Fun Valley / Watson’s Ski Hill

Born 1938, Died 1977

Phillipsburg, Colorado  N 39° 32.657  W 105° 11.402

The story of Fun Valley and nearby Homewood Park shows how winter sports meccas come and go, even in the most unlikely places.

Early ski culture had an unexpected home in Deer Creek Canyon, in the foothills southwest of Denver, near the town of Phillipsburg. The area was more rugged and isolated than Evergreen to the north, giving it a quirky hardscrabble character (and characters). In 1905, Phillipsburg became the last home of one of the most notorious figures in Colorado history – the accused cannibal Alfred Packer. Packer had several mining claims in the area. He died two years later in 1907, but was remembered fondly by many of the children who grew up in the canyon, as a kind and generous man.

In the early 1920s, Norwegian immigrant Andreas Eriksen built one of Colorado’s first ski jumps at Homewood Park in Deer Creek Canyon, making the area a major player in Colorado’s burgeoning winter sports scene. Homewood Park became an essential stop on the ski jumping circuit in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Tournaments were held annually from 1928 to 1942 and jumps as long as 180 feet were recorded at the hill.

Homewood Park only had a single ski run, but it was featured in the annual skiing guide distributed by the Denver Chamber of Commerce well into the 1940’s. The property also had a pond for ice skating that was popular until a flood wiped it out in 1969. The white stone arch that used to welcome visitors to Homewood Park can still be seen along Deer Creek Canyon Road at these coordinates: N 39⁰ 32.519 W 105⁰ 11.861. Please note that the drive beyond the arch is a private road.

About the time skiing was winding down at Homewood Park, a new ski area called Watson’s Ski Hill opened in Watson’s Gulch, about 1 mile east of Homewood Park. Horace Watson, an ex-prizefighter, constructed a toboggan run and a warming hut on his property in 1938. A local man, Covert Hopkins, built a sled-style rope tow that carried 12 to 15 people and their skis. It was only the second mechanized ski lift in the state of Colorado. The unappreciative Watson cut Hopkins out of the business the following year. Undeterred, Hopkins built a similar rope tow at nearby Mount Lugo in 1940.

The name was later changed to Fun Valley to appeal to the 1960s ski customer. It had a Poma lift, chairlift and rope tow, and the area featured night skiing under lights in the 1960s. It was a beginner to intermediate area with 8 runs and snowmaking. Snowmaking was essential, because the heaviest snows tended to occur during the month of April, too late to help with the ski season which typically ended March 31. The 1965-1966 Colorado Ski Guide listed a full-day rate of $4 and a half-day or evening rate of $2.50.

map_funvalley70

Fun Valley struggled to stay afloat through its final two decades, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. By all accounts it was a low-key area, with the owner-operator making coffee for guests, who brought sack lunches to eat in the lodge.

Fun Valley had its’ brush with greatness in 1972, when it was briefly considered as a potential ski jump location for the ill-fated 1976 Denver Winter Olympics. It was seen as an alternative to Genesee Mountain, which had fallen out of favor. However, Fun Valley shared both of Genesee’s major drawbacks as a potential Olympic ski jump site — an unpredictable snow cover and unsupportive neighbors. It was pulled from consideration. It closed in 1977, although the chair lift was left standing until 1995, when the last owner (Joe Dorris) disassembled the lift and sold the chairs.

He left the Poma standing, which can still be viewed from a distance from a turnabout at the cache location. The cache is hanging in a bison tube a few steps from the turnabout.

Poma Lift is Still Standing

Poma Lift is Still Standing

Sources

ColoradoSkiHistory.com website: http://www.coloradoskihistory.com/lost/funvalley.html

Mountain Memories, from Coffee Pot Hill to Medlen Town: a history of the inter-canyon area of southwest Jefferson County. Betty Moynihan and Helen Waters. 1981.

Mountains of Memories, Mountains of Dreams: A History of Skiing in Jefferson County. Historically Jeffco, 10:18, pp.7-14. John McMillin. 1987.