations.

Berthoud Pass is a gateway to many ski areas still around today, but it used to be home to Berthoud Ski Area. This ski area dates all the way back to 1937 but began its operations in the 1940’s, serving over a third of Colorado’s recreational skier visits. This area saw a lot of success for several decades and was the first area to fully allow snowboarder access on the mountain. In 1987, the ski area was sold to Peter Crowley the same day of a tragic rockslide accident which killed eight people on the pass. This accident circulated rumors that the ski area was cursed and even more interestingly, Crowley ended up dying 14 years later to the day in his own automobile accident. In 1988, a ski lift accident caused the area to be shut down and sold to another gentleman, Gary Schulz. Schulz had big construction plans for the resort, but funding again went dry and the area was shut down until 1996. In 1996, the area was purchased again, and operation was set to begin the following winter and did so in January of 1997 with some important improvements to the mountain. After the death of one of the new owners in 1997, the area was sold once more to Marise Cipriani, the former owner of Granby Ranch Ski Area, and was operated for a few more seasons until 2001 when the competition with larger resorts ultimately left the area with no choice but to close down.

While many of these stories of lost Colorado ski resorts had the same ending, they all paint a larger picture of the unique and interesting history of skiing in Colorado. And although many of them faced their fate due to insufficient funding, the reasons for that all are quite different. After doing my own research, it has helped me develop a larger appreciation for the resorts that have successfully operated for so long and have engrained themselves in the memories of so many residents and tourists alike. Over the last century, Colorado has been home to over 150 ski areas, but just 26 remain today. The ones that still operate do so for good reason and still keep Colorado as one of the best, if not the best, skiing destination in all of the world.

If you found this brief history of some of the lost ski areas in Colorado interesting, you can find more details about them here. Colorado Ski Country also offers a unique ‘Lost Resorts Poster’ for only $19.99 which is a great addition to any home and clearly has many stories to share alongside it.

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Lost Ski Resorts Poster Sold by CSCUSA 

 

As Colorado’s history of skiing continues to grow and shape right in front of us, it’s always good to take a step back and learn about who pioneered this beautiful recreation in a state we all call home.

Special thanks to:

http://www.coloradoskihistory.com/history/hist2117.html

 

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