LEFT BEHIND: Exploring Grand County’s skiing past through abandoned hills
December 4, 2018
There is something in the human condition that longs for forgotten and abandoned places, for the crumbling remnants of what once was and will never be again.
All over the world people flock to historic sites from antiquity but, closer to home, we can find our own versions of deserted grandeur. Colorado's High Country is littered with the decaying equipment of abandoned ski resorts and the slowly crumbling and rusting remnants of once popular ski hills.
Across the state nearly 150 such sites can be counted, but Grand County alone boasts 17 separate ski resorts that once were but are no more.
Bungalow Hill is where it all began, literally.
On a small northeast facing hillside just behind what is now the Glory Hole Café in Hot Sulphur Springs, the Colorado ski industry was born.
It was late 1911 and Carl Howelsen, whose eponymous Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs is America's oldest operational ski hill, rode down Bungalow Hill and up into the air on a self-made jump.
Bungalow Hill would go on to operate as the main ski hill in the area until the 1930s when skiers mostly moved north, across the Colorado River, to Mount Bross. The old ski jump built on Bungalow Hill was torn in the early 1980s. The hillside is now covered with tree stumps and scattered limbs and offers little sign of its noteworthy past.
It still gets a nice coating of snow in winter months. But intrepid skiers should not try riding Bungalow Hill as it is now private property.
Probably Grand County's most famous and popular shuttered ski resort, Berthoud Pass was much more than a small ski hill. It was a true alpine resort, nestled on the Continental Divide near tree line. Over its six-plus decades of operational existence, Berthoud developed a reputation for some seriously technical terrain and incredible snow.
Grand County resident Ed Raegner remembers the unique atmosphere that developed at Berthoud, which he described as "untamed."
"It was wild and raw, fun skiing with a great local vibe," Raegner recalled. "They were pretty liberal with keeping terrain open. There were a lot of locals up there. Some days it was like ‘Cheers’ because everybody knew your name."
Located on U.S. Highway 40 south of Winter Park, the resort featured 65 distinct runs located on both sides of Berthoud Pass and on both sides of the Continental Divide. Hair-raising chute runs, expert cliff sections and a smattering of beginner and intermediate terrain was easily accessible from the resort's two lifts, heading up opposite sides of Berthoud Pass.
Anyone looking for the remnants of Berthoud Pass Ski Area will find little still existing on the high slopes. The old ski lodge was torn down in 2005 and the lift towers no longer dot the mountainsides.
While the ski resort itself might have closed up shop in 2003, Berthoud Pass remains one of Colorado's most frequented backcountry ski areas. The area is made up entirely of National Forest Land and is open to public use. Small pine trees have grown up amidst the clearings that once served as the runs on Berthoud Pass, but winter snowfall still reveals wide white ribbons of powder.
Anyone looking to tackle Berthoud Pass with a backcountry setup can find the resort's old ski trail maps at multiple websites online. If you do venture into the Berthoud Pass backcountry come prepared and educated. Deadly avalanches are not uncommon on Berthoud, especially on several of the popular chutes that lead down from the high peaks of the area.
Most of the now abandoned ski hills in Grand County were fairly small, more akin to single-run bunny hills than the steep mountain slopes and expansive trail networks that mark modern ski resorts. Of the 17 ski areas on this list only a few featured much in terms of terrain.
Among the notable exceptions were Berthoud Pass and Baker Mountain.
Located north of Kremmling at the eastern base of Rabbit Ears Pass, and directly west of Muddy Pass, is a modest butte-like peak called Baker Mountain. Baker Mountain opened in the early 1950s and closed shortly thereafter. While there are conflicting reports regarding what led to the resort's closure, the most common story holds that the resort received too much snow. Plow trucks struggled to keep the road clear for patrons.
Modern day backcountry adventurers can still take turns on Baker Mountain, which is located in the Arapaho National Forest. The peak, and its wide-open powder covered east facing slope, is easily visible from U.S. Highway 40. The old ski area can be accessed from a short forest service road about one mile up Rabbit Ears Pass, west of the junction of Highways 40 and 14. If you do go looking to grab backcountry turns on Baker Mountain, remember to stay cautious. The area is remote and first responders are far away.
Back in the days before Winter Park, when the town was still called Hideaway Park and the hillsides around the Fraser Valley held little in terms of development, there was Ski Idlewlid.
Ski Idlewild opened in 1961 and halted operations in 1986, and throughout its history catered to beginning skiers and those looking to learn.
For the locals that frequented its slopes, Ski Idlewild was a fun little ski area where children could spend the day taking turns on the comparatively mellow slopes.
"A lot of the local kids skied there," said third-generation Fraser Valley resident Rick Leonard. "We usually knew somebody that worked there. It made it cheaper than going to Winter Park."
