The end of an uphill battle

New ownership at Eldora brings alpine touring… and maybe more

Betsy Welch

Usually, when someone repeatedly tells you no, you eventually take your energy elsewhere, the probability of a yes getting shelved with other dashed dreams. For years, a small but vocal minority of skiers has been begging to hike up the slopes at Eldora Mountain Resort, but their only option has been to trudge along I-70 before sunrise to get a fix at Loveland or Arapahoe Basin while the ski hill just 21 miles away stubbornly shook its head no.

Until this year, when Eldora said finally said yes.

On June 6 of last year, Eldora was purchased by Powdr Corporation — a self-identified “adventure lifestyle company” out of Park City, Utah — and the change in ownership ushered in a shift in attitude and priorities.

Uphill skiing, says general manager Brent Tregaskis, “was one of the things we had heard requests for, but the old ownership wanted nothing to do with it.

“Powdr said, ‘If that’s what you think you should do for your community, then we support you,’” he says. “They didn’t come to us and say, ‘Oh, you have to do uphill,’ we came to them and said that one of the biggest requests we’ve had is for uphill and summer mountain biking and more activities. The change in ownership allowed us to do something that we thought made sense.”

Since opening almost 55 years ago, Eldora has been haunted by challenges in both management and ownership. From bankruptcy after only a few seasons in operation to problems with a hastily developed Corona Bowl in 1970 (the treeless area was immediately pummeled by punishing winds and ice due to poor design) to a decrease in visitation after the Eisenhower Tunnel opened in 1979, Eldora may as well have always been skiing uphill.

Although some of Eldora’s scruples have been transformed from scandalous to storied, unsullied ownership has remained elusive. With the need to improve aging infrastructure, plans to expand terrain in the works, and public demand for new activities and continued excellence in skiing instruction, the Powdr acquisition is promising for both operators and users.

“Eldora certainly needed capital to make some improvements,” says JP Chevalier, Eldora’s director of marketing. “Former ownership would spend maybe $500,000 to $600,000 a year on fixing things and making little improvements, but in an industry where a new snowcat costs that much, it’s hard to find money for everything you need.”

Powdr, which also lists Copper Mountain, Mt. Bachelor and Killington on its roster of American ski resorts, gave Eldora a healthy infusion of cash after the acquisition last summer, and Chevalier says the effects were felt immediately.

“People feel it from the restrooms to the domestic water supply. We cut three new trails, and we’ve invested in Woodward, which is our new kid’s ski and snowboard school model.”

To be clear: The restrooms have all been remodeled slightly (the ones under the Timbers Lodge got the biggest makeover); pipes that were installed in the ’60s have been replaced, so the water tastes better; the resort cut three new black diamond runs between the Corona chairlift and Muleshoe run; and, Eldora is now the only ski school in the country that is using Woodward (a progressive — and proprietary — way to teach coordination and athleticism both indoors and on snow) as its primary method of instruction.

Beyond the tangible changes users will find at Eldora this season, the resort’s management is equally invested in preserving the unique identity of the ski area — and confident that the Powdr ownership will lend a nurturing hand.

“The beauty of Powdr is just that,” Tregaskis says. “Even though it’s a company with nine resorts, they let the management of each resort create the culture. Eldora’s different than Copper, Copper’s different than Killington, Killington’s different than Bachelor — every place is unique, so you can’t ‘cookie cutter’ a program.”

Eldora may lack the holiday infrastructure of other big Colorado ski resorts, but there are certain perks that come with being situated in the Front Range’s backyard. Occasionally, storms blanket its peaks when the rest of the state stays dry. Extensive snowmaking on the entire mountain ensures that more terrain opens more quickly, even in years with a lean start — like this season. And, Eldora is the only Colorado ski area serviced by public transportation: the RTD Ski-n-Ride route takes passengers right to Eldora’s base, seven times a day.

Not to mention that the little city down the canyon from Eldora is host to its own unique athletic identity, and the ski area happens to cater to its needs in a way that most resorts can’t.

“We have what we call ‘snow sports triathletes,’” Chevalier says. “There aren’t a lot of places I’ve seen that. From the same parking lot, you can downhill ski or ride, go snowshoeing or Nordic skiing, and do alpine touring. Or, if you’re a family with diverse interests, you can all go have fun and then get back together for lunch.”

For Boulder skier Trish McCarthy and her 13-year-old son Zach, this is why they ski at Eldora more than any other Colorado resort.

adv_img_2227Betsy Welch

“Eldora is where I learned to Nordic ski, my kids have learned to Nordic and downhill ski, and where my husband learned to ski in the ’70s,” McCarthy says. “Even though it’s grown, it still has that quaint, local ski area feel to it.”

Zach adds that he likes having a place to Nordic and Alpine ski all in one, and hopes that the Powdr acquisition leads to “a few more advanced trails on the alpine area and perhaps an expansion of the Nordic area, if possible.”

Eldora does have a permit from the United States Forest Service (USFS) to make improvements within its existing boundary. In addition to the three new runs cut last summer, in 2017 the resort will begin construction on a new high-speed “6 pack” detachable chairlift to replace the old Challenge and Cannonball chairlifts at the base area. They’ve also requested a permit to increase terrain south of the Jolly Jug area. However, the decision was deferred by the USFS who had their own request of the ski area: They and community stakeholders enter a conversation about potential issues.

For anyone who has worked at Eldora — or in the ski industry anywhere — conversations about the appropriateness of development in the face of dwindling resources are nothing new. What does feel different this year, however, is the space in which the dialogue can unfold.

“We’re held responsible to drive the decisions,” Chevalier says. “Powdr is decentralized, and they trust us to make good decisions. We’re stewards of winter sports recreation, so we want to do a good job.”

For the 15 or so uphill skiers who watched the sunrise splash pink and orange over Boulder from the top of the Jolly Jug Glades on Jan. 2 after a — sanctioned! — morning uphill workout, the verdict was in: This year, Eldora is doing a good job.