Five Colorado Mountains Tackle Crowding By Replacing Aging Lifts

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Increasing numbers of skiers and riders on Colorado's slopes and trail has prompted resort owners to jack up capacity in order to reduce wait times and get more folks on the hill.

At all five mountains, the new lifts will run up existing routes but with more seats and/or higher speeds. Each will replace lifts that have been working hard for a couple of decades.

At Copper Mountain, crews will dismantle the 30-year-old Timberline Express -- one of the mountain's first high-speed chairs -- and replace it with a high-speed six-pack. It's expected to add 20% more skiers and riders on the lift at any time.

The new chair continues Copper's focus on improving the west side of the mountain. Timberline directly serves a half-dozen of the resort's most popular intermediate runs, including Moz and Jacque's Pique. It sits above Copper's expansive learning and terrain park west side that is served by Woodward Express and Lumberjack.

Up at Snowmass where the goal is to get more folks out of the base area, a newly aligned six-pack Coney Express will go in this summer. It will extend below where the Coney Glade chair has run for 32 years, dropping the Coney base terminal to a point opposite the Snowmass Mall.

Snowmass officials said that more than half of skiers and riders begin their day out of the mall area, so the new Coney Express will become a convenient starting point for skiers and riders looking to get to the middle and western sides of the mountain.

Down I-70, Sunlight Mountain plans to add capacity to the hard-working Segundo chair. Built in 1954 and installed at Sunlight in 1973, the original fixed-grip Segundo was a two-seater that hauled 970 people per hour up the mountain's west side to upper-mountain blues and blacks.

The replacement chair will be a fixed-grip triple -- previously at Arapahoe Basin for 20 years -- that should increase uphill capacity by 44%.

In southwest Colorado, Durango's Chapman Hill will get a major upgrade. The city-owned hill that covers 500 acres will remove the classic "Big Tow" rope tow that came from WWII ski-troop training center at Camp Hale in 1966 -- and required strength and thick gloves to reach its top.

In its place will the a platter lift that will run up the same line as the old rope. In addition, Chapman's second rope tow, which run about a third of the way up the hill and served beginners and terrain park-ers, will be replaced with a new rope tow that extends farther up the slope.

And south of Steamboat, Colorado's second private ski and snowboard mountain, called Stagecoach Mountain, has ordered a new gondola. The new lift will run bottom to top along the same route as the original line, which ran from 1972-74 before closing.

 

 

 

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Plans For A Private Ski Mountain Near Steamboat Rise From The Ashes

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A dream from 50 years ago has come back to life in northern Colorado with the announced intentions to resurrect a private skiing and riding mountain south of Steamboat Springs.

Local news media is reporting that the company behind the exclusive private Yellowstone Club in Montana has submitted documents to confirm availability of water for snowmaking and golf course irrigation for Stagecoach Mountain Ranch. And, a revised plan for some 697 residences, a private ski mountain and golf course is expected to be submitted this spring to county officials.

If Stagecoach ownership clears county and water district hurdles, it will reportedly be the third private ski mountain in the world, with Yellowstone and Colorado's Cimarron Mountain Club above Montrose as the others. Each of those require property ownership and steep entry and yearly fees. Cimarron is limited to just 13 families.

At Stagecoach in 1972, a Colorado Springs development company cut a dozen trails, started work on a base lodge and put up three chairlifts on 900 acres with a 1,700-foot vertical pitch they called Stagecoach Ski Area. With much fanfare, it opened, and ran for two seasons but then lost financing and shut down in 1974.

Now, five decades later, details are somewhat sketchy, but industry officials have confirmed that a gondola is in production for installation this summer at Stagecoach Mountain. A trail map released by a local real estate agent shows a trail system identical to the one drawn up in 1972.

Like many private resorts, you'll have to own property somewhere on the 6,620-acre Stagecoach Mountain Ranch in order to hop the lifts and ski or ride the more than a dozen trails that were cut more than 50 years ago but are still visible from afar. Exclusively is an emerging trend in the ski industry, with the purchase of pre-opening lift rides and line-cutting becoming more popular, and Powder Mountain about to rope off a portion of its mountain for homeowners-only. 

A 390-acre golf course is said to be included in the project, along with equestrian facilities and possible fishing access to nearby Yampa River. In addition, the public Stagecoach State Park reservoir laps up to the base of the new winter resort.

Housing lots will likely cost several million dollars, the agent said, with the bulk of residences located on the ski mountain itself.

 

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Heavy March Storms Prompt Resorts To Stay Open Longer

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It's been a schizophrenic ski and snowboard season in the West, starting with a scratchy Christmas and meager January, but finishing up with mega-dumps into late March.

While storms arrived off the Pacific Ocean as usual this winter, above-freezing temps produced more rain than snow at many resorts that typically get inundated in December and January.

However, temperatures dipped in mid-winter, the storm cycle settled in, and some remarkably intense winter weather dropped near-record amounts. As a result, a number of resorts in the West have announced extensions to their seasons as the snow just keeps on coming in the Sierra, Cascades and Rockies.

