Winter Park Resort
I was looking for some history of Winter Park Ski Area and I came upon the full story of Winter Park Resort at the Colorado Ski History Website. So I thought I would share their whole story here on the Winter Park Blog:
Ski Winter Park, Colorado
Winter Park was one of Colorado’s first skiing locations, beginning during the 1920’s. Construction of the Moffat railroad tunnel officially started in1923, providing a link between the western slope and Denver. Workers were stationed in Grand County at what was once called West Portal. During the early 1930’s George Cranmer of Denver Parks and Recreation suggested a plan to create a winter sports area here. By 1937, the United States Forest Service (USFS) built a ski jump with a few trails at Cooper Creek nearby the railroad. The following year, ski trains from Denver shuttled skiers to Grand Valley.
In 1939, West Portal was renamed Winter Park and the first J-bar tow went into operation by December. Tickets for the first season cost one dollar with a total of 10,692 skier days. Bob Balch managed the area for the first two seasons until Tom Delaney took over in 1942. By 1945, two additional rope tows were added to service upper mountain trails. The Eskimo Ski Club and Winter Park ski school were created in 1947 under a new ski area manager, Ted Cobb. A T-bar lift was added to Winter Park by 1948, which brought the lift system to 3 T-bars and 4 rope tows.
By 1950, skier numbers reached over 26,000 with ticket price at two dollars. The City and County of Denver created a non-profit agency within the city government to operate and manage the Winter Park Ski Area. Under this agency, the Winter Park Recreational Association was established. This board consisted of 15 volunteer members that oversaw the operations and development of the ski area. Steven Bradley was hired as the first director.
During 1950, skier numbers soared at Winter Park. By the end of the decade, they reached over 100,000 skier visits. The ticket price also rose to 3.50 dollars by 1959. For the 1957-58 season, the Comet and Meteor T-bars were installed costing 270,000 dollars. Along with the new lifts, Winter Park officially began to advertise nationally for skiers. The Winter Park Ski Jump School began teaching students in 1958 under the direction of Harold “Pop” Sorenson. Also, at the ski area base, the Balcony House underwent a reconstruction with a 270-seat cafeteria.
Winter Park’s first chairlift was added in 1961. Riblet Engineering of Spokane, Washington constructed the double chair. Initial surveys for the Mary Jane Ski Basin were also conducted this year as reported by the Denver Post. Riblet was brought back to Winter Park in 1963 to add two more double chairs. These lifts were called the Eskimo and Prospector chairs. Skier visits for the 1963-64 season reached 131,000 with ticket prices of 4.25 dollars. On mountain construction continued during the 1965-66 season with construction of the Snoasis on-mountain restaurant and theLooking Glass double chair.
The construction of Snoasis was completed for the 1968-69 season. Two additional lifts were also added, which included the Gemini lift at the base and the Apollo lift running nearby the Eskimo line. During the late 1960’s marked the creation of Winter Park’s race team.
For the 1970’s, Winter Park’s programs and facilities continued to grow. In 1969, Allan Phipps retired as the chairman of the Winter Park Board of Trustees and was replaced by Gerald Groswold. During the following season, Children’s Hospital created a Handicapped ski program at Winter Park and the National Handicapped Ski Championship was held at the facility. By 1971-72, skier days reached well over 300,000 with tickets rising to six dollars. The Olympia double chair was also built by Riblet for this season. During 1974, Groswold was appointed to become Winter Park’s second president, replacing Steve Bradley.
Mary Jane officially opened for the 1975-76 ski season, costing Winter Park 4.6 million dollars to develop. The complex contained 4 new Heron-Poma double chairs, 26,700 square foot lodge, 18 trails, and 350 skiable acres. This increased Winter Park’s acreage by 80 percent.
By 1977, Yan Ski Lift Company installed the Arrow chairlift, Winter Park’s first triple. This chair replaced the aging Comet T-Bar. Snowmaking was also installed this season, which saved Winter Park from one of the state’s worst snow years on record. Lift improvements continued for the 1977-78 ski season with the addition of the Outrigger triple chair. This lift replaced the last operating T-bar at the area.
For the 1981-82 season, West Portal Station was complete at the base of Winter Park. This center included shops, a cafeteria, bar, rentals, and rest rooms. Tickets are now 18 dollars for an adult with an attendance of 750,000. Yan was brought back in the summer of 1983 to install a new top-to-bottom triple chair called Zephyr. A new beginner slope was added in 1984 with the Discovery lift. Winter Park also hosted the USSA National Free Style Championships this year. For the 1986-87 season, The Summit Express was installed at Mary Jane by Poma USA along with the High Lonesome quad chair. Snow cats also began to run up in the Parsenn Bowl. The Sunnyside area opened on the backside of Mary Jane in 1986 with 20 trails and 200 acres along with Vasquez Ridge. Along with those improvements, Poma detachable quad was installed on Vasquez Ridge, which created 13 trails and over 90 skiable acres.
Winter Park’s 50th anniversary was celebrated for the 1989-90 season. The Sunnyside triple chair by CTEC was installed, providing better access to the backside of Mary Jane. Skier numbers reached 924,000 during the 50th year with tickets now 30 dollars.
The 1990’s brought new lifts, terrain, and lodging to Winter Park. For the 1990-91 ski season, Poma installed the Zephyr detachable quad, replacing the Yan triple chair. The triple was then reinstalled as the Eskimo lift. Upon removal of the Eskimo double chair, ski lift engineers conducted extensive destructive testing to the chair. Tests included an uncontrolled roll back and a motor room fire. The following summer, the High Lonesome lift was converted to a detachable quad. This provided faster access between Winter Park and Mary Jane ski areas. A signature log cabin lodge was constructed in 1992 atop the Zephyr lift. The “Lodge at Sunspot” received the 1993 Snow Country Magazine’s design award. A used double chair consisting of parts from Sol Vista, Stagecoach and Ski Sugarite was installed to the top of the Parsenn Bowl. This now added an above timberline bowl to the ski area. Winter Park broke one million skier visits for the 1992-93 season with prices reaching 36 dollars.
Additional lift improvements were made for the 1994-95 season with a new detachable quad installed on the Prospector line. The Zephyr lift was also modified to allow for gondolas during night operation to the Sunspot Lodge. In 1996, Jerry Groswold retired from the president position after 22 years and was replaced by Gary DeFrange. That same year, the Olympia lift was upgraded to a high-speed quad, which is Winter Park’s 7th. A new terrain park is also added this year off of Cranmer Cutoff.
Winter Park opened Vasquez Cirque during the 1997-98 ski season, their largest terrain opening of 435 acres. Two years later, the Eskimo chair was upgraded to a detachable quad chair and the triple was sold to Jackson Hole, WY.
The City of Denver decided to lease the operation of Winter Park to Intrawest during the 2001-02 season. Under the control of Intrawest, Winter Park’s manager continued to be Gary DeFrange. Lift tickets rose to 63 dollars for the 2002-2003 ski season with an attendance of 998,000 skiers.
For Mary Jane’s 30th anniversary, a six-passenger express chair replaced the Summit Express. This reduced the long lift lines that plagued the old lift.
Chris September 15th, 2009
Posted In: Skiing & Snowboarding