For three long years, locals have tried reviving the Cuchara Mountain Park, CO, ski resort in the southern Rocky Mountains, which shuttered all operations in 2000. The goal for 22/23 was to get the old Lift 4 back up and running. The Panadero Ski Corporation, a 501c3 non-profit, reached an agreement with Huerfano County to manage and operate Cuchara Mountain Park as a year-round outdoor recreation and education attraction, including skiing and snowboarding.
Through constant fundraising activities and volunteering, Panadero worked tirelessly to repair and refurbish the forty-year-old lift. Thousands of volunteer hours went into restoring the double chair. The last obstacle was the inspection by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board — and the refurbished ski lift failed to pass due to electrical control system issues.
You would be inclined to think that locals were ready to give up, but these guys don’t give up easily. While work on Lift 4 was paused for the season, Panadero still wanted to offer an uphill option, so a snowcat service was dreamt up. Unfortunately, the weather was too warm for most of December and January, and volunteers were starting to lose hope that they would be able to open the mountain for the 22/23 season. Then the February storms arrived and finally brought some much-needed snow, and Panadero finally could put the PistenBully, donated by Winter Park Resort, CO, to work and groom runs. But it was still ‘earn-your-turns’ at Cuchara, and the dream was realistically to offer more than that.
Finally, in March this year, Cuchara Mountain — for the first time in 23 years — was able to offer an uphill service by means of the ‘Cuchara Mountain Park Ski Bus,’ a sled made out of old school bus seats welded to a car-hauling trailer pulled by a snowcat. Panadero sold tickets for $35 to 50 lucky skiers and boarders, helping keep the dream of a functioning ski resort alive. It’s been a dream come true for many locals. Race Lessar said in an interview with AFP, “I’m happy that it’s open for at least one year. I didn’t know that there was a hope.”
And that was really what this was all about; keeping hope alive, keeping the dream alive. The intention remains to get Lift 4 certified and to bring back snowmaking to at least some of the runs. Panadero will also need to hire a workforce, but the snow bus was the symbol for the community that it will be possible to provide affordable and family-friendly skiing and boarding to the local community in southern Colorado.
The sense of community has always been strong here in southern Colorado. In 2013 the Cuchara Foundation was incorporated as a non-profit foundation dedicated to providing education and resources to increase the welfare and knowledge of the Cuchara Valley, its history, environment, and activities. In 2016 the Cuchara Foundation gave Huerfano County $25,000 for a down payment for the lower slopes of the abandoned ski resort. Through fundraising and community help, the foundation gathered the remaining funds in 2017 to pay the county $150,000 for the former ski resort.
This local community has shown what you can achieve with perseverance, determination, and, most of all, hope. Cuchara Mountain wants to be an affordable, beginner, and family-friendly ski hill that breaks down barriers to participation in snowsports and other forms of outdoor recreation. And this season, despite all the obstacles thrown their way, Cuchara Mountain Park and Panadero Ski Corp got one step closer. Currently, they are holding a fundraiser hoping to raise $60,000 for the 23/24 season to help pay for the final electrical repairs on Lift 4, hire an experienced ski operations workforce, cover insurance costs, and round out snowmaking capacity. So if you can help keep the dream alive at Cuchara Mountain for the 23/24 season, make a tax-deductible donation — no matter how small, any amount will make an impact.