Marolt: The climate has changed, just ask the ghosts
Quick — name a Colorado ghost ski area. I’m not talking about a resort that closed up for a few days until the jet stream dipped south again or even a mountain that shut down a month or so earlier than planned because the sun came out and wouldn’t go away. I’m talking about closing up for good — finito, forever — because the snow left and never came back except to visit for a day or two a few times a winter.
Aw, quite straining. I’ll tell you. I travel the back roads when I go down to Texas, which is pretty darn frequently, so I have an unfair advantage. I’ve seen five of the ghosts myself. Some of the carcasses are still pretty much intact, or at least they look that way from a distance.
If I head south at Minturn and down through Salida to Cotapaxi and from there on to Walsenburg, I pass three of them. The first is just outside Westcliffe. They called it Conquistador.
I’ve been looking at this one with interest for the past 25 years. There’s not much to it that was already developed — about 1,200 vertical feet, a couple of lifts, a Poma, and maybe a dozen trails — but right above the resort are a couple of 12,000-foot peaks begging to be skied like Highland Bowl. I’m sure I’m not the first to dream of skiing them, but, unfortunately, you can’t make it snow in your sleep.
Next on the tour of the dead is Cuchara Valley. It’s way on down south, about 25 miles southwest of Walsenburg. It looks good from far away, but … you know how the rest of the saying goes. It looks like they have about five lifts spanning around 1,500 vertical feet of terrain, but there doesn’t seem to be much potential to attract an expert. Several different groups have made several different attempts, one very recently, to get things moving there again. No luck. It’s just lift towers howling in the wind.
After you get down to Raton Pass, you see the decay of what was Ski Sugarite. Before you go all Brian Williams on me, I know this ski area was technically in New Mexico, but it was close enough to our state that the people there called it “New Mexico’s only Colorado resort.” It was a clever slogan for a ski area that the Snowbelt has since slipped north of. What’s left of it are a few rickety lift towers on top of a cliff.
There are also plenty of ski area artifacts on the faster route through Denver. Just before you descend down to the hogbacks you pass a housing development on your right that used to be Arapahoe East. I remember as a kid seeing that place alive with skiers. It wasn’t a great area by any stretch, but it was convenient if you lived in the city and had a few hours to kill fine tuning your skills for bigger resorts to come. It is virtually impossible to tell that anything to do with skiing ever occurred on that spot now.
Finally, you get down to Colorado Springs and, if you have keen eyes and a keener memory, you can spot what is left of Ski Broadmoor. Apparitions of it more resemble extensions of the fairways of the famous country club below it than any enticement to serious skiers, but, at one time, they had snow enough to make the sport happen there, even at night!
The history books will give you all kinds of different reasons these ski areas shut down, most of it boiling down to poor financing, but we know here in Ski Country USA that where there’s snow, there’s usually money. Granted, the annual snowfalls were more questionable at those places than in a high valley like the upper Roaring Fork even when the ski area ideas were conceived at these other places, but more than a few people made big wagers that what average snowfalls they had then would be enough to support the resorts forever.
Anecdotal evidence isn’t usually enough to prove much to most. I think it would be fair to say, though, that it meant a lot to the people who cut trees and built ski lifts at these five ghosts of Colorado’s skiing past. Things looked bright to those investors. What they didn’t realize is that it was the sun burning a little hotter above them.
The climate couldn’t possibly change fast enough to put them out of business, but it did. It couldn’t happen to us either, right?
Roger Marolt has noticed that he uses blue ski wax a lot less frequently than he used to. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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