My Eldora - Ski Mag

My Eldora

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My Eldora

There are some things you should know about Eldora Mountain Resort, which for starters is most definitely a ski area and not a "resort." After driving through the funky hamlet of Nederland, Colo., past the crystal store and the train cars that sell espresso and rent snowboards, the final ascent to Eldora is a narrow, winding, rock-strewn road featuring a sheer cliff and, in its upper reaches, a noticeable lack of guardrails. The unpaved parking lot can resemble a mudbowl and has been known to swallow small SUVs. The base facility for the beginner's area is a motley collection of double-wides, and the main lodge is archaic and cramped. Many of the lifts are pathetic old geezers that frequently shut down, and there are no high-speed quads. Then there's the wind, which on some days blows with such force that virtually all the lifts must be closed and any loose snow ends up deep in the woods.

Given what you now know about Eldora, perhaps it's best if you just turn the page and read about some other resort that has paid parking and is building a theme-park village.

Confession: I've visited hundreds of resorts through the years, and Eldora is my favorite place to ski. I share this with considerable trepidation and risk, since my Eldora ski partners don't like to share and don't like snitches. To make matters worse, the secret is already partially out: Last season, while Colorado ski resorts suffered a 5 percent overall decrease in business, traffic at little ol' Eldora jumped by almost a third.

Eldora is 35 minutes from SKI's offices in Boulder and light years away from the traffic congestion of Colorado's busy I-70 ski corridor. But convenience is hardly its only asset. This is a true skier's and rider's mountain, with a 1,400-foot vertical drop and a solid 680 acres of skiable terrain-more than Aspen or Stowe or Tremblant.

Eldora has some of the finest glade skiing in Colorado covered by 300 inches of annual snowfall. It has twisting, multi-fall-line trails reminiscent of New England. It has wide-open cruisers and a separate area with beginner runs, a halfpipe, terrain park and race arena that delivers on every level. It has a massive snowmaking operation that produces a dependable, high-quality surface. It has drop-dead views of the Indian Peaks range and of the Continental Divide. It has a 45-kilometer cross-country trail network that ranks among the most popular in Colorado. And perhaps most significantly, it has a loyal following of people who love to ski and ride.

The first thing you'll notice about Eldora is the abundance of free heels. It's the telemark capital of Colorado, with maybe one in every four skiers on tele gear-including three-quarters of the ski patrol. You'll also notice plenty of very fast skiers: This is where the 16-time national champion University of Colorado ski team trains, and it's home to strong junior and Masters race programs as well. Even the Eldora ownership has deep ski roots. Majority owner Bill Killebrew's family helped build Heavenly, Calif., into a Tahoe powerhouse.

Eldora is essentially divided into four parts. To the far left, Little Hawk serves as the nerve center for novices. On any given weekend, dozens of instructors will dispense skiing and riding advice to Boulder County kids and CU students, many of whom ride the RTD bus up from town (it runs 10 or 12 times a day).

Little Hawk also offers three loud and busy terrain parks, a halfpipe billed as Colorado's steepest and a poma-lift served race hill that is often packed with competitors from Eldora's numerous race programs. The poma is the chaotic site of the weekly Nighthawks race league, where first-timers and ex-World Cuppers mix it up under the lights, then convene in the base lodge's Alpenhorn Bar for more important business.Rising from the doorstep of Eldora's main lodge, two Sixties-era chairlifts slowly but surely transport skiers to the summit of Challenge Mountain, where a collection of spectacular 13,000-foot pea comes into view. A dozen black and blue trails spill off Challenge's flanks in three directions, including the appropriately named Psychopath, a minefield of bumps located front and center. The Jolly Jug Glades provide an excellent introduction to tree skiing, even though they're marked as double black, while La Belle Dame is a deceiving, roller coaster-like ride that handcuffed many of the best collegiate ski racers when CU hosted the Western NCAA Regionals last spring.

Off the northwest side of Challenge are Indian Peaks and Corona Bowl, both served by shiny new quads, though not detachables. Indian Peaks mostly serves up narrow, tree-lined trails, while Corona's namesake run is wider than the length of a football field. But the best skiing off both lifts-and the best skiing at Eldora-is in the trees.

