Ticket to Ride

After thirty years, Squaw Pass is ready to make a comeback as Echo Mountain Park.

Other plans call for large-scale contests, private parties and an Echo Mountain Academy Boot Camp. But Eric Petitt, now director of marketing for Echo Mountain, recognizes that they have to be careful not to oversell the brand to a generation jaded by cheesy X-treme advertising. "You look at the X Games now, and Campbell's soup is one of their main sponsors," he points out. "That doesn't speak to the customer there at all."

That's why Echo intends to keep all of its marketing efforts relatively low-key. "Basically our vision is that we will do no traditional marketing here," Petitt continued. "No broadcast advertising initially, just focus on the product and be really targeted toward that rider. It's time now. If you look at the industry, it's shrinking every year. The only part of the industry that's growing is the snowboarder and the freestyle snowboarder."

But on February 28, Donovan wasn't as worried about who the park would attract as he was with getting it open at all. Standing up the hill from Langdon and Ham, he spoke with the health-department official who a year before had given him so much grief about the park's septic system. Now everything seemed to be going smoothly, though, and he and the official shook hands.

Anthony Camera
Anthony Camera

"I think we're actually going to get it," Donovan said.

"You mean he signed off?" Ham asked.

"Not yet," Donovan said, looking up at Knuckles. "But it's coming."

The 4,400-square-foot main lodge was finished, but the cabin building, which will house the ski and snowboard rentals and eventually a bar and lounge, was still a couple of months from completion. Both were designed in industrial-chic, with corrugated metal exteriors more reminiscent of a hip auto-body shop than the hunting-lodge style found at most resorts.

The two parking lots with room for 180 cars were ready; the old Squaw Pass T-bars serve as light poles. And that's not the only recycled feature at the park. The M.A.S.H.-like medical gurneys in the first-aid trailer were salvaged from an old Berthoud Pass storage shed. The desks and cubicles in the upstairs office came from Petitt's brother's office. Much of the restaurant equipment was purchased at commercial auctions.

But while part of the objective was to save money wherever possible, Donovan also wanted to create the perfect image. "We want our customers to feel like this is their spot," he said, motioning to the couches pointing toward an old RCA TV mounted with an Atari in the lodge. "Like this is a buddy's basement. Why would you need anything else?"

Still, it will take a lot of $35 tickets ($25 on weekdays) to cover the $5 million that Petitt has invested in Echo Mountain thus far.

On March 4, Echo Mountain opened to the public with little fanfare. Donovan and his crew had managed to blow enough snow to create one run winding from the top of the mountain to the bottom, and had done a last-minute placement of some rails and jumps along the way -- but for all the hype that had been generated on Echo Mountain's website and its myspace.com page (which already has some 200 friends), it seemed that snowboarders and freeskiers seeing the place for the first time might be a little disappointed.

Not to worry.

"This place is awesome," said Mike, a junior at Evergreen High School who came with three friends, all members of the Hobo Crew. "I kind of expected that they wouldn't be done with everything, but it's still fun that it's not crowded at all. There's, like, nobody here."

As Mike Jones blasted from speakers mounted alongside the run, snowboarders and skiers periodically stopped at the mid-mountain lodge to chug free Red Bulls and talk with friends before pushing off toward the base. Without the stop, a run took no more than seven minutes. But at Echo Mountain, the objective is not speed, but style. And the six boxes, rails and small jumps seemed to provide more than enough entertainment for riders looking to fine-tune their tricks.

Tom and Rich, who'd driven up from Colorado Springs, had first read about Echo Mountain in snowboarding magazines last year and had followed its progress ever since. "It's got some serious potential," Rich said.

Tom agreed: "There's no gapers, no suits. After that it only gets better."

And it has. Between opening day and early March 13, Echo Mountain got 36 inches of real snow. So this weekend, Donovan promises, all of the runs will be open, complete with 24 hittable features -- including a quarter-pipe, some slippery mailboxes and the big, bad Knuckles.

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