Slopes of freedom

Denver's Winter Park, built to ensure skiing for all, still gives access to skiers on the margins, says Stephen Wood

A municipal ski area? It's an unlikely notion. Even before local government was demonised during the Thatcher era, and the word "public" turned into something threatening, the idea was at least politically questionable.

A municipal ski area? It's an unlikely notion. Even before local government was demonised during the Thatcher era, and the word "public" turned into something threatening, the idea was at least politically questionable.

George Cranmer certainly wasn't universally applauded when he put forward such an idea in pre-war Colorado. The Manager of Parks and Improvements for the City of Denver, he proposed in 1937 that mountain slopes 70 miles away on the far side of the Berthoud Pass should be developed to provide skiing facilities for the citizens. In a country where the earliest skiers were miners, postmen and railway navvies, elitism was no great issue; still, there was a faction which took the view that Cranmer's plan for Winter Park - as Denver's ski area was to be named - was designed primarily for the benefit of his friends. Nevertheless in January 1940 Cranmer won approval for the project, plus $30,000 of public funds for the first ski-lift, a tow rope.

The city's investment paid off: Winter Park was, by one estimate, worth $100m by 1995. But what was good for Denver wasn't necessarily good for Winter Park, whose managers regarded the city's cut ($1m annual rent plus three per cent of gross revenues) as a burden which prevented proper investment in ski facilities. Ultimately the City of Denver put Winter Park's management out to tender, and in December 2002 a deal was done. Intrawest, the leading North American ski-resort developer agreed to operate Winter Park for 10 years, undertaking to invest $5m per year in mountain operations and to pay $2m a year in rent.

Intrawest's plan is to develop Winter Park as a "destination resort", building accommodation for skiers who stay for a week (like most British visitors) rather than between one and three days (like most North Americans). Evidently this heralds a sea-change for Winter Park, since currently about 55 per cent of its skiers come from the local area. But at present Winter Park remains a municipal ski area in its final stage of evolution.

Try to imagine a municipal ski area. It's difficult; but you'll probably think of a scruffy place, rather alarming at night, covered with graffiti and littered with empty Special Brew cans. Think again. Winter Park may not have a beautiful setting, and its skiing is not really exceptional; but it is hard to think of any resort more customer-oriented. Of course there is a Sniffle Station dispensing tissues at every lift base, and each member of staff demands to know "How are you today?"; but those things come standard at US resorts. Still, even by that sort of criterion Winter Park does an exceptional job, once even providing a pizza hot-line (until the outdoor phone began to play up) on which you could place your order at the top of the Cranmer piste for collection at the bottom. Where it really scores, though, is in catering for those with particular needs.

Take children's skiing, for example. Every resort crows about its facilities for children; but all of them (with the exception of child-friendly Smugglers' Notch in Vermont) should see what Winter Park offers. Surrounding the Snoasis centre is a huge, gently inclined children's playground of skiing, extending even into the woods: the winding, gladed run called Moose Wallow is a delight even for adults, provided they don't mind a bit of poling.

With another marginal winter-sports group it's the same story. Snowboarders can rely on any major resort having a "half-pipe", one of those snow trenches from which boarders pop in and out as if on a trampoline. What Winter Park has in its Rail Yard Terrain Park is a "superpipe", an epic construction with giant snow walls enclosing a sort of storm drain. From a distance it looks like an Inuit mass-burial mound.

Most remarkable - and most specialised - is the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), established 34 years ago at Winter Park when its founder, Hal O'Leary, gave a first ski class for amputees from Denver's children's hospital. Now it provides 17,000 lessons per year to people whose disabilities range from autism to blindness, serves as a model for adaptive skiing programmes elsewhere in the USA, and has trained instructors from 11 countries. Disabled skiers have a significant and very affecting presence on Winter Park's slopes.

What other group does Winter Park favour? Skiers who don't like lift queues. Weekends account for 45 per cent of Winter Park's skier-visits, so British "destination skiers" struggle to find a queue during the week. At least for the time being.

EVERY SKIER SHOULD HAVE SOME: SNOW

A report presented to the United Nations environmental conference in Turin last December seemed chilling stuff, at least figuratively. The work of the University of Zurich's economic geography department, it offered a bleak picture of the future of skiing in low-lying parts of the Alps, which in turn - and this was the report's main thrust - threatens to damage the economy of Alpine areas. You may already have made the calculation, but the report spells it out: "without enough snow...profitable ski tourism will scarcely be possible".

The report reckons that 85 per cent of Swiss resorts are currently "snow-reliable", which it defines as having 30-50cm of snow "available for ski sport" on at least 100 days between 1 December and 15 April in an average of seven seasons out of 10. But it calculates that if "the line of snow-reliability" were to rise to 1,500m (feasible some time between 2030 and 2050, apparently), the proportion of snow-reliable resorts would fall to 63 per cent.

Should any skier find the picture thus painted too depressing, the answer is to look away...to the north. The report's analysis does not apply everywhere. There is one resort which is sufficiently snow-reliable to enjoy an average of 3.5m of snowfall per season, although its ski area barely reaches 1,500m at the highest point. It is Hemsedal in Norway, whose asset is latitude rather than altitude. That is what its owners plan to exploit. Aware of the problems further south, they intend to expand the resort. So by all means mourn Switzerland's fate; but don't assume that all low-lying ski slopes have an imminent sell-by date.

Stephen Wood travelled with Ski Safari (01273 223680; www.skisafari.com), which offers a week at the Winter Park Mountain Lodge plus flights to Denver and transfers for £599 per person (based on two sharing) if booked before February 10, or £720 at the slopeside Iron Horse Resort. National Sports Center for the Disabled: 001 970 726 1540, www.nscd.org

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
people

Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London