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 a 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 1940s, 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 the 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.