Colorado’s Lost Ski Areas: A Backcountry Paradise

©istockphoto/milehightravelerColorado is renowned for its rich ski history and legendary mountains, which have established the state as one of the world’s most well loved alpine destinations. Since Colorado became a state in 1876, it has been the home to over 145 ski areas. While the many names such as Vail, Beaver Creek, Crested Butte, and Arapahoe Basin continue that proud legacy, the state is also host to a number of ski areas that once enjoyed their heyday, but have since been abandoned.

And then they found new life.

While the trails aren’t groomed and the lifts have stopped running, Colorado’s abandoned ski areas have now become a powder playground for backcountry enthusiasts who have turned these lost ski areas into some of the states most secluded powder stashes.

Geneva Basin Ski Area
Set in the mountains above Georgetown and featuring an average snowfall of 300” per year, Geneva Basin ski area operated from 1963 to 1984. It was hailed as an alternative to the resorts in Summit and Eagle Counties and featured a varied terrain that appealed to beginner and advanced skiers while overlooking some of Colorado’s most well known peaks. Today, Geneva Basin is a prized destination for backcountry skiers. The way in involves a skin-trek of over 8.0 miles through deep snow much of the year. For those willing to make the trek up, many of the runs are still accessible, albeit with unmarked dangers and obstacles plus avalanche-laden terrain. Trekkers will enjoy the relics of the ski area, including one of the original cabins with an original map of the resort.

Berthoud Pass
Operating from 1937 to 2001 at an elevation of 12,015 feet, the ski area at Berthoud Pass sat on the Continental Divide, straddling Clear Creek and Grand County, and enjoyed an average of over 500” of snowfall annually. Throughout the 1940’s, the small ski area was renowned for its local and family oriented atmosphere, and featured some of the most challenging terrain at the time. Today, many of the runs are still accessible, featuring exciting backcountry terrain above timberline. While most runs end with a simple hike back up the mountain, many skiers swapped the former lift for a vehicle shuttle back to the top of the pass.

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Hidden Valley Ski Area
Operating from 1955 to 1991, Hidden Valley Ski Area was set in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, with an annual average snowfall of 150” and 1,200 acres of skiable terrain. The ski area stretched from the valley floor of the park to the top of Trail Ridge Road, with spectacular overarching views of the park with over 2,000 feet of vertical drop. In 1976, the Park Service looked down upon having a developed ski area in the park, and faced with a lack of expansion, Hidden Valley had a slow fall before closing in the early 90s. Today, Hidden Valley features excellent terrain for beginner and expert backcountry skiers and snowboarders. The lower section has excellent low angle riding for beginner backcountry travelers while above Trail Ridge Road lends itself to intermediate and expert runs in spectacular alpine scenery.

Pikes Peak Ski Area
Operating from 1939 to 1984, Pikes Peak Ski Area was the premier ski terrain in Colorado Springs. For almost 50 years, legions of skiers made their way to ‘America’s Mountain’ to take in the steep alpine slopes and magnificent views of Southern Colorado. After the ski area closed, backcountry skiers took notice of the easy access from the Pikes Peak Highway and the low angle terrain with minimum avalanche danger. Not to mention the multitude of chutes and tree runs to explore. Due to its elevation, the Pikes Peak Ski Area offers great skinning and riding well into May and June with variable snow conditions ranging from crusty ice to buttery sun thawed powder.

Conquistador Ski Resort
Accessing Southern Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range, Conquistador Ski Resort operated from 1978 to 1992 featuring over 1,000 feet of drop, and a ski area that serviced the Southern Colorado communities as well as skiers from Oklahoma and Kansas. But while it gave ski access to the Sangre de Cristo Range, it was unpopular with the locals (who were opposed to the development) and eventually the resort and its popularity dried out. Today the mountain plays host to small-scale ski touring through the old trails on pristine snow. The caveat is the base is private property, so the trek starts over the mountains to enter the ski area.

While these areas are formerly groomed and developed, they are now wild backcountry areas with no ski patrol or avalanche control. Take extreme caution when riding on these mountains, carry avalanche safety equipment, and continuously checking weather and snow reports.