The short story is Berthoud closed because of financial difficulties, but it never reopened a large part because of the USFS's concerns about avalanche mitigation. Here's what the Colorado Ski History website says on their Berthoud Pass page:
With the new lift improvements, Berthoud Pass could handle 5,100 skiers per hour with over 1,300 skiable
acres of terrain. Lift tickets for the 1989-1990 season cost 17 dollars with the season ending in mid May.
By 1991, Schulz’s ski area was facing financial troubles. The area filed for Chapter 11 protection later that
year. By 1992, an attempt to sell the ski area failed to gain Forest Service approval, creditors pushed to
move Berthoud Pass into Chapter 7, which allows liquidation of assets. This motion was eventually granted.
As a result, the double chair was removed, lodge stripped of valuables and the triple and quad lifts were
partially disassembled. Since a costly helicopter was required to fully remove these structures, they were left
During 1992, James Pearsall and Sandra Miorelli (James’ sister) began negotiations with Gary Schultz to
purchase the ski area out of bankruptcy. In 1993, James and Sandra bought the ski area from Schultz and
formed the Berthoud Pass Recreation Corporation (BPRC) and applied for a new operating permit from the
USFS. The permitting process would prove to be very difficult for Berthoud Pass over the next five years.
Berthoud’s lodge was to be burnt down around this time period by Forest Service officials for fire
department training. Despite pleas from locals, the USFS was determined to close the area. After the story
broke to news officials, a first grade class in Clear Creek’s Belmar Elementary wrote letters to the USFS as
a class project and pleaded to officials to leave the lodge. Eventually, the USFS backed off from their plans,
but continued to hinder the reopening of the ski area.
I had a season pass there for two years in the hay day after they installed the new lifts and they were running shuttles down each side of the pass. It was incredible skiing on some of the best terrain and snow in the state. I really miss skiing there.
The USFS was dead set on Berthoud never reopening after it shut down for financial difficulties. One of the primary reasons they cited, as I recall, was the difficulty of avalanche mitigation in addition to the ongoing financial troubles of the areas operating there. While there was never any proof, I'll always believe the USFS was in the pockets of the big ski corporations and that was driving animosity toward a ski area being on Berthoud Pass. There was lots of speculation about this when they were trying to reopen under new ownership.
I totally agree that overall public safety would be better served with a ski area on top of Berthoud Pass rather than the backcountry haven as it currently exists. I personally won't risk my life in the backcountry, thus my comment about me being safer with it closed, since I now spend my days skiing resorts with less snow and lesser terrain.
Today, Friends of Berthoud Pass do a great job of avalanche education and awareness of the dangerous terrain, but there continue to be avalanche deaths there. They have the old Berthoud Pass Maps on their site that show the amazing terrain that I no longer get to ski because of the USFS. Be careful, very careful, if you venture out into the berthoud pass backcountry.