What’s in a Name
October 15, 2015
Tourists on rental skis often stop and ask me, "Jon, why is Winter Park so flat?"
I patiently explain that it's because they are skiing down the middle of highway 40 through Winter Park, the town, not skiing down the slopes of Winter Park, the resort. They scratch their head and ask, "Why do they both have the same name if they're not the same place?" Today that's a good question.
They didn't start with the same name. The town, or more accurately, the village of Hideaway Park existed in peace and solitude for decades next to an impressive ski mountain, but change was a-coming. In 1963 the county's revenue from tourism exceeded the revenue from ranching and from that point, there was no turning back.
It was in 1976 that desperate realtors clutched onto Winter Park's coattails and incorporated the village of Hideaway Park, changing the name to the same as the ski areas. Their hopes were to confuse folks into stumbling into the town looking for ski lifts. Finding none, they would say, "aw shucks" and impulse-buy a condominium. Forty years later, it's amazing how well that worked.
In 1976, mandatory zip codes had been around for less than a decade and much of the early mail delivered here was intended for Winter Park, Florida, established a hundred years earlier. There were even tourists who inadvertently landed at Stapleton airport terribly underdressed for February in Colorado.
The building of the Moffat Tunnel, completed in 1928, created the tiny community of West Portal, located at a juncture between the newly-laid train tracks through the tunnel and the stagecoach line coming from Denver and Georgetown. At the top of the Divide, the Berthoud Pass ski area was immensely popular from the day it opened in 1937, accounting for a third of all Colorado skier days for the next 12 years. But by 1939, adventurous skiers had already outgrown Berthoud Pass and were yodeling down the perfect ski terrain they found in the slopes above West Portal. They started calling it their winter park.
In the early 1920's a few ramshackle buildings already existed near where Cooper Creek Square sits today. One of them was that of a jeweler named Max Kortz, who called it his hideaway. The name stuck because it was so appropriate. Prohibition was in full swing. Where better to hide away a distillery than in a lodgepole pine forest so dense and vigorous that you could not see further than 30 feet in any direction? The Fraser Valley became notorious for bootleg liquor. In 1924, there were dozens of distilleries nestled in the pines and churning out 50 gallons of "high-class moonshine" per day.
It was a hideaway and remained so for another half-century before developers started naming roads after the wildlife they displaced. Proponents of the town's name change claimed it was too confusing to have it named differently than the ski area. They told the apocryphal story of the skier getting dropped off the Greyhound bus in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, in the middle of highway 40, under the ski area's one lone streetlight. The implication was that the tourist then froze to death.
Today it's gotten confusing again. Are you going to the town? Or the ski resort? Maybe I should invent my own apocryphal story about the skier who was dropped off in the middle of town, in the middle of the night, and was squashed by a semi while skiing down the middle of highway 40, his cold fingers still clenched around his lift ticket.
Probably wouldn't be enough to change the name back although I dearly miss it.
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