After Two Decades In Mothballs, Southern Colorado Mountain Reopens
This season, Colorado's skiers and snowboards welcome an old friend back into the fold, as Cuchara Mountain Park reopens 23 years after the last lift ride went up the southern Colorado hill.
In a state known for giving folks a chance to start anew, this compact ski area may be the poster child. Opened for the first time in 1981 with two chairlifts, a rope tow and about 100 skiable acres, the resort formerly known as Pandora and Cuchara Valley shut down and reopened four times until 2000, when the lights went off for more than two decades.
At least until recently. With locally raised funds, county government purchased 47 private acres at the base of the mountain, and began developing it as an all-season "mountain park," including downhill skiing and riding. It's located 25 minutes south of the town of La Veta and 40 minutes from I-25 in Walsenburg.
For the time being, a trailer outfitted with old bus seats and towed by a snowcat will ferry downhillers on a five-minute ride to the lower slopes of the mountain. Operations will run 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a ticket costs $40. The trailer can carry 22 people per ride. Uphillers can head up to the upper mountain on their own.
The operator was quoted by Colorado Public Radio as saying, "We like to say we're cheaper than a cheeseburger, a Coke and fries at any of the other competing major ski areas in Colorado."
Cuchara covers 230 acres and has a 1,500 vertical drop. Three of the original four chairs still stand on the mountain, but operators have been working to get Lift 4 -- the base-to-summit (10,800 feet) workhorse that went up in 1981 -- up and running. For now, base facilities are minimal.
There's snowmaking infrastructure in place all over the mountain, which is important for a ski area exposed on the very southeastern edge of Colorado's Front Range -- in times of a warming climate.
Back in the day, Pandora-Cuchara was the closest Colorado ski mountain to the Great Plains and drew skiers from there and southern Colorado. A collection of nearly 100 condos and a dozen homes were built around the base area.