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Economics of tiny local ski hills...

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

So help me figure it out, because I don't think I have a good grip on an answer.


At least in Colorado, from the 1950's through the 1970's, virtually every mountain town had a ski hill. The majority of ski areas in the state generally consisted of a single lift (including rope tows, Poma, T-bar, etc.), less than 1000 feet vert, and under 100 acres.  A lot of them operated with less than 150 inches of snow a year.


These have almost all died out, and almost none exist anymore.  You can advance very good reasons as to why- increasing insurance, limited appeal compared to larger resorts, most had limited snow, limited vert to attract visitors.


So here is the part I don't get. All of the local hills on the front range have closed. Echo Mountain's rebirth as being Denver's local ski area is now over, all the others closed in the 1980's and before.  Colorado Spring's last local hills were closed by 1992- Since WW2 there have been NINE ski areas between Colorado Springs and Divide 30 miles west.


Meanwhile, within an hour (ish) drive from Durango, there are FOUR of these tiny hills operating- Chapman Hill in Durango, Hesperus 10 miles West, Kendall Mountain in Silverton, and Lee's Hill in Ouray. Stretch it out to two hours, and you now have SIX. (adding Cranor Hill in Gunnison and Lake City Wonderland).


These comprise all of the single lift operations in the state, with the only other hill in the same general category being Howelsen in Steamboat.


So, the question I put to you:


What is different about the San Juan area of Colorado that so many of these areas survived, while they died out all over the rest of the state? Its not lack of competition.


Do other regions have anomalies like this?

post #2 of 6

Interesting question. I've never even heard of most of those, except for Kendall and Howelsen. It's definitely counterintuitive - you'd think that some place like Echo would survive while tiny hills in the middle of nowhere wouldn't. And you'd really think that Colorado Springs would be ripe for some kind of resort - mountains, population, snow .... nearest skiing 3 hours away? I never quite understood how (or why) Howelsen did it, outside of the fact that it was run by the city. I suppose when you add Howelsen in there, it makes it more of a western Colorado thing.


Nothing like that in UT - the closest thing would be Wolf Mountain, which is a different situation - a small, beginner-friendly hill with a large population nearby to feed it. They haven't done particularly well lately, either.

post #3 of 6

That is an interesting question indeed.  I read that New York has the most ski areas of all the states.  I wonder if there is any similar dynamic?


I know someone in the Kendall family.  I should ask this question to them.

post #4 of 6

I dont know the specifics of those resorts...but the small ski areas I saw go under where simply due to poor managment.  They ditched their long standing clients, and tried to attract more "day skiers" and become more of a mini-destination resort.  These places have no chance of being a mini-destination resort, and they gave up all the little things that make small ma and pa areas appealling.  Hence they rejected their long standing clients, failed to attract new ones...and are now gone.

post #5 of 6

Pagosa Springs (an hour from Durango) is working on plans to put one in. They have the lift, but just need to get the logistics of the whole thing worked out (it will also be used during the summer for other transportation purposes). 


Hesperus does night skiing every night, that is why I think they are still around. 

I think that Chapman Hill is probably still around because it is Municipal and it is in the middle of the city. 

Not sure about the other two.  


Another reason is that the season pass prices go up as you get farther away from denver were the resorts have to rely on locals (Purgatory's price is over $900 dollars, wolf creek is $750, silverton is only $500 but it isn't really a regular resort), that would push budget skiers to the smaller, cheaper resorts. 


I can see how the mountains around denver go out of business when it isn't really that much farther to a bunch of massive resorts, but I don't understand why one or two didn't survive around Colorado Springs. It is a long way to the skiing from the Springs. 

post #6 of 6

The answers are in umpteen reports. But the real answers imo are in audits, waste, conflicts of interest,  and good old empire building with other people's money.


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