Colorado Springs Ski History

Skiing has played a major role in the development of our state.  Colorado’s first wave of resorts was developed by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression and a newly founded Forest Service intent on getting people outside.  The Forest Service opened Cooper in 1937 and then Wolf Creek in 1938.  In 1939, the Works Progress Administration opened Monarch and Pikes Peak.  At that moment, the Colorado Ski industry was born.

A second wave of resorts opened as the 10th mountain division returned home following WWII.  They established many of the most recognizable resorts in Colorado, Breckenridge in 1961 and Vail in 1966.  New ski resorts slowed dramatically in the 1970s, with the last public ski resort opening in Colorado, and North America for the fact, Beaver Creek in 1980.

The Pikes Peak Ski Area opened as part of a Works Progress Administration and operated for 45 years, from 1939 to 1984.  In the 1980s, the Pikes Peak Ski Area began executing a plan to modernize and expand in an effort to meet growing demand from Colorado Springs.  Skiing had advanced significantly since 1939, and to offer locals an experience similar to the newer, more modern resorts along the I-70 corridor, Pikes Peak planned to recapitalize – installing modern chairlifts, snowmaking capabilities, and increasing its vertical run length.

The Pikes Peak Ski Area expansion effort fell victim to unfortunate timing.  The modernization project began at the start of the worst recession since the famed Great Depression, that of 1981-82, and the same year, the Forest Service introduced new ski resort management rules that had been in deliberation for the past decade.  This amounted to a perfect storm for the resort.  It had committed to significant capital outflows with modernization and was now responsible for a significant tax bill being assessed by the Forest Service.

When the new lift installation ran over budget, the resort missed its promised tax payment to the Forest Service.  Poma USA, who installed the new lift, had also lent Pikes Peak funds to operate.  With the Forest Service threatening to seize the resorts infrastructure due to payments in arrears, Poma acted first.  In the dead of night, Poma removed Pikes Peak’s ski lift so it could not be taken as collateral for outstanding taxes.  The Forest Service responded by pulling the resort’s permit and seizing control of Pikes Peak’s remaining facilities for failure to pay.  Without an operating permit or lift, in an economy limping out of a recession, no investors were willing to assume the resort’s debt, and the area officially closed with its bankruptcy declaration in 1986.

More familiar than Pikes Peak, to many, is Ski Broadmoor.  Ski Broadmoor operated from 1959 until 1991.  It covered approximately 300 acres with a base area at 6,569 feet and summit at 7,084 feet.  The Broadmoor had 100% snowmaking capabilities like almost all current Colorado resorts and one lift.  It operated Thanksgiving to March, six days a week (Monday-Saturday) from 10am to 10pm.  As a smaller resort, its focus was on the community and ski teams.  Many of the best American skiers from the 1960s into the 1990s trained at Ski Broadmoor.  The Broadmoor operated Ski Broadmoor from 1959 until 1986. After 27 years of successful operation, the original infrastructure needed recapitalization. The Broadmoor, wanting to focus on its core business, offered to sell its beloved ski resort to the city of Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs’ voters approved the city’s purchase of Ski Broadmoor in 1986.  The City of Colorado Springs was new to ski resort management but turned a profit in its first season.  It also learned in that first season of operation, that the resort was in desperate need of recapitalization.  Not wanting to upset the public that had just bought the resort, it did not want to raise ticket prices and relied on increased visitations to cover the cost.  The following season, when management made necessary equipment upgrades, the resort operated at a loss.  That summer, Vail offered to buy and operate Ski Broadmoor.  Ski Broadmoor was going to get professional management and the experience of the Vail brand.  Vail though had other ideas.  In 1991, Vail closed Ski Broadmoor, knowing Colorado Spring’s closest ski options were the Vail properties of Breckenridge and Keystone and smaller resorts at Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, and Monarch.  Ski Broadmoor was sold to a developer and transformed into an exclusive gated community, and Colorado Springs residents were forced to make the 100 miles and 5-hour round trip drive to experience the wilderness and ski.

Colorado Springs locals know there is skiing to be had.  Monument hosts a Nordic resort operating on natural snow seasonally from November to March.  Others prefer the more rugged terrain surrounding Rampart Reservoir for backcountry exploits.  Each spring, locals flock to Pikes Peak, as the winds that strip the mountain of snow in winter subside and wetter, stickier snow coats its slopes.  Until 2012, plans were underway, led by local ski champion, Harvey Carter, and Boulder developer, John Ball to reopen a resort on Pikes Peak.  The death of Harvey Carter, owner of the 320 acre parcel that would form the core of the resort ended the project.  John Ball who had raised over $40M towards construction of the resort left the state and the parcel that was to form the core of the resort was sold to the Broadmoor.

Bringing skiing back to Colorado Springs is a natural fit.  We have the mountains, we have the snow, and we have dedicated skiers.  But, it will not be easy.  It will take the countless hours and love of ski enthusiasts like Harvey Carter.  It will require raising substantial funds from a large group of active investors and execution of a plan that balances environmental responsibility, with public use, in alignment with the mission of the Forest Service.  Most importantly, it will require you to help show we are ready to bring skiing home to Colorado Springs.  Support local, support community, support SkiOrmesPeak.com.

Sources

[1] ColoradoSkiHistory.com. Accessed 12 April 2016. http://coloradoskihistory.com/

[2] Phillips, Dave. Don’t count on Skiing in Colorado Springs. The Gazette. 19 Feb 2007.
http://gazette.com/dont-count-on-skiing-in-colorado-springs/article/11585

[3] Rappold, Scott R. Pikes Peak ski resort dream remains alive. The Gazette. 22 Nov 2012.
http://gazette.com/pikes-peak-ski-resort-dream-remains-alive/article/147611

[4] Bounds, Amy. Developer pitching Pikes Peak ski resort barred from Colorado securities market. Daily Camera, The Gazette. 13 April 2015.
http://gazette.com/developer-pitching-pikes-peak-ski-resort-barred-from-colorado-securities-market/article/1549606