Reviving Colorado's ghost resorts
South of Steamboat Springs, the chairlifts haven’t turned at Stagecoach Ski Area since 1974.
That was set to change this season. A group of investors had the 3,500-acre property under contract with a flashy plan for a family-oriented ski resort with four hotels and 1,000 homes. The deal ultimately fell apart.
It’s a familiar story.
There are few trickier tasks in Colorado business than resurrecting one of the state’s 100-plus ghost resorts. Competition is brutal, costs are high and there’s a reason the resorts shut down in the first place. It often requires the approval of federal agencies and local governments; Stagecoach is an anomaly, as most ski areas operate on predominately public land.
Attempted reboots at St. Mary’s Glacier just west of Idaho Springs, Berthoud Pass above Winter Park, and Huerfano County’s Cuchara Mountain Resort have all failed for one reason or another in recent years.
At St. Mary’s, where a T-bar and two rope tows operated from the 1930s to 1986, Clear Creek County commissioners denied developers of Eclipse Snow Park a permit after five years of discussions. The U.S. Forest Service nixed reopening Berthoud Pass a few years after it closed in 2001. Cuchara opened as Panadero in the 1980s, closed, reopened as Cuchara in the 1990s, and closed again in 2000; another attempted relaunch in 2010 ultimately fizzled.
One exception: Ski Squaw Pass, west of Evergreen, operated from 1960 to 1975, shuttered for 30 years, and reopened as Echo Mountain Park in 2006. After operating as a private training facility since 2012, it’s been again open to the public since 2017.
Cuchara might yet see a revival. The nonprofit Cuchara Foundation raised $150,000 to buy 48 acres of the old resort and donate it to Huerfano County as Cuchara Mountain Park in 2017. It currently features a 1.5-mile groomed cross-country trail, and there are hopes for a concessionaire-operated chairlift in the future.
“It’s going to be a long, hard haul to convert the dream to reality,” says Lois Adams, chairperson of the park’s advisory committee. “Anything we do that’s big is going to require a grant.”
The plan involves fixing an existing lift and snowmaking equipment, with one major caveat. “We’re not convinced it’s fixable,” Adams says. “I don’t want to lead people to think it’s a done deal, because it’s not.”
But she says there will definitely be winter recreation, whether it’s human-powered skinning up the mountain, more cross-country trails or a sledding hill to help fill the void left when Cuchara closed. “It’s part of your identity as a community,” Adams says. “It’s really hard when it goes.”
Back at Stagecoach, owner Chris Wittemyer says he’s hitting the pause button. “We’re not working toward selling it right now,” says Wittemyer, a Steamboat Springs real estate broker whose family has owned the resort for more than 20 years.
How about reopening the ski hill? “We’ll see,” Wittemyer says.