Dreams are inching closer to reality in a rural southern Colorado community, where a former ski resort sat abandoned until 2017.
That's when Cuchara Mountain Park opened, following a grassroots effort that saw a local foundation acquire private property that was Panadaro Resort in the early 1980s. From U.S. 160, ski runs are still visible on the mountainside — reminders of an ill-fated operation that regularly swapped hands and was plagued by bankruptcy over the span of two decades.
Now the grounds are in the hands of Huerfano County. Sledding and cross-country skiing on a groomed loop have been popular this winter, overseers say, following a busy summer for Cuchara Mountain Park's disc golf and mini golf courses.
And they say the chairlift at the former resort's base is about ready for inspection. That official, state-run job is required before any skiers ride.
"As far as it being able to operate, I think they're very close," said Carl Young, county administrator.
They being Panadero Ski Corp., the nonprofit composed of locals with fundraising experience and also marketing experience at the ski resort that was.
The goal has been to revive the lift, accessing a modest 56 acres and 400 vertical feet, before potentially approaching the U.S. Forest Service about more lifts and terrain on federal land reaching toward the summit near 10,800 feet.
But planners are indeed starting small. The idea is to sell lift tickets for revenue that would offset costs, with the hope of appealing to a concessionaire that would take things over, including insurance.
The nonprofit "wants to give it a trial run," Young said. "The thinking is the concessionaire would want to see some proof that it can work."
Snowmaking is another factor that leaders have described as "very critical" to sustainability. The lack of snow proved fatal to past operations. Pipes and other infrastructure were left behind — "a good portion" of which "is actually not in bad shape," Young said.
He sounded optimistic about other estimates. "What we've been working off is $300 a day for snowmaking, which is really cheap. That said, we still need a lot of work and inspection to make sure plumbing is right. And of course water is always a problem here."
First priority is the lift, he said. An observatory atop the hill has been discussed, as has lift-served mountain bike trails, which would surely add to the year-round attraction of Cuchara Mountain Park.
For the economic future of one of Colorado's poorest counties, the park is "huge," Young said. "It's certainly a fun project and something that captures the imagination."