Berthoud Pass

Loki looking down at the pass

Loki looking down at the pass

Born 1937, Died 2003

Of all the “lost” ski areas, this is probably the most historic.  It was the first public area with a motorized lift (a rope tow).  It was the site of the first fixed-grip, continuously circulating double chairlift (designed and built by Denver engineer Bob Heron).  It was also the first resort in Colorado to allow snowboarding.

Berthoud Pass catered to the expert skier who wanted an inexpensive, no-frills experience.  Ironically, it was a development that benefited the consumer, the dramatic reduction of season pass prices in the 1990s, that probably sealed its fate.

Plans for skiing at Berthoud Pass were first drawn up on a piece of butcher paper by a group of skiers at a Denver restaurant.  The motorized rope tow began operations on February 7, 1937.  Over the years, different ownership groups operated the resort.  Perhaps no group was as personally dedicated to the area as Ike and Lucy Garst, who owned the area from 1977 to 1987.

Ike Garst was a passionate skier who cared deeply about the history of skiing at Berthoud Pass.  He and his wife Lucy were married one day after he purchased the ski area.  They lived at the base lodge and ferried tourists up the lift to the Continental Divide during summer months.  They claimed this paid the bills, allowing them to keep the area open all winter.  They improved the base lodge, hosted “throwback days” where lift tickets were the old price of 35 cents, and honored ski pioneers with special dinners and events.  They made ski history of their own by being the first resort to allow snowboarding in 1979.  This took some delicate negotiations with their insurers and earned them the wrath of many a ski traditionalist.

The owners that followed the Garsts had a difficult time keeping the lodge and equipment maintained.    The area was renamed “Timberline” in 1987.  The new owners put 3 million into renovating the lodge, but neglected the lifts.  An accident involving a chair detaching and crashing into a second, broke the legs of an unlucky Denver nurse.  The Colorado Tramways Board responded with a hefty fine and condemnation of the lift.  As a result, the area closed in 1988.

The two ownership groups that followed found it difficult to compete with the large areas.  The big resorts followed Berthoud’s lead by deeply discounting their season passes.  The big resorts made most of their money on base area lodging, dining and shopping.  Berthoud Pass had a snack bar.

Continental Divide Trail crosses the old ski run

The US Forest Service appeared to discourage operation of Berthoud Pass from the 1990s on.  Although the Forest Service accommodates large resorts’ expansion plans whenever possible, they made it harder and harder for the owners of small family-run resorts like Berthoud to meet strict permit requirements.  The Forest Service wanted to burn down the historic lodge as early as 1993, but were stalled by the desperate campaigns of local business leaders and schoolchildren to save it.  The Forest Service dismantled the lodge in 2007, several years after Berthoud Pass ceased operations.

Nowadays, a highway rest stop and parking lot occupies the former lodge area.  The funky, sewage-like odor of the pit toilets infuses the air.  Signs in front of the building discuss the Continental Divide and local wildlife but there is no mention of the once-thriving area where Colorado ski history was made.  You can find the trail maps from Berthoud Pass’ operational days here:

Looking down the Miners Peak lift line

Looking down the Miners Peak lift line

The cache is placed near tree line and above the top of the former “Miners Peak” triple chair on the east side of the pass.  Looking down the mountain you can still see the old concrete tower supports.  Otherwise, all traces of the area have been erased.  It took me about 30 minutes to climb to the cache site.  You should bring water if you make the trek to the cache site, and keep a sharp eye open for lightning during summer months, potential avalance conditions in the winter.


Colorado Ski History webpage: