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Cuchara Valley: Can Colorado's lost ski resort rise again?

A promising plan to revive the Cuchara Valley ski area in southern Colorado -- complete with zip line, tubing hill, a halfpipe for snowboarders and a seventy-room hotel -- has folks in Walsenburg and La Veta cautiously optimistic.

The caution is understandable given the number of times the scenic but offbeat rec area has gone bust before. It's been closed for the past decade and has opened, then collapsed, four times since the early 1980s.

According to this Associated Press report, the Cuchara Valley Recreational Foundation is proposing to raise $14 million through bond sales to refurbish the resort, located a few miles south of La Veta. If successful, it's estimated that the operation would eventually bring 600 jobs to the area.

That's a badly needed boost in economically battered Huerfano County, which has seen an exodus of jobs from the closing of the private prison in Walsenburg and the downturn in natural gas exploration.

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But locals have heard grand plans for Cuchara before. Despite the stunning beauty of the area, with the Spanish Peaks as a backdrop, the place has erratic snowfall and has been a bit out of the way for most ski hounds. Since originally opening as Panadero in 1981, it's been operated sporadically by a series of Texans with varying degrees of expertise and hubris. As detailed at Coloradoskihistory.com, each of the investors eventually ran out of cash.

The new plan seems less pretentious and more family-oriented than some of the earlier visions of the place as a luxury resort; it also includes provisions for a reservoir for snowmaking. The idea would be more of an entry-level ski area for folks from Texas and neighboring states.

That sounds smart -- or at least smarter than past incarnations. My mother's family comes from Huerfano County, and I remember a family reunion at Cuchara back in the 1990s that showed off both the great beauty of the area and the sort of hapless tackiness of what the developers had been attempting to do. It wasn't working, even as a summer retreat. What the area deserves, and what would certainly benefit locals, is a small but reliable stopover for recreation and adventure year round.

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