|A Look at Selected Lost Resorts
The sport of skiing has played an important role in the Colorado region for over one hundred
and fifty years. Back in the mid 1800’s, miners were some of the first people to use skis to
gain access to high alpine mining camps. These homemade skis were far cry from today’s
modern boots, bindings, and parabolic skis. During the next century, skiing became popular
among tourists. Since the turn of the century, well over one hundred ski areas in Colorado
have been developed, only less than thirty survive today.
Skiing has always been popular in the Steamboat Springs area. Carl Howelsen, an avid ski
jumper in 1914, helped organize the first winter carnival in Steamboat and eventually helped
build a ski jump on a small hill next to the Yampa River, which would eventually be named
Howelsen Hill. This center is still in use today and trains many of our future Olympians.
Unfortunately, skiing in the Yampa Valley has not been all success stories.
Stagecoach State Park is home to one of Colorado’s largest lost resorts. Original plans for
the resort included five base areas, twenty-two double chairs, thirty-four subdivisions, a golf
course, and a reservoir. The design of the area, created by Steven Arnold, won an American
Design Institute award. Plans for completing the area were on schedule for 1972, as the
resort opened with three Heron-Poma double chairs, a temporary base lodge, a ski patrol hut,
one subdivision, and a leasing office. Former Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof presided
over the opening ceremonies as local residents watched the state’s next major ski resort
Seth Masia, a former employee of the area, described how the area was doomed from the
start. He said, “The whole rationale for the ski area was to sell condos and home sites, but
the area was such a ragtag operation that the real estate folks had no traction at all. I am sure
that the OPEC oil embargo and subsequent recession did not help.” Westinghouse Credit
Corporation, the company that financed the area, pulled funding for the operation in 1973.
This left three chairlifts, twenty-two subdivisions partially finished, and a leasing center
abandoned. The current owner of Stagecoach’s land, Chris Wittemyer, has no intention of
reopening this ski area in the foreseeable future. He said, “My family has owned the
Stagecoach property for the past twenty-five years. Though we have run some snow cat
operations in the past, at this time we have no plans to reopen the ski area.”
Squaw Pass Ski Area, located outside of Evergreen on highway 103, had a different
approach to the ski business. They were not trying to develop vast amounts of condos or
build multiple chairlifts, but wanted to make a local family resort. In October of 1961,
Roebling Engineering Company was contracted to install a 1000 foot “T-bar.” The area
opened the following winter and was later nicknamed “The Ski School Ski Area” because
according to a former employee, instructors outnumbered guests on any given day! Tommy
Patston, an instructor at Squaw Pass from 1969 through 1972, was asked why the area
closed. He said, “Squaw Pass closed as a result of finances. Notwithstanding, it was lack of
snow that caused these problems. With no snowmaking equipment, we were totally
dependent on Mother Nature.”
Squaw Pass Ski Area is located on Chief Mountain, which is directly west of Idaho Springs in
the foothills of Mount Evans. The area receives on an average year about one hundred and
seventy five inches of snow. On a drought year similar to the winter of 2001-2002, the area
could see as little as seventy-five inches. This is not enough to support a ski area without
snowmaking facilities. Since the area closed in 1972, many people have drafted grand plans
to reopen the resort. One of the more notable plans was in 1987, when a group from Denver
bought the area for 3.25 million dollars and promised the city a new ski resort. Their plans
included new ski lifts, night skiing, a large base lodge, and two hotels.
Unfortunately, the group was never able to obtain sufficient funding and the dream died.
During the summer of 2002, the property was sold again. This time the Petitt family of
Colorado bought the area for about three quarters of a million dollars. When asked if they
would develop the area Jess Petitt said, “We have not yet decided what to do with the 220
acre plot of land, but I can assure you, it will not be split apart and developed (for houses).”
In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News Gerald Petitt did not rule out the possibility of
the area reopening. If the resort does manage to one-day fire up its rusty “T-bar” they will
need to solve the snowmaking issues and obtain hard-to-get water rights.
The southern Front Range has not harbored as many ski areas over the years compared with
locations closer to Denver. Conquistador was located in the northern part of the Sangre de
Cristo Mountains near the town of West Cliffe. The resort was founded by Dick Milstein,
who dreamed of building a resort in the southern part of Colorado. Mr. Milstein also helped
in the development of Winter Park Resort and Sunlight Mountain. Conquistador opened in
1976 with two small pony lifts and limited terrain. The ski area was not very popular with
local residents of Custer County. Mr. Milstein said, “I had some great people in the valley
backing [the area] and a lot of people fighting it. There were a lot of ranchers there that didn't
It was not until 1983 when a major expansion was executed. The resort purchased and
installed a double and triple chair from Doppelmayr USA, located in Golden, Colorado. This
expansion along with a new snowmaking system, and decently sized lodge, put Conquistador
on the map for skiing in the state. Resort officials also had approval to expand south and west
of the existing terrain. In a similar case to Stagecoach, Conquistador’s funding went dry and
the Small Business Administration took over the resort. The government ran the resort with
huge monetary losses for the next couple of years before closing the lifts in 1988. Since the
government ran the resort for such an extended period of time the county lost all of its tax
revenue from the area, but when it shut down the resort many jobs were also lost.