Mt. Hood Meadows' 2,100 acres got lots late this season. The Oregon resort is approaching its average of 430 inches per season and has decided to run daily to April 28, then weekends until May 18. All terrain is expected to stay open until May 5; thereafter, fewer trails will be open, and lifts will run to 2:30 p.m.

Also in the Pacific Northwest, Washington's Crystal Mountain will run daily until April 14 -- as planned -- but add two weekends April 19-21 and 26-28 to finish off the season. Only intermediate and advanced terrain will be open, with limited lift operations and no lessons.

North of Lake Tahoe in California, Sugar Bowl now has nearly 15 feet at its summit following the latest storm cycle. That was plenty for mountain management to add three weeks to the season through April 28. And, both China Peak and Kirkwood have extended to April 28.

In Utah, Brian Head was the first to announce a season extensions. Once storms started sagging to the south, Utah's southernmost ski and snowboard mountain got hammered. Consequently, all lifts will keep spinning at Brian Head until May 5 -- with a hint from management that they might go beyond that.

Utah's Wasatch Range always seems to get lots of snow, be it El Nińo or La Nińa. On the eastern front, Deer Valley has added another week of skiing and riding to its calendar, ending on April 21. The skiing-only resort totaled 320 inches of snowfall so far, just a bit above average.

And Park City Mountain had decided that they have enough snow to keep spinning lifts. Mountain management announced that one of the nation's largest resorts will stay open another eight days to April 22.

Over in Colorado, Steamboat seemed to be immune to the lethargy of early-season storms, and then catching plenty in the later months. Some 340 inches fell this season, enough to add a week to the resort's operations calendar to April. 21.

And farther south, despite no snowmaking, Monarch Mountain was the beneficiary of multiple March storms to build up enough base to stay open an extra week to March 14.

-- This article will be updated if more extensions are announced.

 

 

 

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Ski Hesperus To Stay Closed For Another Season

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An expensive lift motor repair plus an uncertain future without snowmaking has forced owners of Ski Hesperus to keep the local hill idle for a second season in a row.

Owners Mountain Capital Partners shuttered Durango-area Hesperus for the 2023-2024 season because of an inability to fix the balky transmission of the mountain's only chairlift. Now, ownership has decided that the cost of rebuilding the gearbox of the 35-year-old fixed-grip double chair is too much to bear on a hill with inconsistent natural snowfall and no snowmaking backup.

General manager Dave Rathbun told the Durango Herald that in the eight years of MCP ownership, Hesperus has made money in just one of them -- primarily because insufficient snowfall limited spinning the lift to just three times during the revenue-critical Christmas holiday period.

"... at this moment, as we face this extremely expensive repair, we have to consider Hesperus’ longevity," the owners said in a press release. "This decision ultimately comes down to a matter of water. It is imperative for us to be able to make snow to guarantee reliable conditions that keep guests coming year after year."

So Hesperus' 80 acres and 700 vertical feet will remain untracked for another winter. All access will be prohibited, including the parking lot, and popular uphill and hike-to tubing access. The hill's warming hut and ski services will be shuttered as well.

Since 1962, Hesperus has been one of Colorado's classic local hills. Many Durango-area youngsters learned to ski and ride there, and many of their parents took a few turns after work. It sits on private ranch land right along U.S. 160 west of town. Night skiing has been a staple of the operation for decades, with lights from top to bottom.

The Bighorn double chair started operating in 1988, replacing a rope tow that had been operating on and off for 25 years. In 2016, Durango-based Mountain Capital Partners purchased the lease for the 160 acres on which Hesperus sits. The firm owns Purgatory and owns or operates 10 other American resorts, including New Mexico's Pajarito, Sipapu and Sandia Peak -- all local hills like Hesperus.

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Colorado Resorts Respond To Surge In Uphillers On Their Mountains

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More than two-thirds of all U.S. resorts allow folks to climb up their hill rather than ride the lifts, and Colorado is no exception with all but one of its resorts allowing uphiller access on their mountains.

Industry experts say high day and season ticket prices, crowded lift lines, and an explosion in backcountry popularity have prompted mountains to find a way to make it safe to climb up -- even during operating hours. Most stats are anecdotal but Copper Mountain officials told SnoCountry.com that uphilling has doubled in the last two years.  

Most designated climbing routes run up the sides of slopes to give everyone space to maneuver. Copper Mountain goes further, slotting uphillers through off-piste forested sections.

The majority of ski and snowboard areas allow uphill access with the use of skins for alpine skis, splitboarding, snowshoeing or hiking. Most require a specific pass day or season, and sometimes a season-long armband. Day ticket prices vary from free at all Vail-owned resorts, Telluride and Granby Ranch, to $79 plus $5 armband at Copper Mountain. And, it's always free with a full-priced lift ticket or season pass.

A number of resorts permit uphillers to mingle with the daily crowd, a few go 24 hours, and most split uphill time between pre- and post-operating hours.

For instance, Ski Cooper lets uphillers on the hill 24 hours a day. During operating hours, you need a day or season pass and stay on three uphill routes. After hours, you can wander all over the mountain for free.

It's similar at Monarch, where different uphill tracks are designated for pre-opening, operating hours, and after hours. Western Slope day-mountains Sunlight and Powderhorn keep one trail open while lifts are spinning, then open all when they shut down.

