Denver7 | Gives


Denver7 Gives viewers help raise funds to reopen lift-powered skiing at Cuchara Mountain Park next winter

Cuchara Mountain Park Lift 4_Stephanie Butzer/Denver7
Posted at 10:38 AM, Apr 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-03 12:38:33-04

Denver7 features the stories of people who need help and now you can help them with a cash donation through Denver7 Gives. One hundred percent of contributions to the fund will be used to help people in our local community.

HUERFANO COUNTY, Colo. — After Denver7 shared the story behind a push to reopen lift-powered skiing at Cuchara Mountain Park in Huerfano County, our viewers stepped up to help.

In mid-February, Denver7 traveled to southern Colorado to learn more about the efforts to reintroduce skiing at the park, which holds the promise of family-friendly skiing with less traffic than I-70, barely any lift lines and a daily pass under $50.

Supporters of Cuchara Mountain Park said they are confident that with one more season of fundraising, the ski area will reopen to its former glory this upcoming winter after falling just short of a goal to open lift-served skiing and snowboarding at the end of 2022.

Denver7 Gives provides donation to help reopen lift-powered skiing at Cuchara Mountain Park

Denver7 Gives was able to virtually present a check for $3,000 to the Panadero Ski Corporation nonprofit, which is made of local residents and homeowners set on piecing together the future of Cuchara with visions from the past.

Will Pirkey, one of the seven volunteers on the board, added that the nonprofit saw a spike in donations and newsletter signups after our story ran.

"That will definitely help. Thank you to all your viewers who donated," he said during an interview with Denver7 anchor Shannon Ogden on Friday.

Cuchara Mountain Park

Cuchara Mountain Park opened in 1981 as Panadero Ski Area. Two double chair lifts, including Lift 4, and a rope tow carried visitors, many of whom were learning to ski or teaching their kids, up the mountain. Over time, the area expanded to include a total of five lifts, several of which extended into U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land.

As small, local ski resorts were snatched up with the seemingly infinite dollars of mega-resort owners, Panadero Ski Area remained independent.

Over its two-decade life before the turn of the century, the mountain changed hands seven or eight times, Pirkey said. It was passed around by wealthy out-of-towners, most of whom were from Texas.

Meanwhile, out on the slopes, residents and visitors continued to seek snowy turns and precious family time on the mountain, mostly oblivious to what was festering behind the scenes.

But, at some point, the management issues overflowed from behind office doors.

Cuchara Mountain Park

Denver7 | Gives

Abandoned ski area in southern Colorado is closer than ever to a revival

Stephanie Butzer
8:21 AM, Feb 13, 2023

After nearly 20 years in operation, the resort officially closed on July 4, 2000, leaving behind about 50 acres of the base area and abandoned infrastructure, including Lift 4. In 2021, the USFS pulled its permit for public access to the land above the base area.

It was like Pompeii, Pirkey said. Food was left in the staff refrigerator. Frames gathered dust on their desks.

"Just did not put any time or effort into the land, and it just kind of slowly fell apart," he said. "The lifts that are here didn't run at all. So yeah, it was really just — it was abandoned. It was kind of a ghost town."

And yet one group refused to loosen their grip on the dream of a revival. So the heartbeat of Cuchara Mountain Resort never truly fell silent. The real efforts to reopen lift-powered skiing started in 2010, a decade after the closure.

By Labor Day 2017, Huerfano County and the Cuchara Foundation — a nonprofit formed a few years prior to preserve the history of the area and improve quality of life — raised enough funds to purchase the base parcel from a local family who had previously bought the land. In the years since this 2017 purchase, the community has raised roughly $400,000 to bring skiing back to the mountain, according to Pirkey.

And so the Parker-Fitzgerald Cuchara Mountain Park, or Cuchara Mountain Park for short, opened once again to the public. That also meant that Lift 4 was completely within park land.

If the nonprofit could get it in working order, lift-powered skiing could make a comeback.

The Cuchara Foundation created the Panadero Ski Corporation in late 2019 to focus solely on bringing skiing back to the mountain, which included repairing Lift 4 and purchasing two used snowcats.

Pirkey said the Panadero Ski Corporation is focused on accessibility and affordability. That is why Panadero Ski Corporation plans to sell adult tickets for under $40 and kid tickets around $20, with discounts for county residents.

"Skiing is an expensive sport," Pirkey explained. "And so, that's one of our main missions, is to make it as affordable as possible, especially for the kids in southern Colorado and Huerfano County in general. It's kind of a poor area of the state. And so many people live here — they can look up the mountains, but they can't get out there to do these great things that so many people are able to do, so we hope we can really make a difference in people's lives."

The mountain offered snowcat-assisted skiing to the top of Lift 4 as an alternative.

We are keeping the Denver7 Gives page open for any future donations to the revival efforts of Cuchara Mountain Park. You can donate at the link below.


Click here to go directly to the Denver7 Gives donation form then choose a campaign

Denver7 features the stories of people who need help and now you can help them with a cash donation through Denver7 Gives. One hundred percent of contributions to the fund will be used to help people in our local community.

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