The silver lining to Eldora's windy climate is that the snow has to end up somewhere, and that's usually in the woods. Off the Corona lift, the Salto Glades begin as a relatively open powder stash before dropping off precipitously. Meanwhile, the Moose Glades at the far northwest boundary provide so many lines that the powder lasts for days, while the open West Ridge trail features a steep headwall that is nearly 40 degrees with big, soft bumps seemingly every time you push off.

The only downside to West Ridge and its glades is the often-bony runout at the bottom. But that should be resolved this season with the addition of snowmaking on lower West Ridge. The resort also cut a new trail, Cascade, that splits off halfway down Corona and connects with lower West Ridge.

Getting around Eldora's four areas is easy. Skiers can access either Indian Peaks or Corona from Challenge Mountain. And you can ski back from the Corona summit through Indian Peaks to Challenge via the Pipeline trail, which follows a transcontinental natural gas pipeline that also powers the resort's Lookout Lodge and a couple of its chairlifts. At the base, a bus shuttles skiers between Challenge Mountain and Little Hawk, which is great for families.

With a planning group that included former U.S. Ski Team and CU coach Bob Beattie, Eldora opened with two T-bars in 1962, the same season Vail cranked up for its inaugural season. They named it after the once-thriving village of Eldora, which is located just past the access road to the ski area and can be seen in the valley below from the upper slopes of Indian Peaks and Corona. The hamlet now has perhaps a hundred inhabitants, but in 1898 it boasted a bank, a post office, a school and 1,300 residents. While Vail the mountain and Vail the village grew in leaps and bounds, Eldora and nearby Nederland have been in a relative time warp.The Utes and Arapahoes first hunted for game in Nederland during summers. The town was incorporated 125 years ago and was at various times home to silver, gold and tungsten mining. Now it's primarily a tourist and bedroom community that offers an escape from the heat, humidity and frantic pace of Colorado's fast-growing Front Range. The town of 1,500 drew a counterculture following in the Sixties, and the hippie roots remain today, mixed in with Boulder County families who are building half-million dollar homes in the area. Many of the still tie-dyed folks now run local businesses and home-school their children. Its nooks and crannies are full of funky stores: You can find an assortment of bootleg Grateful Dead tapes at the local head shop, health foods at the Mountain People's Co-op, and all kinds of knick-knacks at Off Her Rocker Antiques. Nederland also has a surprising number of dining options, including a micro-brewery and Italian, Nepali, Caribbean, Mexican and German cuisine.

But eclectic Nederland is perhaps best known for the curious story of Trygve Berge, who in 1995 covered his dead grand-father in ice and stored him in the backyard shed to preserve his body for the ages. When Berge was deported some time later, grandpa was discovered by startled authorities. The body remains frozen today and is the subject of a humorous, award-winning movie called, fittingly, Grandpa's in the Tuff Shed.

Up on the mountain, with owner Killebrew and general manager Rick Gregorio at the helm, Eldora has embarked on an aggressive campaign to improve the skiing experience and to move swiftly into the 21st century. In the past four years, Eldora added two quads, opened 150 acres of new terrain, increased snowmaking by 50 percent, and, working with Boulder County, spearheaded a major improvement of the steep though no longer frightening access road. The ski area is also building a 20,000-square-foot skier services lodge to provide relief for its aging base facilities.

The capital improvements have been well received, and they certainly will make Eldora a better place to ski and a healthier business. Yet I can't help thinking of borrowing an idea from the enigmatic Trygve to put the whole thing on ice, to preserve Eldora for future generations...precisely the way it is now.he body remains frozen today and is the subject of a humorous, award-winning movie called, fittingly, Grandpa's in the Tuff Shed.

Up on the mountain, with owner Killebrew and general manager Rick Gregorio at the helm, Eldora has embarked on an aggressive campaign to improve the skiing experience and to move swiftly into the 21st century. In the past four years, Eldora added two quads, opened 150 acres of new terrain, increased snowmaking by 50 percent, and, working with Boulder County, spearheaded a major improvement of the steep though no longer frightening access road. The ski area is also building a 20,000-square-foot skier services lodge to provide relief for its aging base facilities.

The capital improvements have been well received, and they certainly will make Eldora a better place to ski and a healthier business. Yet I can't help thinking of borrowing an idea from the enigmatic Trygve to put the whole thing on ice, to preserve Eldora for future generations...precisely the way it is now.

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