With 130 Vertical Feet & 4 Carpets, Hoedown Hill, Colorado Is Set to Be America’s Newest Ski Area
“We are planning for big crowds.”
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Say you live in Fort Collins, Colorado. Not a bad place to be a skier. Eldora, a 1,400-vertical-foot Ikon Pass gateway that averages 300 inches of snow is, in theory, just 90 minutes away. Winter Park and Loveland are maybe two hours, and the Summit County quad of Breck, Keystone, Copper, and A-Basin are just beyond that. If you know the traffic patterns, have some weekday flexibility, and possess some combination of Epic and Ikon Passes, you are set for a fantastic winter.
But what if you’re not a skier, but want to be one? You can see the Front Range looming everywhere you go. There’s something wild up there. Compelling. But all you ever hear about is traffic up to the bumps. And the cost: even Eldora lift tickets ran $139 for adults on a weekday last season. Prices at Winter Park, Keystone, and Copper all sat closer to – or more than – $200 most days. And you need to rent gear, and maybe pay for a lesson, and probably eat while you’re up there and gas up the rig to get back and forth.
I don’t know how many people want to spend $500 to try something that’s cold and hard and uncomfortable, but it’s not very many. Skiing needs a farm system. In the Midwest and the Northeast, it has one: a series of community bumps running surface lifts, parking lots stuffed with yellow buses, kids all over, figuring out the turn one 150-vertical-foot run at a time.
There’s less of this in the West. Colorado has a few: 250-vertical-foot Lake City, two-acre Lee’s, 305-vertical-foot Cranor Hill. But those are wedged in the state’s southwest, over the mountains, far from the Front Range’s 5 million residents. What if you dropped a practice hill in the midst of all those people? Someplace simple, unintimidating, built for beginners, affordable?
We’re about to find out. This summer, a 130-vertical-foot, 12-acre, partially manmade ski hill is rising in Windsor, Colorado. It will have green, blue, and black runs; four carpets; Terrain Based Learning; a “badass” terrain park; night-skiing; wicket tickets. It sits in the middle of the Fort Collins-Loveland metropolitan area, which is home to more than 362,000 people.
“We are planning for big crowds,” said Jason Sawin, the owner of CHS Snowmakers, which is acting as a consultant on the project and installing the hill’s snowmaking equipment.
Hoedown is part of the Water Valley Company, a mini-conglomerate that also includes restaurants, two golf courses, and the Colorado Eagles minor-league hockey team. The whole thing is owned by Martin Lind, a third-generation Windsor resident and real-estate investor who grew up skiing tiny and defunct Sharktooth, a 150-footer served by a pony tow that sat east of U.S. 34 and Interstate 25:
“Hoedown Hill is an homage to that creation in the seventies and eighties,” said Kurt Hinkle, director of communications and public relations for The Water Valley Company. “It’s a place for young families and beginning skiers to practice skiing and snowboarding without having to buy lift ticket at Vail or Breckenridge and fighting I-70, fighting the rental situation, staying the night. If you live in Greeley and Windsor, it’s a place for kids or anybody, grandma, grandpa, to entertain themselves for an afternoon.”
The runs will sit on a section of the Rain Dance National Golf Course that has been popular with outlaw sledders in the past. It will be an upside-down ski area, like Jack Frost in Pennsylvania, with the lodge at the top. One carpet will exclusively serve the 1,400-foot-long tubing lanes. Another, approximately 80-foot carpet will serve the Terrain Based Learning pod near the lodge. Two canopy-covered carpets will serve the majority of the ski terrain. Hoedown officials provided The Storm with this rough trailmap, which they stress is a draft and shows only the approximate locations of the various facilities:
Hoedown officials considered a ropetow to serve the terrain park, but ultimately opted for a carpet in deference to the largely beginner clientele. Whether Park Brahs have the patience to lap a pokey carpet remains to be seen, but the presence of features will be a big plus for Hoedown if it hopes to retain the interest of skiers beyond the beginner phases.
But there will be plenty of beginners. Hoedown has been coordinating with local school districts and universities to stuff the parking lot with buses all winter long.
Day ticket pricing should be available soon. “It’s not going to be high dollars,” says Mandy Oberholzer, executive director of adventures and experiences for The Water Valley Company. Hoedown may offer a season pass, but not likely until the 2024-25 ski season. Operating hours are yet to be set, though officials believe the hill will operate at least five days per week.
Windsor averages just a couple feet of snowfall each winter, but it’s cold enough to blow plenty of snow, and Hoedown plans to operate on a three-foot base. The facility has far more in common with an average Midwestern ski area – small, cold, low-snow, high-volume – than anything in Colorado, and Hoedown has hired Scott Carpenter from Vail-owned Wilmot Mountain, Wisconsin, to act as their mountain operations director.
“He's going to bring that knowledge and that skill set to run an operationally sound downhill facility,” said Oberholzer. “He has that experience, and also resources that can make this a successful venue for us.”
Skiing will be one part of a complex business that will include a 10- to 12-lane, 1,400-foot-long tubing hill, which Hoedown’s team thinks may be the longest in the country. Moon bike tours are planned.
But the concern of The Storm is the skiing. America needs more ski areas. This week’s massive Deer Valley expansion excepted, we are not going to get many more full-service resorts. There are three ways to build a new ski area in America: go minimalist (Bohemia, Silverton, the late Bluebird); go indoors (Big Snow, Alpine-X); or go small, dense, hyper-local and urban. That’s Hoedown. I hope it works.
Officials have yet to set an opening date for the 2023-24 ski season.
Below the paid subscriber jump: a new vertical drop king in a big ski state, a major ski area expansion stalls, and much more.