Granby Ranch splits morning and evening hours -- 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., then 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Copper Mountain opens two dawn routes until 8 a.m., six routes during operating hours, then two evening routes until 10 p.m.

Aspen-area resorts differ a bit. Aspen Mountain prefers uphillers after hours and overnight, while Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk all drop the ropes for uphillers at 5 a.m., and let them climb until late into the evening.

Front Range Loveland holds uphillers back until the lifts are closed, as do Crested Butte and Steamboat, which requires viewing a safety video. And Eldora lets them on only on weekdays.

These days, uphillers like to bring their dogs along, so resorts have had to develop guidelines for canine participation. Most dog-friendly are Loveland and Granby Ranch where dogs are OK anytime uphillers are permitted. Some, like Telluride and Buttermilk, keep them off until after hours. A few require leashes.

Because hours, prices, routes and restrictions vary among Colorado ski and snowboard resorts, it's best to check a resort's website or call ahead to confirm policies for that day.

The exception all of these is southwest Colorado's Purgatory, where mountain officials have kept to a no-uphilling policy.

 

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After Two Decades In Mothballs, Southern Colorado Mountain Reopens

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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.

 

 

 

 

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A Plethora Of Modest Changes Await Skiers, Riders In Southern Colorado

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Last season will go down as one of the best in recent memory for the southern Colorado Rockies, so so ski and snowboard resorts can be forgiven if improvements this season don't make the headlines.

Known more for powder stashes than learning terrain, Wolf Creek has put up a new four-seat fixed-grip chair to give beginners and novices more to work with. The Tumbler quad is a short traverse from the Alberta parking lot -- about halfway to the Alberta chair.

It serves about 100 acres and 100 vertical drop in the small and gentle Engelmann Glades, downhill from the Emma chairlift. With its addition, Wolf Creek now has 20% of its trails rated green, all in pods: a few runs off the Bonanza chair of skier's far left, and more off the Cutty Jane Express to skier's right.

Westward to Durango, Purgatory continues to bring both its mid-mountain lodges into the contemporary condition. Dante's upstairs bar splays out behind picture-window views of the San Juan Mountains. And Powderhorn's menu got an upgrade. Plus, management found more room in the lower parking lots, and added another winch cat to the grooming fleet.

When Telluride decided to put in a new Lift 9 (aka Plunge Lift) for last season, crews had to demolish Guiseppe's Restaurant to make room for the top terminal of the high-speed quad. With eye-popping views from 11,900 feet, this modest warming hut and eatery served Tellluride skiers and riders from its original location at Lift 7 and from the top of Lift 9 since the 1980s. It was a spot to pause before heading up, or to take a deep breath before plunging down double diamonds on the townside of the resort.

Ownership immediately issued statements about an upgraded rebuild but, until that goes up, temporary structures may handle the business.

Over the crest, the news at Silverton Mountain centers on new ownership. The Shill family started the the single-lift powder stash in 2002 with guiding until spring skiing, then added heli-skiing in 2010. With up to 20,000 acres to explore, Silverton regulars say a full day is five runs.

The Shills sold it in 2023 to an Aspen-based heli operation. Plans approved by BLM for a second chairlift in the upper basin have been put on hold for this season.

In other news, Ski Hesperus just outside Durango will not operate this season because of a balky mechanism in its only lift, a 35-year-old fixed-grip double. Uphilling is popular at Hesperus, but the gates will be locked and all services suspended.

 

 

 

 

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Faulty Chairlift Mechanism Forces Hesperus To Close This Season

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Ski Hesperus' 35-year-old double chairlift wouldn't start up at the start of this season and, consequently, the Durango-area locals' hill will not open for the 2023-2024 season.

Crews worked on the chairlift's gearbox during the offseason but could not get it to do what it's supposed to do: connect the motor to the bullwheel so that chairs can spin.

"The only viable option is to remanufacture the original gearbox, making it impossible to open Hesperus Ski Area for the 23-24 season," mountain officials said.

So Hesperus' only lift, and 80 acres of trails with 700 vertical feet will lie dormant for this winter. All facilities will be moth-balled and locked, including parking lot, and popular uphill and hike-to tubing. The mountain's minimal base operations will be shuttered as well.

Mountain managers have come up several options for passholders, including a limited season pass credit/exchange with Purgatory and credit toward a 2024-2025 Hesperus pass. The resort is covered by the Power Pass.

Since 1962, Hesperus has been a true locals' hill where many Durango-area youngsters learned to ski and ride, and where adults could get a few turns in after work. It sits conveniently along U.S. 160 west of town. Night skiing has been a staple of the operation for decades, with lights from top to bottom.

The ski area does not have snowmaking and only minimal grooming, and it's on the bottom edge of the San Juan Mountains storms. However, the base sits at 8,100 feet in a narrow pocket, so on good years, Hesperus gets plenty of cover. Half of the mountain's 13 named runs are rated black, and regulars find personal powder stashes off-piste in the scrub oak.

The existing double chair was purchased from Mt. Bachelor in 1988 and went up in 1988 to replace a treacherous rope tow ride. In 2016, Durango-based Mountain Capital Partners purchased the lease for the 160 acres on which Hesperus sits. Purveyor of the Power Pass, the firm has Purgatory and owns or operates nine other American resorts, including Pajarito, Sipapu and Sandia Peak -- local hills like Hesperus.

