The rocky mountain news did a nice piece on our FOBP acheivements:
BERTHOUD PASS – Jake Williams ponied up $300 for a Rocky Mountain Super Pass this fall, but he purposely left it at home Tuesday morning.
After rolling out of bed about 9 a.m., the 29-year-old Denver pizza delivery driver grabbed his snowboard gear and headed west on Interstate 70. Instead of driving to Copper Mountain or Winter Park where his pass is valid, he stopped atop this 11,300-foot pass on Highway 40 and carved fresh tracks in near solitude for about four hours.
From 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., there never were more than 20 vehicles in the parking area, despite a new foot of snow christening the terrain.
“I have a problem with authority, and I don’t like crowds or people getting in the way of a good time,” Williams said. “I’d much rather be here if the snow is good. Days like this, when there’s nobody here, you just can’t beat it. Even when it’s crowded here, you can always find a line that hasn’t been hit yet.”
The most recent owners of Berthoud Pass Ski Area shut operations in 2001, and the chairlifts and base buildings have since been removed. Virtually nothing remains from the area that operated on this pass for nearly 70 years, except for the copious amounts snow and great ski and snowboard terrain that always have been the primary attraction.
Because it’s free and snow often doesn’t get tracked out for days, Berthoud Pass remains a haven for backcountry enthusiasts six seasons after the former resort’s two chairlifts stopped running.
“People come here because there is usually good snow and not a lot of people, and because it’s free,” said Dale Sorter, 27, of Arvada, who spent Tuesday snowboarding with his wife, Valerie, and their 4- month-old puppy Aspen.
Because there are no lifts or shuttles, skiers and riders have to hike, snowshoe or ski up the higher slopes before heading downhill through the trees below the pass. After popping out along the highway at the end of a run, they have to thumb a ride or rely on carpooling friends to get back to the top.
The easy access to backcountry terrain can have its drawbacks. Several people have died in avalanches at Berthoud Pass in recent years, and backcountry experts warn that anyone visiting the area should avoid skiing or riding alone and have proper safety equipment and an understanding of snow conditions. The area no longer is patrolled, and avalanche-control work is done only periodically to keep big slides from covering the highway.
A grassroots organization called Friends of Berthoud Pass was formed in 2003 by former Berthoud Pass ski patrol director John Strand as a way to preserve the area’s rich skiing and snowboarding legacy while also offering as much safety information as possible. The group regularly conducts avalanche-education classes and on-snow safety seminars and offers photos, trail maps and links to avalanche conditions on its Web site (www.BerthoudPass.org).
In many ways, Berthoud Pass has gone back to its roots, which have ties to a more primitive era of skiing in Colorado. Although the ski area officially opened in 1937 with the state’s first rope tow (powered by the V-8 engine from an old Ford truck), car-assisted skiing dates to the late 1920s, when members of an informal Denver club known as the Winter Sports Council regularly would make trips to the area.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Berthoud Pass, known as “The Pass” to those who skied it, was one of the most popular areas in the state, attracting an estimated 100,000 skiers in a season as far back as 1946. In 1947, the area installed the world’s first two-person chairlift, an invention of co- owner Sam Huntington. In the early 1980s, Berthoud was one of the first resorts in Colorado to allow full access to snowboarders.
Through the years, Colorado has had more than 130 other ski areas that since have gone by the wayside. Berthoud Pass is one of a handful of those where skiing and snowboarding still thrives.
“The ski areas we know today are a far cry from how skiing started,” said Justin Henderson, curator at the Colorado Ski Museum in Vail. “They definitely played an important role in introducing a lot of people to the sport of skiing back then, and I think that’s one of the areas where the ski industry struggles right now.”
Some of those ghost resorts were medium-sized developments with big plans; others were tiny, city-owned local hills served by a short rope tow. Despite their failure, many played significant roles in the development of the Colorado ski and snowboard industry.
For example, Magic Mountain, a defunct hill between Golden and Morrison, introduced snowmaking to the state in 1958. Pioneer Ski Area, near Crested Butte, operated the first chairlift, in 1939. And several helped put Colorado on the map with international ski-jumping events or races, including Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park, which hosted the 1934 U.S. alpine championships.
Stagecoach ski area near Steamboat Springs was one of Colorado’s biggest resorts to close, leaving three chairlifts dormant after two seasons of operation in the early 1970s. A dilapidated lift and base building remain at Marble ski area, which shut in the 1970s. More recent resorts closures include Cuchara Valley (1996) near Walsenburg and Hidden Valley (1991) in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Ultimately, the areas that didn’t make it as developed resorts weren’t financially viable, even if they did offer exceptional skiing opportunities.
