Winter Park Grows Up

After years as a family-themed ski resort, Denver's mountain tries super-sizing.

"The consensus is that there's a need to put equity into the mountain," says Teverbaugh. "With Intrawest in Copper Mountain and [with] Vail Associates, the way capital has gone into the mountains has been through real estate. It's the profit from that that allows capital to go into the mountain."

Teverbaugh says he shares the nostalgia many people have for the Winter Park of the 1970s and 1980s, but he insists it's too late for Winter Park to go back to what it once was.

"With the cost of high-speed lifts and on-mountain improvements, you don't go back to being a 500,000-person mountain and amortize those expenses," he says. "When you have a ski area with a million visitors a year, you've passed the point of no return."

Pat Howlett worries that Winter Park's sense of community will disappear as a result of growth.
Brett Amole
Pat Howlett worries that Winter Park's sense of community will disappear as a result of growth.
Pat Howlett worries that Winter Park's sense of community will disappear as a result of growth.
Brett Amole
Pat Howlett worries that Winter Park's sense of community will disappear as a result of growth.

At a time when most Coloradans dismissed skiing as an amusement for idle aristocrats, George Cranmer had an uncanny ability to foresee what winter sports could do for Colorado.

In 1937, he lectured a Denver Post reporter on the incredible opportunity the state was missing.

"Colorado has millions of dollars ready for taking, but we sit back and don't attempt to touch it," Cranmer told the paper. "I am not referring to gold, or silver, or water, or anything of that kind. I refer to the magnificent scenery, the snow, the crystal clear streams, the majestic mountain peaks, the wildlife, the sunshine. Directly west of Denver, we have absolutely everything essential to the ideal winter playground. That's what I have in mind -- a winter playground that would be the world's best. Nature has given us everything we need to bring this about, but we haven't done a thing with it. We've been asleep at the switch."

Cranmer went on to extol the area then known as "West Portal" -- the U.S. Forest Service didn't rename it Winter Park until 1939, the year skiing officially began there -- as an ideal spot to make Colorado the center of winter sports. "West Portal may be reached either by highway or train. And within easy reach of West Portal are four valleys offering all that could be desired for winter sports -- numerous ideal locations for bobsled runs, fine country skiing, fine skating and ice for hockey and other games. The new high speed trains make it possible for easterners to come out here Saturday, spend a weekend in the mountains and be home again on Monday. But to get them out here we must have something to offer in the way of accommodations and some kind of winter program. We can't expect them to come out to sit on the side of a mountain just to view the scenery."

Cranmer was a controversial figure in Denver. He rubbed many people the wrong way with his autocratic manner and his certainty that he knew what was best for the city. He was widely criticized in the Denver media when he built a new park across the street from his Italian Renaissance-style home in the Hilltop neighborhood. But he had many friends here, too, as well as a way of exciting others about his grand visions.

Scott Moore remembers being summoned to the Denver Country Club one day by Cranmer.

"George was a grand old guy," he says. "There were six or eight of us young guys he adopted; he became a mentor. George had an eye for the girls. We used to meet at the pool of the Denver Country Club so he could keep his eye on the babes."

In chatting about business, Moore recalls Cranmer telling him he should buy land northeast of the city, because one day Denver would have to build a new airport there. (Moore didn't follow his advice.)

From the start, Winter Park was an odd beast. Launched by pleasure-loving plutocrats, it became the most family-oriented resort in Colorado. Much of the construction that allowed for the creation of Winter Park was done by employees of the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal government program that was despised by many of Cranmer's country-club friends.

On opening day, Winter Park had a homemade T-bar lift that moved skiers 2,300 feet up the mountain. Above that, a rope tow hauled visitors another 2,700 feet. Although the ski area was run by the city for the first ten years of its existence, Denver never wanted to put major funds into a park so far out of town. (During the past six decades, Denver has put only $240,000 in public funds into the resort.)

After several years, the ski lift needed an overhaul.

"The equipment up there was in a shambles," recalls former Denver mayor Quigg Newton. "It was declared unsafe. We had to make a large investment of city money or turn it over to somebody who could raise money privately. Allan Phipps was an ardent skier who went up there all the time, and we made a contract with him to develop an association and take over management from the city."

Thus was born the WPRA, which began running Winter Park in 1950. The association was able to issue bonds to fund new ski lifts and the development of the ski area. Many of the bonds were sold to members of the Arlberg Club, and Phipps's First National Bank of Denver became Winter Park's chief lender.

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