Leonard remembered the runs at Ski Idlewild as being fairly flat.
"I guess we made our own fun skiing through the trees, or going off of jumps. It was different back then," he commented.
Likewise, Grand County resident Annie Bulkley remembered Ski Idlewild as a fun little resort that was perfect for new skiers.
"It had terrific beginner terrain," Bulkley said. "It was pretty laid back. It was the sort of place you would want to take beginners. It was a tiny, peaceful little ski area."
The small ski area, featuring three open slopes and a total of six separate trails, was located on slopes slightly northeast of downtown Winter Park, near the current Rendezvous development. The road immediately east of Hideaway Park, which travels through portions of the old ski area, even bears the name "Ski Idlewild Road."
The old ski area is now private property. Though a series of trails, often times bearing the same names as runs on the ski hill, such as Yankee Doodle, still crisscross the hillsides in the area. Those trails are open to the public and are popular with hikers and mountain bikers in warmer months.
SNOW KING VALLEY
Snow King Valley opened shortly after the end of World War II and lasted just a few short years.
During its time, though, it offered the citizens of Hot Sulphur Springs quick access to a ski area that was more than just a single short run. Snow King Valley featured three long runs over a treeless slope roughly two miles southeast of Hot Sulphur. The ski area was located at the far southern end of the valley and was serviced by a 1,500 rope tow.
Granby area resident Lee Morrow remembers taking a few runs at Snow King Valley while in elementary school.
"The one run I remember was maybe 400 to 500 yards long," Morrow recalled, noting it had been decades since he had been to the former ski area, and even then only on a small number of occasions. "It wasn't real steep. We skied there when I was in grade school. It was a long ways from home."
Almost all of what was once Snow King Valley is now private property, though a few slivers of the old valley are still public land. Unfortunately there is no public access to the old slopes.
FROSTY BASIN SKI AREA
Almost directly west of downtown Granby rises a complex of ridge lines and pine-filled valleys whose most prominent point is called Mount Chauncey. It was on the slopes of Mount Chauncey, not far from where Antler Basin Ranch now stands, that Granby's first ski area was established.
Called Frosty Basin Ski Area, the hill was founded by a Granby area ski club in 1952, but within a few short years, operations were halted. During its existence, Frosty Basin featured two ropes tows, a warming house, a jumping hill and even offered night skiing on a regular basis.
Anyone looking to take some turns on what was once Granby's first ski area should probably find another location, however, as the area is currently private property.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a small ski area operated in the hills west of Lake Granby. Called Trail Mountain, or Ski Trail Mountain, the ski area was named for the 9,380-foot high peak called Trail Mountain that loomed large over the ski area to the west.
Trail Mountain ski area was small, offering just 450 feet of vertical drop for anyone taking turns. But it did have both a tow rope and a T-bar that were used to ferry riders to the top of the hill.
The area that was once Ski Trail Mountain is located up Grand County Road 41, a little over four miles up from U.S. Highway 34. Like most of the shuttered ski areas of Grand County, though, the land that was once Ski Trail Mountain is private property.
Apart from the massive mountain resort of Winter Park, the southern Fraser Valley featured two additional ski areas. Ski Idlewild is fairly well known, but two decades before skiers took their first turns at Idlewild, a diminutive ski area called Sportsland Valley was opened.
Sportsland Valley was located south and east of downtown Winter Park, not far from Beaver Village. The former base area of Sportsland Valley is located almost directly east, across the Fraser River, from the parking area for Mad Adventures. Sportsland Valley, which was opened in 1940, did not last long and operations were halted after just one season.
DROWSY WATER RANCH
Drowsy Water Ranch, located north of the Colorado River roughly halfway between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs, is still in operation as a guest ranch today. Though its days as a functional ski hill are long behind it.
The Drowsy Water Ranch ski area operated for a few seasons during the 1940s and was meant to provide the ranch with year-round business.
Skiers at Drowsy Water Ranch would take their turns on a slope south of the ranch itself and west of the eponymous creek from where the ranch's name is derived. To shuttle guests to the top of the hill, the ranch's owners devised a unique lift system. A set of stairs was built atop a sled that was attached to cables. The stairs were winched up the hill using an old Model-T.
During warmer months, the old ski trail at Drowsy Water Ranch still functions as one of the ranch's horse trails. As one would imagine, the land where the old Drowsy Water Ranch ski hill once stood is private property.
Mount Bross was Grand County's second ski area, following Bungalow Hill.
First established in the 1930s, it became popular with local ski jumpers who ditched the comparatively small Bungalow Hill in favor of the east slope of Mount Bross.
The mountain rises high above the Colorado River, reaching an elevation of 9,260 feet. But early skiers did not tackle the full length of the imposing visage that looms above the town of Hot Sulphur Springs like a sentinel. Instead, they created a ski jump and downhill course near what is now the northeast corner of Pioneer Park.
