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Learn the unlikely story of Pikes Peak's former ski area

October 7, 2017 Updated: October 7, 2017 at 9:08 pm
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The ski area at Pikes Peak's Glen Cove was popular in the years before World War II. Photo courtesy: Don Sanborn

Don Lawrie had a saying. "Easy does it."

"When I look back at what he did in his life, I don't think he really followed that rule," grandson Don Sanborn says with a hearty laugh.

The skiing operation that once thrived on Pikes Peak started in the late 1920s with Lawrie and fellow members of the Silver Spruce Ski Club building the ski jump called Suicide Hill. In the next decade, they cleared slopes and installed what was believed to be the first rope tow west of the Mississippi.

Lawrie oversaw development of an area that was the envy of skiers near and far. "Pikes Peak or Bust," says a 1941 article in The New York Herald Tribune, was "the happy call of ski enthusiasts all over America."

 

Sanborn, president of the local Pikes Peak AdAmAn Club, says those years are easily forgotten in the colorful history of America's Mountain. That's why he talks about them.

On Monday night, he'll be at the Colorado Springs Masonic Center to present on the unlikely destination formerly housed on the 14,115-foot peak.

"We spent a lot of time up there when I was a kid," Sanborn recalls. That amazes him when he considers the powder he's been skiing in Summit County since high school. He looks back at pictures and sees dirt patches on the Pikes Peak area known as Elk Park, where his dad was a patrolman through the '60s.

Don Lawrie, left, enjoying a powder day. He was instrumental in developing the former ski area on Pikes Peak. Photo courtesy: Don Sanborn 

The lack of snow and money closed the area after the 1984 season. Lawrie, who died in 2000, was long retired by then. But it was his dream that kept the scene alive before the industry boomed in Colorado's higher elevations.

The heyday of Pikes Peak's organized skiing took place near the Glen Cove area, the site Lawrie and friends chose before Elk Park. The Silver Spruce Ski Club-turned-nonprofit Pikes Peak Ski Club held downhill competitions that drew crowds upwards of 800, according to history compiled by Sanborn.

 

The Broadmoor paid to build a plush cabin, and The Gazette-Telegraph reported that 18,700 skiers had visited the slopes in 1939. With the advent of World War II, the area was turned over to the military as a training facility.

Lawrie's grand ideas never wavered. The platform for his unsuccessful City Council run in 1937 was to make Colorado Springs a winter sports destination. As the first supervisor of the Pikes Peak Highway, he saw potential for access. In 1954, skiing was authorized at Elk Park, with a $1 highway toll also paying the rope tow fee.

A Poma lift was built, but Lawrie never saw the modern chairlifts he so desired.

"The story went," Sanborn says, "that they would get good snow for a period of time, people would get fired up about expanding things, and as soon as they would get ready to do that, there'd be no snow. It would torpedo the plan."

Lawrie seemed to pay no mind to Mother Nature's fickleness.

"Granddad, even in his 90s, he still harbored a dream of starting a ski area, like at some hill behind the Walmart in Woodland Park," Sanborn says. "We told him, 'You need to see what ski hills and areas are really like now!'"

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