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Colorado's Front Range Heavyweights Keep Pace With Upgrades

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Folks who head up I-70 from the Denver area this winter know that they are entering one of the most renowned and diverse skiing and riding regions in the nation.

Each year, five famous resorts compete not only to be the first to open but also to be first on the list of where Coloradans and visitors go. This season is no different, with new lifts, terrain and facilities going in this summer.

At Loveland, the boundaries of snowcat tours have been expanded into previously hike-to terrain. The pay-to-ride, guided full-day tours into 580-acre Dry Gulch, located in the upper northwest corner of the Colorado mountain boundaries and north of Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70, supplement Loveland's existing free snowcat service in the same area at the top of Lift 9.

Running from the top of Lift 8, 16-person snowcats with a backcountry guide will make up to two trips a day into the area. Skiers and riders can expect 5-7 runs off the ridgeline of Mt. Trelease into the gulch each trip. Backcountry hikers can still get in there on their own.

Arapahoe Basin has paused after a busy couple of offseasons putting in new lifts and high-alpine restaurant. What's new at A-Basin is in the future: Expanded parking, a lot-to-base gondola, and a remastered Wrangler beginner area on east edge of the mountain.

Over at Copper Mountain, crews cut new beginner and glade runs in the Western Territory as part of Copper's multi-year effort to open up easy terrain to skier's far left. They also opened up a couple of new traverses in that same sector, hoping to make it easier to get around the mountain. And the Aerie eatery opens at the top of the American Flyer.

Keystone finally got its Bergman Bowl project completed, after several fits and starts. A new high-speed six-pack rises 1,078 vertical feet out of the gully below North Peak to 12,282 feet elevation in the snowfields of Bergman Bowl. Unusual is that the new above-treeline terrain is mellow, all blue and greens. Steeps can be had off the lift in Erikson Bowl, or by hiking the ridge.

And at Breckenridge, fixed-grip double Lift 5 came down this summer, after more than 50 years of taking skiers and riders out of the Peak 8 base area. In its place with a new six-seat detachable chair called 5 Superchair -- another step in a Peak 8 makeover.

In the same area, a complete re-do of the Park Lane terrain park on lower Peak 8 is due to open. The park's features link into the banked slalom lower down, all off 5 Superchair.

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Colorado's Gems Card Adds Purgatory, Expands Programs For Kids

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Before Epic or Ikon, before Mountain Collective or Indy Pass, there was the Colorado Gems Card that has been good for a couple of days at Colorado's off-the-beaten track ski and snowboard "gems" since 2006.

A Gems Card gets 2-for-1 deal on a day ticket or 30% off a single ticket. And, that deal holds for two visits to any of the mountains except during holiday blackout periods (Dec. 25-Jan. 1; Jan. 13-14; Feb. 17-18).

Available to anyone skiing or riding in Colorado, the Gems Card also gives adult cardholder a $79 midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) ticket at Arapahoe Basin, or a $99 weekend ticket good for two times.

After purchasing a Gems Card online, register on the CSCUSA pass portal, validate each visit on the portal, and head to the ticket window when you arrive.

This season, purveyor Colorado Ski Country USA has added a couple of new twists. Purgatory Mountain has been added as the 11th member of the Gems network. There is now a Gems Teen Card, good for two visits to any of the 11 mountains for cardholders ages 12 to 17. And, in 2023-2024, the new Parents Gem Card gets any who buys either a Teen or Kids Passport two days at participating resorts.

In recent years, the program linked up with the trade group's Kids Passport -- one of the cheapest ways to get kids on the hill. For $65, youngsters in grades 3-6 get four days at each of 20 Colorado resorts -- all 11 Gems mountains, plus Steamboat, Howelson Hill, Winter Park, four Aspen-area mountains, and Silverton. The passport includes two free junior rental packages from its sponsor.

Participating mountains are Front Range regulars Arapahoe Basin, Echo Mountain, Eldora,Loveland, and Granby Ranch.

Then there are Continental Divide straddlers Ski Cooperand Monarch, Western Slope stalwarts Powderhorn and Sunlight, and Southwest partners Ski Hesperusand now Purgatory.

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Northern Colorado Resorts Open Up With New Lifts, Terrain

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The Continental Divide brings deep snowfall to northern Colorado's mountains where three ski and snowboard operations are constantly upping their games.

Up north, Steamboat  (3,741 a., 3,668 vert.) wraps up a multi-year overhaul up with the extension of the new Wild Blue Gondola to the 10,384-foot-high summit of Sunshine Peak, and a high-speed chair for more expert terrain.

The 10-seat gondola cabins load at the base, head to a mid-station at the revamped Greenhorn Ranch learning center, and then take a sharp right to complete a 13-minute run to the top. The Wild Blue base-to-summit gondola will nearly double the ability to get people out of the totally remodeled base area and help loosen morning and late-day choke points.

Also added to the trail map is a detachable quad on the far east boundary off Mahogany Ridge into the Fish Creek area -- long a locals' powder stash. The new quad serves 655 acres of gullies and glades, and eliminates a hike out.

