Historic Ski Ventures in the Local High Country

Teller County Once Sported  Small Downhill and Nordic Hubs

Trevor Phipps

Even though Colorado is probably most well-known for its winter playground options, the Ute Pass region currently does not sport any ski mountains in its backyard.

Those wishing to hit the slopes once the snow starts to fly, usually are forced to make their way west and try their luck at the likes of such resorts as Breckenridge, Keystone, A-Basin, Copper and Vail, just to name a few.

However, this was not always the case. Woodland Park and surrounding areas were once the home to a couple of smaller ski hubs, but they didn’t last very long, a trend attributed to changing climate conditions and the current market that favors larger resorts.

According to Team Telecycle owner Paul Magnuson, cross country skiing used to be popular in the area in the 1980s and when his store first opened, it sold cross country skiing equipment as its main product line. But, Magnuson said that as years went by the region started seeing less and less snowfall numbers, nearly killing the once popular past time.

The area also had big aspirations, when it came to downhill spots.

Back in the year 2000, Kim Carsell and Kim Long with the Teller County Division of Parks put together a research report entitled “History and Mysteries of Catamount Open Space.” In the report, the authors tell the story of the Silver Spruce Ski Club that was notably the first ski resort in the Pikes Peak Region.

According to the report, the ski club was founded by three Colorado Springs residents Clarence Coil, Doug Shafer, and John Fowler in 1929. The club leased land from the Silver Spruce Ranch which was located south and west of the historic town of Edlowe, located west of Woodland Park.

The ski club founders then spent the summer of 1929 clearing the hillside for their runs and they built their first run with a jump on the top of the hill and then named it “Suicide Hill” for its steep descent into Suicide Gulch. During the next summer, the club members then got assistance from Spencer Penrose when he loaned the club bulldozers and rock drilling equipment to clear the club’s second run.

Once the second run was up and running, the club grew in popularity to the point to where the club was holding competitions for ski jumping competitors from around the state. A Gazette Telegraph article written in 1968 states that the “best jumping hill in the state was at Steamboat Springs, but the Silver Spruce jumps were big enough for leaps of well over 100 feet.”

But during the 1930s, the area started noticeably seeing less amounts of snow during the winter. “Although the snow was considerably deeper in those days in Ute Pass, there were still times when a thaw would leave the club without good coverage on the hill.,” the Gazette Telegraph article reported. “Then they would find a shaded area where the snow hadn’t melted and proceed to haul it to the slope in any kind of available containers. It was a backbreaking, day-long task, but in their estimation, worth it for the fun they got out of skiing.”

The Silver Spruce ski club was then made famous when they developed a towrope system powered by a car engine that was known to be the first west of the Mississippi. In 1936, the towrope system was implemented on the slopes of Pikes Peak and by the late 1930s the club moved all its operations to Pikes Peak and stopped using the slopes in Woodland Park.

In 2018, Youtuber “Derelict Doug” produced a video telling the story of the Silver Spruce Ski Club. The video claims that an abandoned building located just east of Walmart in Woodland Park was once the warming lodge for the ski club and that many of the clubs runs sat on the hillside above it.

Skiing Down America’s Favorite Moutain

The Pikes Peak mountain featured a ski area for a number of years.  This ski hub, though, shut down in the mid-1980s due to financial reasons.

Remnants of this ski area on America’s favorite mountain can be spotted from a distance. Advanced skiers still often trek down parts of Pikes Peak in late spring, above the old ski area, around the Devil’s Playground area. But these outings are done at a “ski at your own risk” system and have resulted in a few highly publicized deaths. Still, these treks, featuring such hills as “Little Italy,” have become legendary among certain advanced skiers and are not illegal. They are not exactly encouraged, either.

Holiday Hills Subdivision Once Featured  a Ski Area

As the Catamount Ranch research report states, Harlan Nimrod first moved to an area west of Woodland Park and started building a subdivision called Holiday Hills. In 1963, Nimrod decided to build a ski area on his property for his two sons.

Once the ski area was built, Nimrod then opened it up to the public on Saturdays and Sundays. The ski area stayed open for 10 and it saw around 400 to 500 skiers every weekend. The ski area then shut down in 1973 when Nimrod’s sons grew up and left home.

“Mr. Nimrod had ski instructors and cadets bused from the Air Force Academy and also had the National Ski Patrol there,” the authors stated in “History and Mysteries of Catamount Open Space.” “There was an A-Frame house in the area, which sold hot dogs and chili. Nimrod’s two sons ran the towropes consisting of one J-Bar and three rope tows dropping skiers off to a choice of 5 runs, the longest of which was 2,600 feet.

Catamount Ranch Adventures

As far as cross-country options, the YMCA once featured an extremely popular commercial, cross-country spot around the property, now operated by the Catamount Institute, near the Catamount Ranch, owned by Teller County. The YMCA once allowed users to rent equipment and showcased an elaborate trail system. This area gained much popularity in the 1980s.

Eventually, the cross-country commercial operation was shut down due to insurance liabilities and warmer weather. The YMCA then entered into an agreement to sell the property, which was eventually purchased by the  Catamount Institute and Teller County, with the help of a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. The sale was part of a campaign to protect the area from potential real estate development.

The Catamount Open Space is one of Teller’s most popular hiking and cross-country spots.  But it doesn’t feature any commercial ski hubs like it did in the 1980s.