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Efforts to revitalize southern Colorado’s ski area continue with ‘final hurdle’ seen for lift | Subscriber Content

Efforts to revitalize an abandoned southern Colorado ski resort have shifted to a new organizational plan, with one focus unchanged: getting a chairlift back up and running.

Panadero Ski Corp., the non-profit dedicated to the ski resort’s old base in Cuchara, recently named the electric control system as the “final hurdle.” The group has expressed confidence in passing all other structural mandates from the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board.

“We will be pursuing every single option this year to become certified,” an update on Panadero Ski Corp’s Facebook page read. “We’re close but still working out the secrets of repairing a chairlift that’s more than 40 years old.”

The lift once carried guests 300 feet up the mountain, which has been busy over the decades, with multiple starts and stops by investors between 1981 and 2000. A grassroots fundraiser led to Huerfano County accepting 50 acres in 2017 that would become Cuchara Mountain Park should be the old base of the resort and the front slopes.

A few knowledgeable locals and outsiders formed Panadero Ski Corp. with the sole mission of raising funds and repairing the inherited lift. Now that mission has extended to the entire future and development of the park.

That’s after an initial idea with a commercial operator fell through. The idea was that this operator would make money and take on the costly insurance burden that would come with potentially year round operation of the lift – for skiers as well as tubers, mountain bikers and tourists. Amid local outcry, district commissioners turned down a deal.

Now they have an agreement with Panadero Ski Corp.

“We will always be a 501(c)(3) fundraiser,” said Cale Dancho, vice chairman of the board. The ultimate thought, he said, “was that only one nonprofit organization at this park could be able to thrive because we just have to be at a point where we’re not losing money. And we believe we can do that through fundraising, and we believe we can do that through elevator activities.”

Dancho pointed to models at nonprofit ski resorts like Ascutney Outdoors in Vermont and Antelope Butte in Wyoming, “where basically the 501(c)(3) is the fundraising industry, and then they have a separate entity that handles day-to-day operations,” said Dancho. Another loose example in Colorado is Ski Cooper, owned by Lake County.

With or without the lift, “we’re going to continue to embrace the alpine touring crowd, the uphill crowd,” said Dancho.

After big snowfalls, he said, the park’s parking lot fills with self-propelled skiers earning turns on eight green and blue runs.

Access remains free this winter while Panadero Ski Corp. expects to post disclaimers on its website to allow visitors to register in advance.

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