About 80 miles down U.S. 40, Winter Park's (3,081 a., 3,060 vert.) skiers and riders who want more out of the Denver-owned hill will get a glimpse of the future with a new six-pack in the mountain's midsection.

Named Wild Spur Express, the new detachable six-seater runs along the same route as the 36-year-old Pioneer Express four-pack, one of the oldest high-speed chairs in Colorado. The new detachable chair increases uphill capacity by 30% in the popular Vasquez Ridge section. To further ease congestion, officials added a mid-station to keep more folks on the hill.

The new high-speed is the first move of a proposed multi-year project to expand the Vasquez Ridge and Cirque sections, which top out at 12,060 feet elevation. Also planned is a three-mile gondola from the downtown Winter Park.

About 30 miles north, Granby Ranch Ski Resort (406 a., 1,000 vert.) continues to dig its way out of a tumultuous 40-year history. Being the only Colorado ski and snowboard mountain on private land has attracted, over the years, all manner of developers with schemes of varying success. New ownership in 2021 promised stability

New this season is a 400-foot-long conveyor at the base to further promote Granby as a learner's hill.

Granby's on the Indy Pass, while both Steamboat and Winter Park accept Ikon Pass.

 

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Hoedown Hill Debuts This Winter; Town Hill On Colorado Plains

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There will be a new ski and snowboard hill on the Colorado map this winter, and it will be in an unexpected location: the Eastern Plains.

Located adjacent to a golf course in Windsor, Hoedown Hill is expected to debut by Christmas with 130 vertical feet and 12 acres on a hill that has been a rogue sledding site. Three covered moving carpets will deliver skiers and riders to the 4,900-foot-high "summit," while a fourth will serve the beginner area.

A variety of runs for all ski levels, a terrain park and terrain-based learning center can be accessed off the top of the lifts. In its midst will be 10 tubing lanes served by the conveyor belt lifts.

Ownership told Ski Area Management magazine they have lined up a pair of groomers and a snowmaking system, in the form of 15 towers fed by a nearby reservoir. If the weather cooperates, the snowmaking will ensure a skiable base in a part of the state that often does not get much snowfall.

The longest run -- green rated -- is planned to go 2,000 feet, and another half-dozen will be about 500 feet in length. All will be lit for night skiing. Hoedown Hill is planned to be open five days a week -- taking Tuesdays and Wednesdays off -- and operating either from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. or 3-9 p.m. Hoedown Hill hopes to attract skiers and 'boarders from the surrounding area, which includes the burgeoning cities of Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley.

Owner Martin Lind and his family told Storm Skiing Journal that the town hill is paying homage to the former Sharktooth hill in Greeley. It had 150 feet of vertical, a pony lift and a 1,000-foot run. It ran from 1971 to 1986, and was billed as having the lowest elevation of any ski mountain in Colorado.

Colorado has a bunch of small town hills, all of them are in mountain towns, including Durango's Chapman Hill and Ski Hesperus, Silverton's Kendall Mountain, Ouray's Lee's Ski Hill, Gunnison's Cranor Hill, Lake City Ski Hill, and Steamboat's Howelson Hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moist Summer To Deliver Delicious Fall Colors To Colorado's Western Slope

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This autumn's aspen display in Colorado promises to be top-notch, as ample precipitation has the groves in healthy shape, especially around the ski and snowboard resorts of the Western Slope.

The leaves of aspen trees change color as the sun gets lower in the sky, and the process of photosynthesis -- turning sunlight into food -- shuts down. During the fall, that begins in the northern climes and heads southward. The period of September and early October are prime viewing times, be it for hikers, bikers, and lift-riders.

So a fall "leaf-peeping" tour should begin at the state's northernmost resort at Steamboat. The main gondola runs Friday-Sunday and gets visitors up Mt. Werner to 9,000 feet elevation.

From the deck of the Thunderhead Lodge, the Yampa Valley is framed by slopes and hillocks of aspens, oaks and maples -- a veritable palate of all a Colorado autumn has to offer. Nearby Buffalo Pass is a favorite for catching the colors.

Next stop is the Roaring Fork Valley, home of Aspen Mountain and Snowmass. Climate and elevation have produced some of the thickest aspen groves in the state -- hence, the eponymous name of the resort. Both mountains run gondolas Friday-Sunday through September.

A drive up the valley often means a dozen pullovers to marvel at the huge clusters of color on the mountain slopes above. The gondola ride at either mountain unveils the autumn's gallery of colors. And, it's a short ride up to the Maroon Bells, one of the most photographed locales in all of Colorado.

Next on the tour is the Animas River Valley that flows out of the San Juan Mountains and its plentiful aspen groves. The town of Silverton sits in a caldera ringed by aspens and oaks, and is served by the Durango-Silverton tourist train.

From there, take a ride south on U.S. 550 through steep slopes and high-valley aspen groves over Molas and Coal Bank passes to Purgatory. There, the main chairlift rises out of the base village on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through September. The front side of "Purg" is coated with aspen groves and, from the 10,200-foot summit, the whole splendor of autumn's mountain complexion is on display.

