Colorado Springs isn’t known for its ski resorts. But it does have a reputation for its skiers — a loyal, almost rabid bunch who spend their winter weekends pursuing powder. For decades, they could play in their own backyard. Now, they hit the highway, often traveling to two of Colorado’s smaller ski resorts—Monarch and Ski Cooper—they call their own.
As long ago as the 1920s, skiers in and around Colorado Springs had a reputation as the state’s best ski jumpers, flinging themselves into the air from homemade wooden jumps on the flanks of Pikes Peak. In the 1930s, a new breed of skiers decided to keep their skis on the ground, and they flocked to a ski area at Glen Cove on the mountain’s north side to practice their newfound downhill skills.
It was an exciting time. Avid skier Don Lawry built the state’s first ski rope tow on that side of the mountain. The Gazette newspaper reported that “the new innovation will whisk you to the top in 40 seconds.”
Other regional newspapers began calling Pikes Peak “America’s newest playground.” Elaborate plans were drawn up for ski courses, train access, a ski lodge and cable cars. But Pikes Peak never was known for consistent snow.
Some years, the skiing was as good as anything in the state. Other years, it was impossible.
Still, Glen Cove stayed open until 1948, and in the mid-1950s, it reopened as Pikes Peak Ski Area, with more trees cleared and big plans. “Ski in the Sky!” was its slogan. Tickets were $3 for adults, and a family season pass cost $75.
The area finally closed in the 1983-84 season after a long struggle with debt.
But area skiers had another hill on a neighboring mountain. Ski Broadmoor was tiny — with two lifts and three runs — icy, and lacking much natural snow. Still, local skiers flocked to the hill above the town — in the 1988-89 season, 41,270 of them. But the region’s fickle weather finally did in Ski Broadmoor as well, and it closed in 1991.
Rather than stick to other winter pursuits, Colorado Springs skiers hit the road, exploring the state and adopting two resorts. On any winter day, Ski Cooper near Leadville and Monarch Ski & Snowboard Area on Monarch Pass are dominated by Springs-area skiers and boarders. Both offer skiing on all-natural snow and, as a bonus, neither require driving through Denver. But the resorts’ size and simplicity draw many.
Nick Hansen grew up in Woodland Park and has been boarding at Cooper “as long as I can remember.” On a winter morning, he and a friend, Dave Young, also from Woodland Park, piled out of their Jeep Cherokee in the gravel parking lot at Cooper.
“This place hasn’t changed. It’s the same as it was when I was a kid,” Hansen says.
Young says Cooper’s lack of lift lines and its decent snow keep him coming back.
“And because it’s never very crowded, you can have some great days here.”
That same loyalty can be found among skiers who frequent Monarch, says area spokeswoman Carrie Locke. Thirty-seven percent of the more than 3,000 season pass holders at Monarch are from the Colorado Springs area. Numbers at Cooper are similar.
“There’s a lot of history at Monarch between us and Colorado Springs,” Locke says. “We have people who grew up skiing here, and now they’re bringing their children here to ski.”
Both areas also hold on to staff members longer than many of the bigger resorts. Cooper has two instructors who have come back each season since 1984, and many of the National Ski Patrol volunteers there drive up regularly from Colorado Springs, says ski school director Franci Peterson, who is a Colorado Springs resident when Cooper is closed.
At Monarch, Locke says, that familiarity helps keep people coming back.
“A lot of our staff is still the same, and people recognize them. They have a history with the area and can remember things like what the snow was like in the ’80s.”
Neither area is big enough to be called a resort.
There are no parking garages or parking fees, no shuttle bus systems, no condos or hotels crowding the base, no high-speed lifts, no snow-making machines, no specialty gift shops.
Each area has one modest lodge with a cafeteria and a gear shop, and from the decks, skiers can watch the action on the mountain.
But that doesn’t mean expert skiers can’t be satisfied. Cooper and Monarch offer snowcat tours. Monarch’s tours take on 900 acres of backcountry; Cooper’s tours explore the massive 2,400 acres on neighboring Chicago Ridge.
So powder hounds and beginners, just as apt to be dressed in Carhartt or jeans as they are in the newest waterproof-breathable ski jackets, share the lifts at Cooper and Monarch where ski expertise is more common than ski fashion.
“There’s just no pretense at Cooper,” says area spokeswoman Anne Dougherty. “People are here to ski. It’s that simple.”
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