By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Cuchara Mountain Resort
Eric Bachman has had to bide his time waiting for Cuchara Valley to grow an economy. "I'd always wanted to live there," he says. "I was there in the early Seventies, and there was really no way to make a living. So I started a real estate company in Vail, but I knew I always wanted to move back to La Veta."
Bachman came back in 1988, bringing with him Bachman & Associates, his real estate venture that serves "people looking for getaways," the 49-year-old explains. "Finally, this area has found its niche, and there are people who are ecstatic to find this beautiful area."
Meanwhile, the Cuchara Valley ski area has found another buyer, after a series of owners who bought it merely to flip it, making money on it without putting much into it. "It's been more than a decade since there's been an owner who's had any interest in the area itself or its employees," Bachman says. "We're hoping this one will be different." He's also hoping that the new regime will target what he thinks is the most likely group to frequent Cuchara: the 42 percent of Americans who are single--of which he is one. "This seems like a great place for singles to come and learn or come with other beginner friends and not be intimidated," Bachman adds. "They wouldn't be coming here for entertainment or shopping, but for the majesty of the area, the lack of crowds, the bonding in an intimate atmosphere. A bunch of friends could get together and rent a condo for so much less than at Vail or Aspen."
Bachman says that Cuchara is a beginner/intermediate mountain. "The only tough runs are Upper Diablo and Ultima," he explains. "And the Lower Bear Bumps and Lower Diablo, when there's good snow." In the intermediate range, though, there are plenty of choices. Bachman's favorite cruiser is Grandote, "a big, sweeping run that comes down the mountain." He adds that some of the other good cruisers "historically haven't been taken care of by the owners, so we'll have to wait and see if they will be now." Grandote also offers the most spectacular view. "It feels as if you can see Kansas," Bachman enthuses.
Bachman says he avoids Diablo most of the time--"That's a serious run," he says--because of the bumps, but he does say that when there's a lot of snow, it can be fun. And Rattlesnake sometimes gets bumped up, "depending on whether it's groomed or not." Bachman says it's labeled an intermediate run, but there are a few steeps on it. For trees, he likes The Burn, an area off to the east that's not patrolled or groomed. "There are some trails," he adds. "You can do some tree skiing there and some open deep-snow skiing." And gentle bumps can be found on Eclipse and Devil's Stairsteps, both runs that Bachman says are "seldom skied by the tourists."
Off the mountain, those looking for local flavor should head to the Ryus Avenue Bakery (129 W. Ryus Ave. in La Veta). "It's the gathering place," Bachman says. "It's only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and most people arrange their schedules around that. You'll find mostly locals there, sitting around a wood stove and drinking coffee."
For what Bachman calls the "hearty big eater cowboy set," there's The Covered Wagon (2055 Main in La Veta)--also good for a burger--but for a fancier time, he recommends two "nice restaurants" up in Cuchara, The Timbers (23 Cucharas Ave.) and The Silver Spoon (16984 Hwy. 12), "The Spoon is right on the Cuchara River, which is right outside the windows," he adds. "Both places are top-notch fine dining."
Bachman believes the best restaurant around, though, is about to move from La Veta to the ski resort. Called Legends Park (9025 S. Oak), the tiny eatery owned by two women, who also run a cooking school there on the side, is going to get a bigger space and probably a bigger audience, according to Bachman. "I don't know if they're going to change the name of the restaurant space they're taking over," he says. "The former name was Baker Creek. But, whatever, it's still going to be great, I'm sure."
More local color can be found at the so-called Dog Bar in Cuchara, the real name of which is The Boardwalk (34 Cuchara Rd.), but no one calls it that. "They're not supposed to let dogs in there, but they do," Bachman admits.
"People need to discover how much charm there is in this place," he says. "You can come right down I-25, it's safe, there's no mountain driving, no having to deal with masses of tourist traffic. How can you sit on I-70 for half your life?"
General Information: 1-719-742-3163 or 1-888-282-4272.
Snow Report: 1-719-742-3163.
Location: 186 miles south of Denver via I-25, U.S. Hwy. 160 west and Colo. Hwy. 12.
Opening and Closing Dates: Mid-November to mid-April.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Night skiing 6-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Terrain: 40% beginner, 40% intermediate, 20% expert. 250 skiable acres with a 1,562' vertical drop. Base: 9,248'; top: 10,810'.