Echo Mountain, the tiny 226-acre ski area near Evergreen that we'd taken to calling "the little terrain park that could" in our annual winter activities guide, The Edge, apparently couldn't: Denver's closest ski area was put up for sale in June after operating at a loss for six consecutive seasons, and was sold at auction yesterday to Pykkonen Capital LLC, a group that will be turning the mountain into a private race training facility.
The new owners are aiming for a November 1 opening for the new Front Range Ski Club at Echo.
"We want to announce that Echo Mountain has been sold to new owners and the new owners have decided to change the basic format of the ski area to focus on ski racing training," the previous owner group, led by Jerry Pettit, posted to the Echo Mountain website and Facebook page this morning. "We have enjoyed the challenge of establishing a new ski area and meeting all the families, snowboarders and skiers as they used the facility. For those of you that bought season passes for next season, we will be refunding your payment through your credit card over the next few days."
Nora Pykkonen, the new owner, confirmed this morning that the Front Range Ski Club at Echo will be completely abandoning the terrain park concept developed by the previous owners over the last six seasons, noting that the terrain park features -- including the iconic Tucker Snow-Cat built around a relic from the site's former Squaw Pass Ski Area days -- were not included in the sale.
'We excluded all of the rental equipment and all of the terrain park features from the sale," Pykkonen said. "I gave it all back to Jerry, and I assume he'll be selling it off in the coming weeks. The mountain is so small there's just no way we could keep the terrain park features with everything else we have planned."
The new focus will be on training for aspiring ski racers of all ages, said Pykkonen, whose own kids -- including ski racers ages nine, eleven and fourteen -- inspired the concept. Her young racers had been accepted into the prestigious Vail Mountain School, but there was dissension among the family about leaving their home and schools in Evergreen. Rather than moving to Vail, the Pykkonen family has attracted a team of former World Cup and Olympic athletes and coaches to Echo, including four-time Olympian Sarah Schleper, two-time NCAA champion Mike Farny, former Norwegian National Team member Peter Brenna, and five-time Olympian Patrik Jaerbyn.
"This won't just be a place where we're just setting up a bunch of gates for gate bashing," Pykkonen says. "Our goal is to set up a World Cup-level training program, with top coaches and the entire mountain divided into separate stations for training.
Race programs at the new Front Range Ski Club at Echo will also include the Front Range Ski Team (FRST), the Rocky Mountain Division Club (RMD), a Rangers junior team (for racers as young as five years old through adults), a high school program and a Masters program, according to Pykkonen. The club is advertising one-time membership initiation fees of $5,000 and annual membership fees ranging from $1,350 for the Rangers program all the way up to $7,250 for the Elite FRST. The initiation fee for the World Cup FRST is $35,000, with program fees ranging from $3,750 to $8,650.
Pykkonen says her family had been skiing at Echo Mountain regularly over the last six years because of its proximity to their home in Evergreen but had no idea of the extent to which Pettit and his ownership group had been subsidizing its losses until her group began due diligence research on the purchase.
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"Jerry lost a lot of money on the resort and people didn't realize how much he was subsidizing it with money from his other business ventures," Pykkonen says. "That's how we came to the membership concept. It turns out this is a very expensive area to operate because we have to generate our own power and use our own water.... For comparison, Vail's Ski & Snowboard Club pays about $30,000 a year to make their snow, and we pay $150,000. Just our power bill alone is $200,000 annually! But the tradeoff is that Echo is on private property; it's one of the few places we could do a private race club concept, because it's not on National Forest land."
The other tradeoff? Not having to pay tuition at elite mountain academies like Vail Mountain School, which make the Front Range Ski Club's membership fees seem like a bargain in comparison.
Westword will be following this story over the next few months and throughout the 2012-2013 ski season.
See Also: • "Ticket to Ride: After thirty years, Squaw Pass is ready to make a comeback as Echo Mountain Park" (2006 Westword cover story). • "Echo Mountain: Denver's closest ski resort up for sale." • "Ski Porn: Face shots at Echo Mountain."