Huerfano Country, Colorado, is trying desperately to bring Cuchara Mountain Park back to life. Originally opened as Panadero Resort in 1981, the Cuchara Mountain Resort was shut down in 1999 due to a lack of funding after poor snow conditions and not enough visitors. The resort originally had 5 lifts servicing roughly 30 runs with snowmaking all across the mountain.
After it was shut down the area was simply abandoned and blocked off with private property signs, marking a giant eyesore for the residents of Cuchara Valley. In 2016 the Cuchara Foundation, dedicated to raising funds to improve the environment around the valley, initiated a conversation about doing something about the desolate area, especially since it deters other tourists or businesses, and to their surprise, the owner of the land was willing to sell. A new committee, the Cuchara Mountain Park advisory committee, was formed to help raise the funds to bring the dream to life and in September 2019, after only 9 months, thanks to the support of the entire community, the Cuchara Mountain Park was reopened.
Since then, the committee has been hard at work restoring the park as a four-season recreational area with activities for everyone, including mini-golf, disk-golf, a daycare, a day lodge that can also host events and weddings, and hopefully a thriving ski hill, just like Cuchara used to enjoy. Two of the biggest challenges they have encountered so far are getting the chairlifts up to industry-grade level, and getting enough snowmaking equipment which is essential to sustain the mountain since it “only get[s] great snow one out of every four years“, both of which are very expensive problems that would require significantly more funding from the community.
In addition, in a small community like Cuchara Valley, new projects often face backlash from locals who fear large, selfish corporations that attempt to make changes in the area and then abandon them when they don’t work out, as is what happened to the original ski hill. Abandoned ski resorts, particularly in Colorado, are all too common as the ski industry can be extremely unstable due to its reliance on good weather conditions, which, especially in today’s rapidly declining climate situation, are becoming more and more unpredictable. In the Geophysical Research Letters journal, the average amount of snow in the west of the United States, in particular, has seen a drop of 41% since the 1980s, reducing the ski season by around 34 days, which makes a huge difference for all-mountain resorts, but especially small locally run businesses.
Due to these weather challenges that Cuchara faces, the Mountain Park is emphasizing its full-year activities and other elements besides the ski hill to hopefully ensure that a lack of snow does not shut them down once again. Locals are optimistic that the community engagement in bringing this abandoned ski resort back to life will help the project get off its feet and bring life and business back into the valley through generous volunteer support and donations. We look forward to seeing the Cuchara Mountain Park fully restored in the coming months and years as another hidden gem in the Colorado ski industry!