Updated at 2:07 p.m. on Friday, Feb, 2. 2024.
Plans to transfer ownership of Parker-Fitzgerald Cuchara Mountain Park from Huerfano County to a non-profit foundation are moving forward. Two of three county commissioners recently voted to create a special deed needed to satisfy requirements from Great Outdoors Colorado, which has funded improvements at the park. The commissioners’ approval of that document and a resolution will be necessary to finalize the transfer. Contractors will continue to manage operations at the park.
Original story below.
Skiing and snowboarding are slated to officially open this weekend at Parker-Fitzgerald Cuchara Mountain Park about 75 miles southwest of Pueblo.
Skiers and boarders can now opt to catch a five-minute ride up the runs at Cuchara on a repurposed trailer pulled by a snowcat — a winter work vehicle with treads instead of tires. The trailer is outfitted with old school bus seats and can hold up to 22 people and their gear.
Ken Clayton of the non-profit Panadero Ski Corporation, which operates the ski area for the county, said they’re offering limited day and season passes. A day ticket is $40.
“We like to say we're cheaper than a cheeseburger, a Coke and fries at any of the other competing major ski areas in Colorado,” he said.
The snowcat trailer will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends until spring. Skiers can still head uphill under their own power for free, but need to register and agree to the park’s policies.
The park consists of about 50 acres at the base of a former ski area on Baker Mountain near La Veta. According to the website, uphill skiers can “access the trails within Cuchara Mountain Park and the 230 acres with 1,500 feet of vertical (gain) on U.S. Forest Service land that comprises the rest of the old ski area.”
Panadero volunteers are working on getting state safety certification for an existing lift still in place from the previous ski operations there. They are also increasing snowmaking capacity and have already been blowing snow this winter, but need more funding to sustain that effort, according to Clayton. They’ve applied for a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado for both the lift and snowmaking projects and hope to hear about possible awards sometime this year.
Meanwhile, Clayton said they also want to expand the activities at the park in other seasons including hiking and mountain biking, as well as nature education and dark sky tourism for visitors to enjoy the nighttime view of stars and planets. Additionally, he said they hosted several concerts there last year and would like to do more.
Other offerings could include a wedding venue, he said, so “people can get married on the hill and then go down to the bottom and have their reception.”
Huerfano County owns the park. County manager Carl Young said a lot of people in the community are nostalgic for the time when it was an operating ski area more than two decades ago.
“There are folks that have grown up here, experienced the park as kids and learned to ski there,” he said.
These residents are interested in having a place where families can learn to ski for a lower cost and without having to drive far away. Others, he said, see it as a potential driver of economic growth especially to support area businesses during the slower tourism season in winter months.
Currently, the county is considering two proposals from potential concessionaires to operate the park when the current contract with Panadero runs out in the spring. The goal is to develop it into “a sustainable and environmentally friendly attraction for year-round recreation, education, and cultural programs in harmony with nature,” according to the county website.
The two applicants are the current contractor Panadero, and Buckhorn Ridge Outfitters, which runs the annual Caveman Music Festival in Weston. The county expects to award the contract later this year.
There have been challenges getting the park up and running, Young said, noting that volunteers are doing the difficult work of reclaiming the defunct ski area. There has been some discussion about whether the county should maintain ownership of the park or turn it over to Panadero. That decision is tempered by a previous GOCO grant to the county to build additional infrastructure there. That grant requires the county to maintain ownership.
“We as the county, and commissioners particularly, want to do the best they can to make a community asset, a gem in the community shine,” he said. That’s “what their North Star is as a board.”
- More than two decades after closing, a chairlift could run this winter at Cuchara Mountain Park, and it may soon be operated by a local non-profit
- In Southern Colorado, Giving The Old Cuchara Mountain Ski Area A New Life
- Small southern Colorado towns are reclaiming abandoned ski resorts and offering alternatives to high-priced experiences
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