The Quest to Revive an Abandoned Colorado Ski Area: Cuchara Mountain Park

Aunika Skogen | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Cuchara Mountain Park
Cuchara Mountain Park; image:

The lifts of a small deserted ski area, located among the slopes of the Sangre de Cristos of Southern Colorado, haven’t spun in nearly two decades. Cuchara closed its lifts over 20 years ago. Since then the abandoned resort has caught the attention of many different investors. Yet none have really attempted to revive the small resort that currently functions as a “mountain park.”

Cuchara originally opened as Panadero Ski Resort in 1981. Eventually, the resort went out of business and sat dormant for years. With funds raised by the Cuchara Foundation, Huerfano County was able to buy the resort and open it as a county mountain park for the town in 2017. Since then, the area has been enjoyed by many winter recreational enthusiasts, especially backcountry skiers.  

Recently, Panadero Ski Corporation, a 501(c)(3) formed by Huerfano County residents in 2019, has partnered with the non-profit Cuchara Foundation to raise funds in an attempt to revive the mountain park’s dormant lifts. After years of interest from investors without any action, the area finally has signs of revival. 

Reviving the lifts will bring lift-serviced skiing back to Huerfano County for the first time in 20 years. However, in order to put passengers back on the lifts, the foundations will have to raise upwards of $300,000 to cover the costs of repairing the lifts, including inspections from the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board. In addition to that, the annual costs of running the lift for the season could cost up to $24,000 a year

The initial cost and upkeep of reviving the lift has been a concern to the county since founding the mountain park. Both the county and Panadero Ski Corp have a master plan in hopes to achieve the dream of a fully functional lift. The foundations and county are looking to partner with an organization that will cover the costs of operation while also making a profit. The problem is finding an organization that fits the county’s and residents’ vision for the park.

Cuchara Plans
Panadero Ski Corp. Plans for Cuchara; Red Line is Where the Revived Lift is; Yellow is Uphill Access Route; image:

After many failed investment offers, the last ending with anger and frustration from both sides, plans have not yet been finalized. Residents in the county itself also remain divided in determining the future of the park.  A majority of the backcountry skiers that have been using the park for touring remain against the idea of adding additional lift-serviced skiing to the park. Others want the park to be a dog park, and some residents are stoked at the idea of firing up the old lifts again.

 “We intend to have a huge party, a band and everything, on the Fourth of July,” Mike Moore, a longtime Cuchara bed-and-breakfast owner and ski industry veteran involved with the revival of the area, said.   

Terrain accessible by a lift would draw in much more tourism to Huerfano County than the mountain park currently is. It would bring in more revenue to the sleepy county and also provide additional jobs for its residents. The county board is also considering the idea of operating year-round with a variety of mountain bike trails for thrill-seekers to enjoy. 

For now, Cuchara mountain park remains a blank slate with endless opportunities. But before the resort welcomes back passengers onto its lifts, they need to give ‘em some love. With determination, community, and lots of fundraising, Cuchara’s deserted lifts may just start turning again in the near future. 

Cuchara Lift
Cuchara’s Old Dormant Lift; image:

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2 thoughts on “The Quest to Revive an Abandoned Colorado Ski Area: Cuchara Mountain Park

  1. I’m on the Board of the Panadero Ski Corporation and our vision for skiing on the mountain is the lift-served skiing would be a community resource, giving populations of Huerfano County and the surrounding area like Trinidad and Pueblo an affordable opportunity to learn how to ski and for families to get outdoors. We have no plans to reopen the entire old resort, only 47 acers, 6 runs, served by one lift. The rest of the old ski hill above the lift-served area will continue to be open access for backcountry. This will likely always be a nonprofit business model and revenue mix that includes donations and grants. But, you’re right, that no one will be getting rich of this endeavor, and that’s not why we are doing it.

  2. A low-elevation resort (by Colorado standards) in Southern Colorado in the least-snowy range that is one of the furthest from practical out-of-state tourism. A lot of challenges for a sustainable business model. Additionally, it’s questionable whether local population is sufficient enough sustain a ski resort. Not a good investment opportunity.

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