A couple years later, Mund Shaikly of Los Angeles and Ray McEnhill of Salisbury, England
purchased the resort for three million dollars. They renamed the resort Mountain Cliffe but
snow did not fall until late that season. The resort finally opened in late December and closed
after three months due to poor snow quality. The ski area lay dormant again until 1995 when
the facilities and land were sold to the Zeller family of West Cliffe. They bought the area with
the intentions of removing all of the ski equipment and operating the base area as a conference
Many Coloradoans frequently travel over Berthoud Pass to reach Fraser Valley. At the top
of the pass is the former Berthoud Ski Area. This ski area dates back to 1937, when one of
the state’s first rope tows was placed atop the steep pass. Lucy Garst, curator of the
Colorado Ski Museum, claims that the first rope tow in the state was located near Pikes Peak
at a small area named Glen Clove. Despite her claim, Berthoud is usually given credit as
having the first tow in this region. The original permit for Berthoud Pass, granted by the U.S.
Forest Service, included over 37,000 acres and parts of the current Winter Park Resort.
Over the years, Berthoud Pass continued to make large pioneering efforts for the sport of
skiing. In 1943, Sam Huntington, a part owner and manager of the area, along with an
engineer, Bob Heron, set out to build what was called the world’s first double chair. Their
statement was later proved wrong, as a ski area in Oregon called Hoodoo beat Berthoud by a
year. Bob Heron later became an expert on ski lifts and eventually created the Heron-Poma
lift company, which is related to today's Leitner-Poma.
During the 1940’s, Berthoud Pass hosted one third of Colorado’s skier visits, which topped
only 100,000. The area continued to operate successfully for the next couple of decades and
became the first area in the state to fully allow snowboarder access on the mountain. In 1987,
Berthoud was sold to a gentleman named Peter Crowley, the same day eight people were
killed on the pass from a rockslide. From this point on, rumors circulated that Berthoud Ski
Area was cursed. Fourteen years to the day, Mr. Crowley was killed in an auto accident.
In 1988, Berthoud Pass shut down after a lift accident when their double chair injured a
Denver resident. The area was then sold to Gary Schulz, the owner of the Borvig Ski Lift
Company. The Borvig Lift brand was popular with many eastern resorts, but Schulz hoped
by moving his company to the Rocky Mountains it would increase business out west. He
planned to install a quad, triple, and beginner surface lift at the area replacing all of the current
tramways. During construction, funds went dry and the plans were cancelled. For the next 6
years, Berthoud remained closed; the Borvig lifts only partially completed.
During the fall of 1996, Paul Wiebel and Jim Pearsall bought the area and began to prep for
operation in the winter. Their plan was to first open the intermediate eastern side of the
mountain, which included completing the triple chair, refurbishing the lodge, and buying shuttle
busses to pick skiers up on the highway. The area managed to open in January of 1997 and
the following year the west half of the area including the quad was opened. Unfortunately, Jim
Pearsall was killed in an auto accident on Berthoud Pass later that year. Paul Wiebel and the
remaining investors decided to sell the area to Marise Caprini, the owner of Silver Creek Ski
Area. Caprini continued to operate the area for the next couple of seasons, but closed it
down in 2001. She cited too much competition with the new buddy passes distributed by
larger resorts. A lawsuit was filed against resorts such as Vail, Beaver Creek, Copper and
Winter Park for unfairly lowering the standard lift ticket price. Caprini lost her court battle and
now plans to operate Berthoud as a powder cat area, with no lifts.
Colorado has been home to over one hundred ski areas during the past century. Many of
them are now just distant memories to long time skiers of the state. All of these “lost areas”
have many similar traits, which led to their demise. Areas like Stagecoach and Conquistador
suffered from economic depressions as well as over expending of funds. Squaw Pass and
Conquistador suffered from lack of snow and water, while Berthoud could not stay
competitive with larger resorts in today’s economy. Hopefully, new area proposals like the
one near Pikes Peak will learn from the mistakes of former resorts and continue to serve
winter enthusiasts for years to come.
1. Fay, Abbott. “A History of Skiing in Colorado.” Ouray, CO: Western Reflections, Inc,
2. Feder, Harlan, Peter Shelton, and Mike Kern. “Colorado Winter Guide” Ouray, CO:
Wayfinder Press, 1984.
3. Freed, Doug. “Berthoud Pass Ski Area Turns to Snow Cats.” Cyberwest Magazine
4. Rebchook, John. “Developer Buys Long-Closed Ski Area.” The Rocky Mountain
News October 31, 2002.
5. Towler, Sureva. “The History of Skiing at Steamboat.” Denver, CO: Fredrick Printing,
6. Walter, Hal. “The Rocky Slope of Custer Skiing.” Colorado Central Magazine
December 1996: 29.
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