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Ghosts haunt Colorado skiing

Bill Vogrin
Jerilee Bennett, AP Photo/The GazetteA piece of equipment used for grooming hills sits in Juan Mijares' Woodland Park backyard on the land that was once Holiday HIlls ski area, which operated from 1963-1973.
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WOODLAND PARK, Colo. (AP) – Mysterious swaths of grass through the pine forest are the first clue of a ghost.

Rusting engines and grooming equipment sitting amid aspens are more evidence of a sighting.

Concrete footings confirm the hillside is the site of the old Holiday Hills ski area ” one of dozens of ghost ski areas scattered across the region. More than 100 ghost ski areas exist in Colorado and are documented on a Web site ” ColoradoSkiHistory.com.

It’s a great site for those who want to explore them on hikes or backroad trips. Or people can simply read some history or share memories of the lost ski areas. Often, rusting lift towers, rotting wooden lift signs and trail markers are all that remain.

And, of course, the telltale gaps in the trees where ski runs were carved through the forest.

“We had three tow lifts and nine ski runs,” said Kay Nimrod, 75, of the ski area that she and her husband, Harlan, operated from 1963 to 1973.

Now retired in Colorado Springs, Harlan Nimrod was a developer who built the ski area as part of the Holiday Hills subdivision, southwest of Woodland Park. The Nimrods had never skied, but, like many other 1960s entrepreneurs in Colorado, they thought it seemed like a good business.

“We had a place with snow on it, and we weren’t hampered by previous knowledge,” Kay Nimrod said. “Our daughter worked inside with me, running the food and ticket concessions. And our two sons worked outside with my husband. We had three or four people running the tows. We had Ski Patrol and ski school and a rental operation.”

There was a warming hut and an A-frame lodge where they sold lift tickets, chili and hot chocolate. Now it’s a private home.

“We charged $3.50 for a lift ticket,” she said. “It was fun, and it was hard work.”

Like many small, remote ski areas, the area was doomed by soaring insurance costs, inconsistent snow and sagging attendance. Dozens of such ski areas are in the Pikes Peak region, some more well-known than others.

There are visible scars on Cheyenne Mountain from Ski Broadmoor, a tiny area built by the resort in 1959. It operated until 1991. Remnants of the Pikes Peak ski area are also down the north slopes of the mountain. The area operated from 1939 until 1984.

But what about that mysterious clear-cut along Colorado Highway 67 south of Divide? It once was the single-run Rainbow Valley Ranch ski area. Tenderfoot Mountain offered six ski runs, had a base lodge and warming hut and three lifts on the north edge of Cripple Creek.

And north of Divide, off Omer Road, are the remains of Cutty’s Alpine Lakes ski area, which was built using equipment salvaged from Holiday Hills but never opened.

There are many more, with photos and old brochures, listed at ColoradoSkiHistory.com, the Web site created by Evergreen resident Brad Chamberlin in 2002 when he was at Colorado State University.

“We’d go on family vacations, and I’d slip away and take pictures of closed ski areas,” Chamberlin said of his obsession with ghost ski areas. “The Web site is just kind of a hobby. I like to find a ski area and research why it closed.”

His efforts got a boost when he connected with historians at the Colorado Ski Museum and The Colorado Skier newsletter. Pat Pfeiffer of Colorado Springs and others contributed vast amounts of research and photos to bolster his site.

“Pat’s files are much of what you see on the Web site,” Chamberlin said. The site is a work in progress that welcomes comments from readers about old ski areas as well as photo submissions.

Chamberlin also includes strong warnings about trespassing on private property. He urges those interested in exploring old ski areas to get permission from current property owners.

“I’ve gotten in trouble for trespassing,” he said. “A lot of people don’t take kindly to strangers tromping around on their property. Check your maps and make sure it’s public property or get permission.”

Besides all the ghosts, the site features information on current resorts and news on dormant ski areas and terrain parks that may reopen.

One already did ” Squaw Pass near Chamberlin’s hometown. In fact, he’s proud of the role his Web site played in the long-closed ski area’s redevelopment as a terrain park. The property was bought and reopened by a family that saw Squaw Pass on the Web site.

Juan Mijares hopes Holiday Hills will reopen someday.

About eight years ago, Mijares bought 42 acres in the Holiday Hills subdivision including most of the land of the old ski area.

His driveway is a former ski run, and he has cleared aspen from a couple others so his family, neighbors and others can ski and sled in the winter. They take their mountain bikes down the runs in summer. But he is not content having a private family playground.

“One of my dreams is to somehow, someday put a lift back in there and open it up for kids in the area who want to ski for a couple hours a day,” said Mijares, who builds and repairs violins at his shop in Colorado Springs.

“I’ve got a snowmobile and in the winter I’ll pull kids up and down the hill. They ski and sled for the day,” Mijares said. “We get church groups and scouts. I’d love to reopen it. Maybe this will renew interest in the place.”

This story came from the Colorado Springs Gazette via the Associated Press.


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