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After 22 Years, This Former Colorado Ski Area Is Fundraising Its Reopening

Cuchara Mountain Park(Photo/Cuchara Mountain Park)
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Cuchara Mountain Park in Colorado is closer than ever to reopening its lifts.

In its heyday, the ski area now known as Cuchara Mountain Park had four ski lifts with access to 230 acres and 1,500 feet of elevation. Now, the nonprofit Panadero Ski Corporation is crowdsourcing the funds to restore lift access to Cuchara. The local community is “determined to see skiing return,” says the organization.

In 1981, Cuchara Mountain Park opened under the name “Panadero Ski Area” with a bevy of ski runs, from green-rated groomers to a steep double black diamond mountain face. The ski area was later renamed Cuchara Valley Resort, then Cuchara Mountain Resort, and was ultimately shuttered in 2000.

The mountain had a strong following and was one of the few lift-served ski mountains in Southwestern Colorado. But it faced myriad problems.

“During that time, however, the resort was plagued by inconsistent ownership, mismanagement, and limited snowfall,” wrote 5280 in September. There were years the mountain didn’t open at all.

Cuchara Crowdfunds for Lift-Served Skiing

Since its closure, the community has tried to regain access and spin the lifts again, understanding how vital a ski area can be for a local economy.

In 2017, the community of Cuchara raised funds to purchase about 50 acres of private property for $150,000 at the base of the mountain. That restored public access to the area and surrounding U.S. Forest Service land for outdoor recreation. This portion of the mountain became Cuchara Mountain Park.

In 2019, The Panadero Ski Corporation formed and has been on a mission to restore Lift 4 and whisk people up the slopes of Cuchara again. Restoring a single chairlift is an enormous task, especially without the backing of a major resort corporation. That’s why Cuchara has called on the public for help.

A map portion of the old runs and current operational area at Cuchara Mountain Park.

Will Pirkey, a board member of Panadero Ski Corporation, told GearJunkie that about $200,000 from community fundraising and a few small grants have gone into the lift from 2019 until now.

Reopening Is Imminent

“We are so close to finishing our repairs and getting the chairlift certified by the CPTSB (Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board) that we are guessing we have another $10,000 or so that will have to go right to the lift,” Pirkey said.

Between Dendrite Engineers, its consulting firm, and the CPTSB, they’ll owe another $20,000. Their goal in the Finish Line Campaign is $40,000.

“Truthfully, we probably need a bit more than that to be comfortable opening, but that is our initial goal,” said Pirkey. After the first week, Cuchara has about $6,000.

Panadero Ski Corporation hasn’t finalized ticket pricing yet, but Pirkey believes the tickets will be under $40. Huerfano County residents, military and veterans, and college students will pay around $36 and youth (age 7-17) will cost around $22. Kids 6 and under will be free. The group hopes to offer family-of-four packages for $100. Eventually, Cuchara hopes to have reciprocal pass days with other ski areas.

In the past few years, work on the lift included fixing electric motor control switches, putting new low-voltage cable from the bottom to the top, inspecting the lift for cracks, building new entry and exit ramps, and more.

Cuchara Opening Season

When the lift opens, it will take people 300 feet up and give skiers and boarders access to seven groomed runs “perfect for beginners and families,” said Cuchara Mountain Park. Pirkey said they may have a limited opening this season and utilize volunteers for some job positions.

He hopes the lift will be fully operational for the winter of 2023-2024. Lift 4 would run from late December through March, granted they receive enough snowfall. If you’re interested in supporting the mountain, you can donate now online.

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