 

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Big And Small, Winter Park And Granby Ranch Terrain Challenges All Mountain Bikers

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Mountain bike parks in the West come in all shapes and sizes, exemplified by two close neighbors in northern Colorado that offer up extremes of acreage, vertical drop and lift capacity while both providing MTB experiences for all abilities.

At Winter Park, the bike park is called Trestle Park. It's one of the largest mountain bike parks in the West. It covers most of Winter Park's 3,000 acres inside the ropes, and it's one of only a few resorts that fires up multiple lifts for the MTB season.

Open daily at 10 a.m. through September, The Gondola carries up to 10,700 feet of elevation to upper mountain. From there, the high-speed Explorer Express serves the lower mountain, while the detachable Olympia quad delivers riders to the highest point on Winter Park.

The MTB trail map lays out more than 40 miles of gravity single-track trails, with top-to-bottom vertical drop of 2,680 feet. It divides out into freeride and technical trails, with a sprinkling of X-C pedal routes all over the hill.

Freeriders plunge down 13 blacks, 16 blue and blue-blacks, and three greens -- each with machine-cut routes enhanced by man-made features both natural and constructed. Technical bikers get five greens, four blue/blacks and nine purely black trails to choose from. Special to Trestle Park is that blues and blacks co-mingle all over the mountain; the most demanding Pro Line requires a special pass.

Blessed with solid soils and plenty of rock, the park is also open Friday and Saturday evenings until 6:30 p.m. for those who have to have just one more run.

A half-hour's drive north on U.S. 40 sits Granby Ranch -- the Colorado David to Winter Park's Goliath. Nestled in a mountain valley near the town of Granby, this hill contains about 20 miles of single-track and one chairlift -- all tightly intertwined on 400 acres of terrain with 800 vertical feet of drop.

Fourteen named downhill trails divide evenly among greens, blues, black diamonds and double-black diamonds. The double-diamond 4,200-foot long Drifter is the steepest on the hill, while but the ambling green Strawberry Jam wanders about for two miles from top to bottom.

The high-speed quad Quick Draw chairlift provides the uphill muscle to get riders to the 9,200-foot summit in four minutes. It fires up at 9 a.m. and runs until 6 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays.

Reviewers note that the compact layout lends itself to allowing groups with differing abilities to take different tracks while riding the lift together. A variety of soils under-wheel keeps riders' attention. A plethora of another 40 miles of X-C trails spider off the mountain into the surrounding terrain.

 

 

 

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A Pair Of Mountain Biking Troves Found On Colorado's Western Slope

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If you're looking for an MTB getaway that may be a bit off the beaten track, check out the lift-served menu of trails at Powderhorn and Purgatory

During the summer, Colorado is full of lift-served bike parks on its ski and snowboard mountains -- and thousands of MTBers take advantage of them each year. Most of the traffic comes up I-70 for pedaling at popular resorts along I-70.

However, if driving a bit farther appeals, then there are a couple of mid-sized winter mountains tucked off the beaten track that have taken on downhill mountain biking seriously.

First stop would be Powderhorn, about 2 1/2 hours west of Vail Pass. Hop off the Debeque exit and head up to the Grand Mesa -- the largest flat-topped mountain in the world -- to where Powderhorn teeters on the western mesa's edge.

The bike park may not be the largest, but the Powderhorn management has gone all in since opening the park about six years ago. The high-speed Flat Top Flyer quad run Thursdays through Sundays, taking MTBers and their bikes about six minutes to 9,822-foot summit for a drop of 1,650 vertical feet.

A dozen single tracks take off from the top terminal, totaling 23 miles through aspen forests and flowery meadows. A pair of easier runs -- Mutton Buster and Stagecoach -- zig-zag more than three miles under the lift. Tougher stuff can be had to rider's left on Blue Ribbon and Prospector, while "rowdy" black-rated Pinball Alley serves up berms and drops with technical rock sections.

About four hours to the south -- a super-scenic ride on the Grand Mesa and through San Juan Mountains -- is Purgatory. A mountain biking mecca, "Purg" hosted in 1993 the first World Cup enduro races in America -- and has been a forerunner for the MTB craze ever since.

Topping out at 10,000 feet, a high-speed six-pack does the heavy lifting out of a busy base area, and a leisurely fixed-grip double covers the biker's left. They run Friday through Sunday through September.

Running in and out of stands of alpine pines, Purgatory's bike park spreads conveniently across the front face of the mountain, and also allows some wandering on the back side. Each summer chairlift serves a steep World Cup downhill run -- one labeled "pro line" for experts only, -- as well as less severe options from novice to intermediate/advanced. And, each chair has connector routes to the back, via Shangri-La green trail.

The long and winding 7th Heaven-Diggler-Divinity link-up gives intermediate riders all they could wish for on a dirt track. They can work on jumping and high-speed turning skills on tons of natural and man-made technical terrain features all over the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pioneering Bluebird Backcountry Cross-Country Mountain Shuts Down

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Colorado's ski area maverick, which had in-bounds, lift-free, and exclusively cross-country skiing, has closed due to lack of second-stage funding and a location that turned out to be too remote.

Owners of Bluebird Backcountry have announced the end of a three-year run at the 1,200-acre Colorado X-C area located on Bear Mountain between Steamboat and Kremmling that aimed to take advantage of the backcountry backlash to crowded, lift-served resorts.