“A lot of it had to do with technology,” Henderson said. “Many of them couldn’t afford the snowmaking equipment or grooming equipment that carry a lot of resorts in this day and age. It’s the nature of the beast: the more technology you develop, the more dependent you become to it.”
Geneva Basin, near Guanella Pass southwest of Georgetown, was perhaps the most popular resort to close. It shut in 1984 after more than 20 years in business. Louisville resident Matt Nakari learned to ski there and spent the majority of his ski days there as a kid.
“I loved it. It was the center of my universe during junior high,” Nakari said. “I’ve always harbored the secret desire to win the lottery and resurrect it. It could never compete as a resort, but it’s close enough to the Continental Divide to get good, consistent snow, and it has great scenery.”
Competition from other resorts with modern base facilities and lodging eventually doomed Berthoud Pass, too. It initially closed in 1993, then re-opened in 1998 under a new ownership group that revived the lodge and brought back shuttle buses to eliminate the need to hitchhike or carpool to the top.
Now all that remains is the snow and the spirit of what once was, something that will be forever tied to the soul of skiing and snowboarding in Colorado.
“I come here for the snow and to get away from people,” Williams said. “On some days, I think there might be more people now than when it actually had lifts. I think a lot of people like it being free and that it’s a backcountry area. It’s just about the snow.”
Colorado’s lost resorts
If you’re an avid skier or snowboarder, you’ve probably visited a handful of Colorado’s 30 active resorts and local ski hills. But did you know that more than 130 resorts, local hills, ski jumps and solitary rope tows have existed in the state since the early 1900s? The remnants of some of these areas can be seen today, but not a shred of evidence exists from others. Some are backcountry skiing and snowboarding hot spots, and others have been redeveloped for other uses. Here’s a glimpse of 10 former areas with a colorful history:
• Berthoud Pass: The most recently closed ski area in Colorado. It operated from 1937 to the early 1990s and again from 1998 to 2001. It debuted Colorado’s first rope tow, in the late 1930s, and the world’s first double chairlift, in 1947. Since its closure five years ago, it has been a popular backcountry skiing and snow- boarding venue, albeit one with considerable avalanche danger.
• Camp Hale: The acclaimed Army training post for 10th Mountain Division troops had several ski hills northwest of Leadville, including one that survived in present-day Ski Cooper. It opened three months after Pearl Harbor was attacked and soldiered on until 1965.
• Chautauqua Mesa: Although skiing and snow- boarding are outlawed at this popular Boulder hiking venue, from 1947-62, it had a rope tow powered by an old Nash Rambler motor. Former world champion snowboarder Kevin Delaney cut his teeth here in the early 1980s.
• Geneva Basin: Originally named Indianhead when it opened in 1962, this area on Guanella Pass near Georgetown thrived in the 1960s and ’70s because of its family atmosphere and affordable prices. But it closed in 1984 because of equipment problems and increased competition from bigger resorts.
• Hidden Valley: This small area inside Rocky Mountain National Park officially closed in 1991 after 57 years of operation, but it’s still popular among skiers, snowboarders and sledding aficionados after a good snowfall. A seven-day entrance fee ($20) or a season pass ($35) to the park are cheaper than any one-day lift ticket in Colorado.
• Magic Mountain: Although there was nothing magical about this mountain – it lasted only a few seasons – it did introduce snowmaking to Colorado in 1958. The 1,100-foot slope was adjacent to Heritage Square on the south end of Golden.
• Marble: A broken-down chairlift and a never-completed base lodge are among the remnants of this area south of Carbondale, which operated from 1971 to 1974 not far from the town of Marble. It’s popular among local backcountry skiers, but most of the terrain is on private property.
• Pioneer: Located near Crested Butte, it opened in 1939 with the state’s first chairlift, and was constructed from a converted mine by a local ski club and Works Progress Administration workers. Its main run, called the Big Dipper, had a daunting 53-degree slope. The area closed in 1953.
• Sharktooth: Skiing in Greeley? Believe it or not, a hill that boasted a 200-foot vertical drop opened in 1971 and lasted until 1986. No avalanche control was necessary at this area, but the owners had to plant 1,000 trees to block winds blowing dust from neighboring farms.
• St. Mary’s Glacier: A small but popular area northwest of Idaho Springs, St. Mary’s Glacier hosted ski-jumping exhibitions in the 1920s and had three surface lifts from 1948 to 1986. A new ownership group headed by 25-year-old Michael Coors is trying to reopen the area as Eclipse Snow Park