Celebrating 75 years at Winter Park Resort | SkyHiNews.com

Celebrating 75 years at Winter Park Resort

Tim Nicklas
Grand County Historical Association

Photo courtesy of Grand County Historical Association

This ski season marks the 75th anniversary for Winter Park Resort, Colorado's longest continuously running ski resort.

Chosen for its location at the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel and its easy access for Front Range skiers via the railroad, Denver's Winter Park opened on Jan. 28, 1940. The ski area was the result of cooperation between Denver's Parks Director George Cranmer, the Colorado Arlberg Club, and the U.S. Forest Service. Even though Winter Park did not open until 1940, the concept for the resort started many years before.

The early years of Colorado's ski industry were rooted in Nordic skiing at winter carnivals, beginning in Hot Sulphur Springs. Ski jumping was the most thrilling event on snow until the mid-1920s. By the late 1920s, a new type of skiing, alpine, began to proliferate on the snowy slopes of Colorado's mountains. This allowed many people to recreate in Colorado's forests during the winter. As a result, skiers were beginning to flock into the deep snow of the national forests. The Forest Service had been developing and encouraging recreational tourism in the summer since the 1910s, but now it had to develop a plan for winter recreation as well.

The opening of the Moffat Tunnel in 1928 coincided with the initial rise of alpine skiing in the western United States, giving travelers from Denver easy winter access to the slopes of Forest Service land located at West Portal. Furthermore, skiers sought out the higher terrain located on the National Forest land at Berthoud Pass. By 1935, with the help of the Forest Service, Colorado Arlberg members and other volunteers, the Mary Jane trail was developed from a sheepherder's trail.

Nonetheless, access to the long steep slope was by hiking or skinning up the trail, or by traversing from Berthoud Pass. In 1936, the Forest Service granted a permit for Colorado's first rope tow to be installed on Berthoud Pass. As a result, skiers flocked to the area, causing overcrowding. The Forest Service and ski enthusiasts sought a solution to congestion on Berthoud and began studying the potential of developing other areas. The obvious answer was nearby at West Portal, which was the recommendation of a Forest Service report by Graeme McGowan, who was also a member of the Arlberg Club and owned much of the area at West Portal.

At the same time that McGowan published his report, the City of Denver, under the guidance of Parks Director George Cranmer, was looking to build a ski area of its own. The two areas that he was considering were Jones Pass and West Portal. Encouraged by the McGowan report and easy access by train, Cranmer concluded that West Portal should be the location of Denver's Winter Park. The Colorado Arlberg Club had already raised a substantial amount of money for the construction of a tow rope, and Cranmer convinced the club to turn the funds over to the City of Denver. After acquiring the funds, he applied for federal grants and obtained a special use permit from the Forest Service to develop the slopes above West Portal.

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Following two years of planning and construction, Winter Park opened as Colorado's largest ski area and contained the state's first T-bar. It was reported that over 10,000 people attended opening day on Jan. 28, 1940. Gov. Ralph Carr addressed the event, flanked by George Cranmer, Denver Mayor Ben Stapleton, and U.S. Forest Ranger John Spencer.

Tim Nicklas is the author of Winter Park Resort: 75 Years of Imagining More, a book about the first 75 years of the resort.

A Winter Park Resort Timeline

By Sky-Hi News staff

1940: The first ski tow is officially dedicated at Winter Park on January 28. A February 1940 article in the Middle Park Times described a crowd of more than 5,000 people in attendance, including state and federal officials. The ski tow cost $40,000.

1950: Area manager Steve Bradley invents a new snow packer/grader called the "Bradley Packer" which would become the ski industry's first grooming device, revolutionizing the sport of recreational skiing. As a result of his ingenious invention, Bradley is known as the "Father of Slope Maintenance."

1955: Balcony House is constructed at the Winter Park base.

1962: The Hughes Chairlift, Winter Park's first chairlift, replaces the old Hughes T-bar.

1970: The first iteration of the National Sports Center for the Disabled starts providing ski lessons for child amputees from the Children's Hospital of Denver. The NSCD is now one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation agencies in the world.

1976: Mary Jane is born. On Jan. 10, visitors are introduced to Winter Park's better half. At the time, the land of steep bumps and trees included four double chairlifts, 18 new trails and a base lodge.

1981: West Portal Station is built at the base of Winter Park. The 65,000 square foot facility houses a cafeteria, ski shop, public lockers and ski school. The building is named after West Portal, a period settlement for workers building the Moffat Tunnel.

1985: Winter Park Resort opens the Parsenn Bowl. The area was originally accessible by a snow cat that left from the top of the Iron Horse lift. Lift access was added in 1992 with the Timberline lift.

1986: Winter Park Resort opens Vasquez Ridge, an 80 acre expansion and its largest since Mary Jane. The new area featured 13 trails and one lift, the Pioneer.

1992: The Lodge at Sunspot is opened to the public.

1997: The Cirque area is opened to the public, adding more challenging terrain for the most advanced skiers and riders.

2002: Winter Park Resort's first terrain park, The Rail Yard, opens on Allan Phipps Trail. The park includes both a super pipe and Dark Territory, an expert area with the largest features on the mountain.

2006: Winter Park Resort opens Eagle Wind Territory with a ceremony that includes leaders from the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Trails are named after prominent members and themes of the tribe.

2014: Winter Park Resort opens its 16,000 square foot facility at Lunch Rock. With a price tag of around $8 million, it's the resort's largest on-mountain building project since the Lodge at Sunspot.

75th Birthday events

Saturday, Jan. 24

Stagecoach Classic

This “off the map” 30km/15km cross-country ski race and tour will start at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, traverse through the former Idlewild Ski Area and finish at Winter Park’s Hideaway Park, where a post-race party will be held.

Winter Park Parade & Fireworks

A procession of zany floats will cruise down the town’s main drag followed by fireworks.

Schedule

7am: First bus from Hideaway Park to DTR

7am-8:30 am: 30k race registration

7am-10am: 15k race and tour registration

9am: 30k race mass start

10:30 am: 15k race mass start

10:35 am: 15k ski tour start

10:45 am: 15k snowshoe tour start

11am-3:30pm: Headwaters after party at Hideaway Park; live music with the Acme Band

1-5pm: Happy hour after party at Volario’s

1:30 pm Award ceremony and raffle

3:30 pm: Last bus from Hideaway Park to DTR

4pm: Last bus from DTR to Hideaway Park

6pm: Winter Park Parade

6:30 pm: Downtown Winter Park fireworks

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