The founders leased private ranch land west of Rabbit Ears Pass, drew up a map of runs and skinning tracks, threw up a yurt and opened for business in the winter of 2020. The appeal was to free-heelers will to buy a ticket to cut their own tracks up and down Bear Mountain. They even sold a dog pass.

Some 1,240 feet of vertical feet off of 9,845-foot-hgh Bear Mountain splayed down into a plethora of wide meadow runs and forested acres to explore. Much was gentle slopes, ideal for youngsters and newcomers.

In an interview with Storm Skiing Journal, co-founder Jeff Woodward said ticket sales were ample the first couple of years, with some 60% coming from the Front Range. Bluebird joined the nationwide Indy Pass network to attract other skiers.

But because the ranch lease prohibited permanent structures, a lack of overnight accommodations hurt ticket sales. As did the locale despite a loyal clientele: The two-hour-plus drive from the Denver area -- the longest of all day-trips from the Front Range -- reduced repeat visits.

Then, at the end of this past season, Woodward said the owners couldn't procure investment funding after initial start-up funds began to dry up.

 

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Colorado Ski Areas Provide Routes For Hiking Along the Divide

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The Continental Divide runs right through the middle of Colorado and, as snow melts, a number of mountain resorts provide ready access for hiking along the nation's long spine.

The Continental Divide Trail that runs from the Montana-Canada border to the New Mexico-Mexico border weaves off and on the trail through Colorado's high country. While not always tracing the actual Continental Divide, it does venture close to several Colorado mountain resorts where hikers can hop on for as long as they like. Mountain bikers often share these trails.

Five ski and snowboard resorts share top ridgelines with the Divide. Only one of them reopens lifts for the summer, but all of them sit on U.S. Forest Service land so hiking is permitted to some of the nation's highest ground. Off-trail hiking is OK unless marked otherwise.

On old Rt. 6, Arapahoe Basin opens its Black Mountain Express chairlift to haul summer visitors to mid-mountain at 11,500 feet. From there, a marked hiking and MTB route called Summer Road winds up the upper bowl to the 12,456-foot Continental Divide ridgeline. Added benefit is via ferrata.

To the north, Loveland Ski Area is ringed by the Divide. The ski area distributes hiking maps at the base. Popular one is to the Ptarmigan Roost (top of Lift 2). From there, its a contour climb to the Divide at 12,700 feet -- and trails that cross above Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70.

Off to the west, the Divide traverses above Summit County to Tennessee Pass (10,424), where Ski Cooper sits under the Divide. Across U.S. 24 from the ski area parking lots are trailheads for dozens of routes up to and around the Divide -- including the Colorado Trail. Take time to visit he newest National Monument in the country, Camp Hale, where 10th Mountain Division troops trained before heading the Alps in Europe.

Next ski area down the Divide is Monarch. Situated just below Monarch Pass (11,312) on U.S. 50, the area is home to an intersection of the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Best access is up from the ski area entrance on the pass. However, a turnoff to Old Monarch Pass leads off the beaten track and trails around the top of the ski area.

A Collegiate Loop MTB trail starts at the top of the pass and runs 153 to the north into the Collegiate Mountain Range -- home to more than a dozen 14,000-foot peaks. And, scenic gondola lifts hikers to start on the high ground.

And lastly, powder haven Wolf Creek Ski Area dives off the east side of the Divide. Pullover parking during the summer at the ski area provides access to easy strolls around the base. Park up U.S. 160 on the 10,847-foot-high pass and hikers can catch the Continental Divide Trail that winds southward. along the ridge above the ski mountain. Or head north into the density of the Weminuche Wilderness.

 

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Big Snow Year Now Has Colorado Rivers Cookin'

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Last winter was one for the ages in the Colorado Rockies and, now, with the spring snowmelt season, those winter's high-speed, raucous runs on the slopes can be replicated on the swollen rivers of Colorado.

Dozens of rivers feed off the Continental Divide, many of them passing close by some of Colorado's ski and snowboard resorts. This spring's runoff couldn't be better. Record snowfall stored in the hills, then a cool and rainy spring have combined to bring on a long  rafting season.

The variety of flows runs from the Class I easy float to the roaring Class IV rapids. Flotations devices range from the raft, kayak, inner tubes and the latest craze, the standup paddle board -- depending upon the severity of flow. Focusing on the thrill-a-minute raft trip, here's what some of Colorado rivers have to offer.

Starting up north, the Yampa River flows right past Steamboat Resort and through the middle of Steamboat Springs. One of the few major waterways in the West without a dam, the Yampa dives into Dinosaur National Monument, with its soaring gorge walls and Class II and III rapids. A sense of wildness settles in for a multi-day, 46-mile run to the confluence with the Green River in Utah.

Within range of Summit County's four ski mountains, including Arapahoe Basin and Copper, flows the Blue River. Sourcing off Hoosier Pass, it pauses in Dillon Reservoir before heading north to join the Colorado River. Half-day raft trips begin below the dam and paddles through Class II and III rapids before takeout -- about a five-mile trip that is ideal for families.

