Friday, February 24, 2006

New All Terrain Park ski area opening

Echo Mountain Park, a collection of snowy halfpipes, jumps and rails built on the defunct Squaw Pass ski area looks like it is actually going to open after a few false starts.
First the youth-focused big air park said it was going to open in December, then January, then February. It got to the point where people started joking that it's called "Echo Mountain" because you hear the same thing from them over and over.
"We've been working through the bumps and bruises of construction," said Jesse Harvat, an Echo employee.
Now the magic date is March 10 for the general public, or March 4 for $99 Access Pass holders.
Cost for a day pass will be around $35.

Even if you don't huck mondo air in baggy pants, this is a remarkable shift in the ski industry. For the last 30 years, big resorts have been gobbling up the business and little mom and pop places have shut down across the state. Of the 150 ski areas that at one time or another graced the hills of Colorado, only about 25 are still open. There's even a Website devoted to these "lost ski resorts."

But the growing niche market in terrain parks means little places that don't have a lot of vert or snow can compete by being closer and cheaper. Echo Mountain is a half hour from Denver on a hill near Evergreen.

Like all cultural novelties, this jib revival happened in California first.Two small, struggling resorts, Mountain High near Los Angeles and Boreal Ski Area near San Francisco reinvented themselves as stunt-friendly terrain park destinations in the late 1990s. Since then, they've grown into huge magnets for the youth scene.

Even smaller ski hills in the Midwest have been able to up the excitement, and ticket sales, by adding terrain parks. "A lot of people will be watching this very closely to see if it works," said Charles Goeldner, professoror emeritus of ski marketing at the University of Colorado. "They may be able to work in this niche. On the other hand, all of the major resorts have added extensive terrain parks, so there is real competition."

Does this mean other small, long-closed ski areas, such as the ones around Pikes Peak might have a chance at a new life?
Pat Pfieffer, a long-time Colorado Spring resident who owned part of the Pikes Peak Ski Area between 1964 and 1968 said it will be tough. "It's a great idea, but even when Pikes Peak had snow-making in the 1980s, they couldn't stay open."
Still, a few years ago, it would have been easy to write off the idea of Echo Mountain Park, and recently, the area fired up its new three-person lift and started blowing snow.
The buzz about this place has been constant.
Now we'll see if the paying customers come.

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