A ski area on Pikes Peak — it’s an idea that’s been in the works for so long, it’s taken on the air of a pipe dream.
The last area closed 20 years ago, and an effort to build a new one has been beset by bankruptcy, litigation, foreclosure, sanctions and the death of its longtime champion, Harvey Carter.
Still, the businessman hoping to build the ski area says rumors of its demise are exaggerated.
“We are moving forward,” said John Ball, a former telecommunications executive from Boulder County and CEO of The Resort at Pikes Peak. “That was Harvey Carter’s wish and desire. He was my business partner and a good friend, so we want to continue that desire.”
Carter, a legendary mountain climber who died in March, spent years promoting a ski area on Pikes Peak’s northwest flank, south of The Crags. The last ski area on the peak, near Glen Cove, was plagued by poor snowfall and a lack of business. The lifts were torn out, and most skiers assumed the sport’s end had come in the region.
But Carter claimed his 320-acre property received 12 feet of snow each year. He hand-cut six runs and, in the years before his death, got in league with Ball. In 2008, they told The Gazette that lifts could be running by 2011.
Then the economy went sour. And Ball was ordered by the Colorado Division of Securities to stop selling shares in the venture after Carter cancelled their deal because Ball stopped making payments, according to division documents.
The two renewed talks last year and, according to court documents, Carter signed over the land in exchange for a 44 percent stake in the company a few months before dying of cancer.
But Carter apparently had second thoughts about the deal and sued Ball, claiming he was deceived — a legal fight now being waged by Carter’s son as executor of the estate.
At issue is a $1 million loan Carter took out, which his son Scott Carter, of Woodland Park, said was to pay for a divorce settlement. After Carter died with most of the loan unpaid, creditors foreclosed on the land and The Resort at Pikes Peak filed for bankruptcy protection to halt the forced sale.
Ball maintains the filing is only to buy time, and he hopes to emerge from bankruptcy within eight months and eventually pay back Carter’s loan.
“We want to be sure to clear the books for future investors so there are no skeletons in the closet,” he said.
Ball would not say how much has been invested or how much is needed for the project. State regulators ordered him not to solicit investment through his now-defunct website, skipikespeak.com. But Ball said the order does not preclude him from raising money, and the resort has an active Facebook page with more than 1,000 “likes.”
The vision is a small, family friendly resort with a handful of runs and a lodge.
“It’s not meant to be a competition with Aspen or Breckenridge or Monarch,” Ball said. “It’s meant to be a starting resort where someone can learn to ski.”
“Partly what we’re thinking is to return to the days when Colorado Springs had a regional ski resort for locals, with children’s programs, handicap programs, skiing in winter time and nature camps in the summer time,” said Scott Brown, a member of the resort’s board of directors who helped launch several popular festivals in Telluride. “I really think Colorado Springs deserves to have a ski resort instead of having to drive 2 or 3 hours to get to one.”
But there’s a reason Colorado’s ski areas are farther west — snow. To counter the dry conditions that doomed other ski areas in the region, The Resort at Pikes Peak will make lots of snow, and Ball said he has water rights on the land and the opportunity to purchase more water from area subdivisions.
With a base elevation of 10,200 feet, he is confident it can succeed, though he said the ski area would only operate intermittently if there was not enough snow. If it is successful, they have dreams of expanding into neighboring Pike National Forest to add expert-level terrain — a move that would require exhaustive environmental review.
Once investments are in hand, The Resort at Pikes Peak will begin the process of designing the ski area and gaining approval from Teller County, which could take two more years, Ball said. The first element to open would be a summer concert venue, he said.
The businessmen see it as honoring Harvey Carter’s wishes.
“Every ski resort I know of had somebody like a Harvey Carter, and this was their dream,” Brown said. “It started out tough and it started out small and it built over the years.
“He chose John Ball to pass on the dream to.”
Ball said that while Carter had a “flip-flop nature,” he was surprised by the lawsuit and he denies deceiving his former partner.
Court documents allege Carter was “frail, debilitated and medicated” while dying of cancer when he signed over the land to Ball late last year. He sued in January, less than two months before his death.
The lawsuit asks a Teller County judge to return the land to Carter’s estate. If that occurred, Scott Carter acknowledged he would have to sell the land to pay back the debt since he is a self-described “computer geek” without the resources or knowledge to build a ski area.
“I would love to honor my dad and do something because it was his life’s dream and I heard it my entire life,” Carter said. “If I could somehow honor it, that would be great.”