Berthoud Pass: Colorado’s First Ski Area

Just West of Idaho Springs, CO is Berthoud Pass. A high mountain road that leads to Winter Park and eventually Rocky Mountain National Park. Today the area is popular among hikers, campers and backcountry skiers. However, decades ago the area was the epicenter for the once fringe sport of skiing and home to a small ski resort and what many consider to be Colorado’s first ski area.

The history of the area starts in the early 1930′s. A small group of skiers would often head to the pass when the road department began keeping it open in the winter. What started as a group of friends shuttling skiers from the bottom to the top of the pass by car, quickly turned into a make shift ski lift by 1936-1937. Drawing up plans, they constructed a crude rope tow and would operate it on the weekends for the public. Debate still goes on as to this possibly of it being the first ski lift in Colorado, however the legacy they left behind remains to this day. Over the years as popularity grew, people realized its potential and began getting money together. By the 1950s and into the 60s a lodge had been built and vast improvements were made to the lifts, making the area a great retreat for getaways. Over the next 40 years, the lodge and resort changed hands and prospered.

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Heather Porpiglia heads out of the treeline near the summit ridge, just above the Broome Hut.

 

In the early 2000′s the area had been a few years into financial trouble, the upkeep became to costly and it eventually shut down. The original lodge and lifts are gone but the area still holds dear to many. Today the cuts in the forest remain and the the area has become a top destination for backcountry skiing. Recently I spent some time hiking and exploring runs for this upcoming season, and it was easy to see why people were drawn to the area in the early 20th century.

Through both sides of the pass, trails cut through and take you past scenic streams and alpine meadows. The land reveals views that many dream of and all within easy access to parking. Heading north on Hwy 40 towards Winter Park an avalanche warning sign is littered with stickers of ski brands, bands and outdoor companies in a small dirt pull off. From here a small trail leads into the pines and casually winds higher into the mountains. A mile up the trail after 800ft of elevation gain, the Broome Hut emerges. It is located in a small bowl with stunning views and safe from avalanche danger. The hut is great for overnight guests as well as offering a day use shelter with bathrooms. It is operated by The Grand Huts Association and sleeping arrangements can be made online or by phone. There are private rooms that sleep two as well as larger dorm style accommodations and a pellet stove. On the day use side there are public bathrooms, a warming room with a table and some other commodities.

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Heading up the trail towards the Broome Hut. The Continental Divide is located in the background.

From the hut there a multitude of trails of various lengths which lead to ridges, an alpine pond and summits that over look Winter Park and Mary Jane ski areas. During my visit, we headed north from the hut, past a picturesque alpine stream and towards the ridge, from the top of the ridge a small outcropping of rock can be seen, which is the summit of that ridge. The hike is rather easy and not strenuous and unveils stunning 360° views of the area. From trail head to the northern summit the hike can take roughly an hour and a half at a steady pace.

The area is rarely busy compared to most other popular locations and can easily be done by a hiker of any skill level. Keep in mind if you are visiting, this is an alpine zone, you’re roughly at 11,000 ft and the weather can change quickly. Temperatures can vary greatly from the trail head to the hut and higher so pack accordingly.

 

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About the author

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Jason has long been a lover of the outdoors. From an early age he was involved in Boy Scouts and always looking to get out in the woods. Today, his passion has taken him around the world, from Iceland to Brazil he couples photography with his adventurous side to live life how it should be lived. He has been rock climbing now for roughly 3 years and his photography is centered around the active lifestyle.

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