Existing in an era before modern technology, early ski junkies used horses to pack down snow for a slalom course on Mount Bross. By 1940, Mount Bross's time was over.
Most of Mount Bross, including what was once the old ski jump area, is public land yet a parcel of private land sits not far to the north. Skiers looking to get a little taste of nostalgia on the old Mount Bross ski hill might find it difficult, though, especially in winter, as no roads provide direct access to the location.
The Tabernash Hill ski area was one of Grand County's longest surviving ski properties.
Originally opened just after World War II, it would last for nearly two full decades before shutting down in 1961. The hill was overseen by the Tabernash Ski Club and catered to locals, children, families and practicing ski racers.
County resident Lee Morrow remembers Tabernash Hill for its eccentricities.
"The warming house was cold and the lighting was dim," Morrow said, noting the hill had electric lighting that allowed for night skiing. "I think it was basically one run. You got to the top and could split off, either left or right. The two runs came together at the bottom. It was sort of Y-shaped."
Tabernash Hill was located on a modest hill rising just south of Grand County Road 524 in Tabernash, less than a few 100 feet from where The Warm Store now stands. The former ski run at Tabernash Hill has since been overgrown with pine trees and residential developments now dot the hillside, all of which is private property.
Maggie's Hill was the third ski area developed in Hot Sulphur Springs.
Opened in the late 1940s, it was also the community’s longest operational ski area, closing up shop finally in the 1960s. It was located just a few 100 yards southeast from Bungalow Hill, on the same ridge line that serves as the southwestern corner of Hot Sulphur.
The slope that was once Maggie's Hill is located on private property almost directly south of the Grand County Courthouse and Judicial Center and almost directly west of the Saint Prophet Elias Orthodox Chapel.
Pease Hill was one of Grand County's most remote ski areas. Located along Grand County Road 3, also called Ute Pass Road, roughly 14 miles south of Parshall, it was created by local citizens in the late 1940s.
Named for its location near Pease Gulch, the hill offered skiers one short run that was serviced by a rope tow. Pease Hill was popular with the rural residents of the area who often enjoyed ski runs down its hill after church. It was not a long-lived ski area, and shortly after Mount Baker was established, it fell out of favor.
It is now located on private property.
GRAND LAKE GRADE SCHOOL SKI HILL
One of two ski hills that served the citizens of Grand Lake, the Grade School Ski Hill can still be seen today.
It is located at the far western end of Lake Avenue, just west of Trinity Church in the Pines.
The Grand Lake Grade School Ski Hill was created for the local grade school's physical education program. It featured a 400-foot long rope tow on the hill's east side and a ski jump on the west side.
SHADOW MOUNTAIN SKI HILL
Shadow Mountain Ski Hill holds the dubious distinction of being the only ski area on this list that is, technically, no longer accessible to skiers, with the possible exception of water skiers.
The ski area was first opened in 1931 after a ski jump was built on the northwestern slope of Shadow Mountain in Grand Lake. A rope tow was installed and ski runs were cleared prior to World War II, but the hill did not last long.
In the mid-1940s, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation began working on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. During the course of that massive effort, Shadow Mountain Reservoir was created, flooding portions of the hills base area and ski runs.
During the early 60s, efforts were made to reestablish Shadow Mountain Ski Hill as a world-class ski area but, due to multiple reasons, including proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park, the project was abandoned.
The former ski area, which is located on public land, is now heavily overgrown, but hikers can still cross through what was once the Shadow Mountain Ski Hill by walking along the East Shore Trail.
KREMMLING SKI HILL
A short drive south of Kremmling, along the Trough Road near Beaver Creek, was once a small, short-lived, ski area called the Kremmling Ski Hill.
Few details about the Kremmling Ski Hill are available today, but Caryn and Peter Boddie, writers of “Lost Ski Areas of Colorado's Front Range and Northern Mountains,” pegged its operational years during the 1970s. The land that once held the Kremmling Ski Hill is now private property.
LELAND JACKSON – CARMICHAEL – OURARY RANCH SKI HILL
Another of Grand County's smaller ski hills had its name changed multiple times over the years as different entities purchased the land upon which it sat. The ski area was located just off of Grand County Road 623 on what is now Ouray Ranch property.
Snow King Valley
Grand Lake Grade School Ski Hill
Shadow Mountain Ski Hill
Drowsy Water Ranch
Leland Jackson – Carmichael – Ouray Ranch Ski Hill
Frosty Basin Ski Area
Approx. 40°5’48″N 105°59’28″W
Kremmling Ski Hill
Approx. 39°58’57″N 106°26’17″W
39.7983° N, 105.7778° W
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