To the south, Monarch Mountain stands above Salida and the Upper Arkansas River basin. A plethora of rafting companies await -- from the headwaters near Leadville and Ski Cooper down the valley to Salida and beyond. Gnarly Browns Canyon, with Class IV rapids, beckons the most adventurous, while there's a full menu of half- and full-day beginner, family, and even "happy hour" floats along the way.

Southwest Colorado mountains captured record-breaking snowfall this winter. Thus, its river system is bloated full. Flowing off Lizard Head Pass above Telluride, the Dolores River is bankful after a decade of low flow. Its stunning route through canyons of soaring sandstone multi-colored cliffs will not disappoint. Multi-day trips run from three days to a 10-day journey for put-in near Dolores to take-out in remote Unaweep Canyon.

Nearby, the Animas River has held its high water since early May. Sourcing above Silverton Mountain and Purgatory Mountain Resort, the Animas runs dam-free for several hundred miles into the Colorado River. Rafting centers around Durango. If conditions moderate, the Class IV and V rapids in the Upper Animas gorge and near Rockwood rival any. Then the river flattens out for half- and full-day trips right through the city of Durango.

 

 

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Colorado Resorts Gear Up For Summer Lift Construction

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When outdoors enthusiasts head to the Colorado Rockies this summer, they will be a sneak peak at a half-dozen new and replacement lifts that are expected to be ready to go for the 2023-2024 ski and snowboard season.

Beginning in the north, the multi-year makeover at Steamboat culminates this summer with the second-leg of Wild Blue gondola and a new high-speed quad to open up Mahogany Ridge.

The first leg of the 10-seat gondola began spinning this season, topping out at a regraded "terrain-based learning" terrain now named Greenhorn Ranch. Ski school headquarters moved up there, served by four moving carpets and a new high-speed quad to make Greenhorn Ranch an encapsulated learning center.

This summer, the Wild Blue gondola will be extended to the 10,384-foot ridgetop Sunshine Peak. The new quad will serve new terrain on the east boundary in Fish Creek Canyon.

At Winter Park, the out-of-the-way Vasquez Ridge trail network will get a faster ride as the 37-year-old four-person Pioneer Express will be replaced by a six-seat detachable chair. A mid-station will improve access of the lower moderate terrain and the more gnarly upper bump runs.

In Summit County, Keystone is scheduled to finally put up the high-speed Bergman Express six-pack to open up heretofore hike-to upper mountain terrain. Postponed last summer, installing of the new chair gives intermediate skiers and riders a taste of alpine bowl skiing, while provide lift access to steeper Erickson Bowl next door.

At Breckenridge, an upgrade at Peak 8 base will replace fixed-grip Lift 5 -- put up in 1970 as one of the resort's first lifts. The new high-speed quad Lift 5 will swish novices higher onto the mountain, as well as give prime access to the long Park Lane terrain park.

Up on Aspen Mountain, the long-awaited Pandora expansion will get its new chairlift this summer. As Aspen's first boundary expansion since it opened in 1946, adding the Pandora snowfields off the summit means 153 acres and a new high-speed quad to skier's right off the summit.

Finally, at Silverton Mountain, crews will install a second fixed-grip chair for its guided powder-stash terrain. Located east of the existing double chair, the new chair will let skiers and riders lap the steeps off Velocity Basin without having to return to the base.

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After A Snowy Winter, Many Colorado Resorts Set To Extend Their Seasons

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With all the snow that fell on the Rockies this season, it's time to scrub the springtime calendar and head back up to more than a half-dozen Colorado mountains that have extended their seasons.

Adding days beyond announced closings can be a slippery slope, as mountain managers have to balance the cost of firing up the lifts against the unpredictable late-season demand for more turns. But, for some, this season's record-breaking snowfall made the decision easier.

Copper Mountain has gone late into April three of the last four seasons, and the 2022-2023 season will be no different. Mountain officials that May 7 will be the final day at Copper -- a two-week extension and its latest closing date in nearly three decades.

In Aspen, officials will keep Aspen Highlands open an extra week to April 16, while Aspen Mountain will spin its lifts to April 23. Officials pointed to above-average snowfall every month since October and persistent cold weather as reasons for staying open longer than expected.

Three Colorado ski and snowboard mountains got at least 50% more than their historic average: Purgatory, Sunlight and Powderhorn. Despite Nature's largesse, the latter two will close as scheduled after the first weekend in April -- about when they do normally. At Purgatory, however, management pushed daily ops back to April 9, and plans to stay open on weekends until April 23 -- about a week later than usual.

Steamboat received tons of snow this season -- nearly 300 inches -- so the northern Colorado resort will keep things on the go for an extra week, to April. It's the first seasone extension for The 'Boat in 30 years.

Monarch will continue a recent tradition of putting skiers and riders on the hill deep into April, will do so again by targeting April 23 as its final day on the operations.

Winter Park, which is known to push the limits of a skiing and riding season, announced it will stick to its announced April 23 closing date. However, companion mountain Mary Jane is expected to keep going into May as long as conditions permit.

The usual "TBA" suspects remain so this season, with Breckenridge, Loveland and Arapaho Basin setting temporary dates but planning to hang on as long as possible.

 

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