Even in Colorado, some skiers stay in city | VailDaily.com

Even in Colorado, some skiers stay in city

Catherine Tsai
Associated Press Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
Winter Park/APAn unidentified snowboarder jumps off of a rail while riding at Ruby Hill Park in Denver.

DENVER ” Unless you live in Aspen, Vail or other swanky ski towns, the skier’s life can mean hours-long, gas-guzzling trips to the mountains to get in runs alongside hot doggers for ticket prices that, at Vail, can be as much as $85.

Some cities are changing that. They’re investing in smaller, low-key peaks and parks that are less about luring big-spending tourists and more about fostering locals’ love of the sport.

If out-of-towners want to come, that’s not so bad, either.

Among Colorado resorts, Winter Park is one of the biggest. The city-owned resort offers 143 trails and 25 lifts on 3,060 acres, plus an array of jumps, rails and a half-pipe where snowriders can emulate Olympic athletes. A ski pass good for four days is $129.

But city officials realize not everyone will trek to the mountains, even though Winter Park is only 67 miles away from Denver.

So last year, Winter Park and Denver’s parks department built an urban rail yard for beginners to jump, spin and slide off snow-covered metal rails at Ruby Hill Park, situated next to railroad tracks south of downtown Denver. Soon, Ruby Hill was attracting more advanced skiers.

Best measured in square feet than acres, Ruby Hill boasted six rails, no lifts, no concessions, no music blaring from outdoor speakers ” and no fee. It was planted on a north-facing slope so manmade snow wouldn’t melt quickly.

“It always strikes me, when there’s such a phenomenal natural resource in the backyard of any community, and young people, without additional efforts, are not taking advantage of it,” said Denver Parks and Recreation manager Kim Bailey, a lifelong skier. “It’s like living on water and not knowing how to swim.”

Though many students spend hours playing basketball at city recreation centers, Bailey was concerned they weren’t being exposed to winter sports.

“Isn’t it our job as public servants to make that connection and at least give them a taste of what is possible, what is out there?” she said.

This year, Ruby Hill Rail Yard plans to add more rails for its “season” from late January through February, weather permitting.

On the other side of the Continental Divide, Silverton is home to the 1,655-acre, experts-only Silverton Mountain, where riders are required to bring an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe to ride unguided for $49 a day at full price.

But Silverton also has 35 skiable acres at the family-friendly Kendall Mountain Recreation Area, which has been open off and on with the help of locals since the 1960s, Mayor Greg Swanson said.

Last year, Kendall Mountain’s 950-foot tow rope was replaced with a secondhand double-chair lift obtained by a resident. Lift tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children.

Swanson said the town expects to lose money on lift operations ” but hopes to benefit by complementing the elite crowd served by Silverton Mountain.

“We are increasing our marketing and hope that families who have one or two members skiing at Silverton Mountain will bring other family members to ski at the local area,” he said. “We believe this is a big step toward achieving a year-round economy.”

Residents in nearby Durango can ski at Telluride, Durango Mountain Resort, Silverton or Wolf Creek Ski Area. But downtown Durango has Chapman Hill, which boasts 7.5 acres with a terrain park and two rope tows. Access is $5 for adults and $4 for kids.

Chapman Hill mostly serves neighborhood kids taking lessons and nighttime skiers, recreation supervisor Matt Morrissey said.

In Juneau, Alaska, city-owned Eaglecrest Ski Area is more like a destination resort, with 640 acres. Yet it offers nearby skiing for a city where the only way to get in or out is by boat or by air. Middle school students get to go certain times of the season for discounted rates.

“It gives all the people in Juneau the opportunity to ski and snowboard outside their back door,” said Eaglecrest sales and marketing director Jeffra Clough. “It’s probably one of the industry’s best-kept secrets.”

The next closest resort, Hilltop Ski Area, is about 90 minutes away ” by air. About 95 percent of Eaglecrest’s visitors are from the Juneau area, Clough estimated.

“Smaller mom-and-pop ski areas have a very unique role,” said Jeff Morrison, executive director of Mt. Holiday Inc. in Traverse City, Mich.

The nonprofit, nonsmoking 45-acre hill serves everyone but also offers lift tickets, rentals and lessons to kids who can’t afford to enter the sport on their own.

“We’re feeder areas,” Morrison said. “A lot of young kids learn to ski at the smaller areas, and then move on to bigger areas as they progress.”

– Ruby Hill Rail Yard: Winter Park, Colo.; http://www.skiwinterpark.com/rubyhill.htm or 800-979-0332.

– Kendall Moutnain: Near Silverton, Colo.; 970-387-0182 or 970-387-5523.

– Chapman Hill: Durango, Colo.; 970-375-7395.

– Eaglecrest Ski Area: Juneau, Alaska; http://www.juneau.org/eaglecrest or 907-790-2000.

– Mt. Holiday Inc.: Traverse City, Mich.; http://www.mt-holiday.com/index.html or 231-938-2500.

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