Winter Sports in the Evergreen Foothills
Colorado is world-renowned for its top-notch ski resorts, challenging slopes, and excellent snow conditions, but this reputation has been earned primarily in the last forty years. Highway 40 was not completed until 1938, and I-70 not until 1972, which meant that people could not travel all that far west into the mountains to ski. The only route up to the Evergreen area was the Lariat Trail up from Golden, which had 56 switchbacks and often a cover of ice. But intrepid ski lovers made the trek in order to watch the daring jumpers at the Genesee Ski Jump.
The Genesee Ski Jump was made possible by the Ralston family (whose name is now on Ralston Elementary School in Genesee), who leased a portion of their ranch to the Denver Rocky Mountain Ski Club. National ski jump champion Carl Howelsen helped design in, and the Ralstons built a warming hut at the bottom. It opened in 1919 to great fanfare and newspaper publicity. The jump was 1,000 feet long with a 35% grade, and the spectacle drew thousands to watch every weekend.
Jumpers wore wooden skis with grooved bottoms and iron toe holders. The heel was allowed to lift above the ski so that the jumper could lean forward in midair. Though it closed for a time during the Great Depression, the ski jump continued to enthrall jumpers and spectators alike until 1964 when the Ralstons sold the land.
Another foothills area that was popular for skiing was the Erickson ranch in South Deer Creek Canyon, which became known as Homewood Park. The family hosted skiers from 1928 well into the 1940s, and the ice skating pond there remained open until 1969. There was no lift, so the skiers had to hike up the hill on foot…a 30-minute climb!
Also in Deer Creek Canyon was Fun Valley, which former boxer Horace Watson developed into a ski area in 1938, complete with a Poma lift, high technology in those days. By 1969, Fun Valley had the Poma, a rope tow, and a chairlift, but it closed in 1977.
Arapahoe East was developed around 1972 by Larry Jump, who also founded Arapahoe Basin. Just east of Genesee, Arapahoe East was a popular ski hill just below the Mother Cabrini Shrine. With a short chairlift, Poma lift, tow line and lights for night skiing, it was wonderful for beginner skiers, and busloads of people would come up from Denver on the weekends. The Denver Ski Team also used it for practice. The runs were no more than 500 feet of vertical, but all-day lift tickets were only $4.50! Manmade snow, which was developed in 1958 by Golden entrepreneur George McDonald (who tried but failed to open a ski area near today’s Heritage Square), was used to maintain the base.
All of these foothills ski areas became obsolete when I-70 made it possible to reach the central mountains easily. Now the ski basins of Vail, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Breckenridge, Winter Park, Arapahoe Basin, and Loveland are easily accessible and beloved by Colorado natives and people from all over the world. A resident of the foothills can reach Loveland in 45 minutes, Copper in an hour and a quarter, and Vail in under two hours!
While skiing has moved west, some areas of the foothills are still winter sports centers. Kittredge’s Pence Park was and still is a mecca for sledders, as is the hill on the S-curve on Highway 73. JeffCo’s many Ski Open Space Parks, especially Elk Meadow and Three Sisters, are popular even in the winter for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. And of course, the center of it all is Evergreen, where Evergreen Lake hosts ice skating all winter, Ice Fest at New Year’s Eve (complete with the New Year’s Day Lake Plunge), and Winter Fest in late January (which features a rail jam competition).
Colorado’s foothills communities offer access to a wide variety of winter sports and venues, while still being within easy driving distance to the excitement and culture of Denver. It truly is a winter wonderland!