Ascending winding, windblown Shelf Road, and cresting to a first glimpse of Eldora’s new welcome sign, memories flood back to skiing this mountain as a CU college student, just a few years ago.
This was our backpocket, any-day-of-the-week ski hill. We didn’t care how small it was or how slow the lifts were (more time for a beer, anyway).
Eldora scratched our itch. It was the mountain upon which we felt the edges under our feet. For us, and for any real skier, the pleasure lies in carving the same precise line over and over, anytime, in any condition, so long as each lap meant more speed, and style.
And so, here, on a crisp and powdery February morning, I return to Eldora just a few years from those heady, college runs to experience the changes new owner Powdr has made to my mountain, and what that means for a Boulder skier like me — lover of the line, powder and a spirit-filled local mountain.
Rolling into the frozen parking lot, the new lift, “Alpenglow,” screams a debut. The high-speed, six-person chair, which opened this season, stands tall next to the base lodge, with its burnt-orange housing, slinging 900-pound chairs up the eastern flank of Challenge Mountain in a fraction of the time it took its predecessors.
I make my way to the base area, adorned with new signage in a friendly, modern, dare I say “sleek” font.
First stop, the restroom: soft, dim lighting, stone floor and backsplashes, large stalls of pine and cast iron — vessel sinks?! Did I all of a sudden enter the Ritz-Carlton at Beaver Creek? The quality and vibe of the restroom compared to that of my memory is so shocking that I spontaneously share my stunned reaction with the first person I see.
“I know, right?” is all he said.
New owner, new vibe
Utah-based Powdr purchased Eldora Mountain Resort in June 2016. This is Powdr’s ninth ski resort in the U.S. and its second in Colorado. The “adventure lifestyle” company also operates Camp Woodward, a group of action sports training facilities, and Outside TV, an action-adventure media outlet based on the Outside Magazine brand. Powdr’s power comes not in real estate holdings, but by selling the booming outdoor adventure lifestyle brand.
Boulder’s backpocket ski hill is the company’s latest acquisition. Under its new ownership, Eldora is being buffed to a boutique shine with all the amenities Powdr execs think, or want, the modern Boulder skier to demand: boutique vibe, upscale amenities and artisanal skiing.
Along with these changes, prices for day lift tickets have jumped nearly 75 percent in just two seasons. A 2014-15 mid-season day ticket was $69; this season, a mid-season day ticket goes for $119.
As recently as two years ago, a college pass was $189. This February, it was $499. I’m not sure I would have sprung for that. (Just-released, pre-season 2018-19 college passes are $349, much less than the mid-season rate, but still double the rate two years ago).
Eldora, Front Range gem
Over time, ski hills east of the divide have come and gone, but since 1962, Eldora has remained a constant.
The mountain is a keystone to the rich culture of Front Range skiing. The local ski-racing scene owes its chops to Eldora — Bob Beattie, legendary University of Colorado ski coach and Olympic commentator, was a founding partner of Eldora. Beattie helped make Eldora “Boulder’s hill.”
Most Front Range natives have a story to tell about skiing at Eldora, whether about teaching their kids to ski, skipping work for powder or night-skiing shenanigans.
Longtime Boulder resident Russell Sutherland recalls long nights of groomer laps and whiskey stops in the late ’80s. “A couple hours into it, we’d be bumping chairs so the lifty could go have a drink and warm up,” he says.
Overindulgence aside, skiing at Eldora has characterized the passionate, do-it-for-the-love spirit of Boulder skiing over the past 50 years.
A new era
Powdr is one of the first resort operators to take heed of America’s generational shift. Projections put millennials, who are just coming into their big-spending ages, outnumbering baby boomers by 2019.
With the increasing corporatization of ski resorts — the conglomeration of passes, and a creeping upscale mindset — there’s less opportunity than ever for a low-priced, down-home experience on a lift-based ski experience. A Basin, king of the brown-bag lunch and parking-lot beer, is the lone holdout.
Ever since the 1973 completion of Eisenhower Tunnel, which streamlined travel to Summit County for the Denver, DIA and Front Range masses, Colorado ski resort development has centered on serving the vacation-homebuying baby boomer generation.
Left to right: Gully Glades opened in the last year. Craft beer is flowing at Eldora. Shredding under the Corona lift on the backside. Photo credit: Marc Doherty, BLDRfly.
Millennials, however, are not as interested in owning vacation homes, but care more, and are drawn to, experiences and lifestyles that require little long-term commitment, evidenced by the flourishing sharing economy their clear desire for mobility and cute Instagram moments.
Powdr is gearing up for this spending swing by transforming Eldora into a craft-beer-pouring, chairlift-business-meeting, uphill-skiing locale that will appeal to millennials. Boulder ski buffs increasingly look to earn their turns, climbing what they ski — backcountry skiing is booming. Eldora has a new $169 pass for that.
Looking to spend your leisure dollars on locally sourced goods? Eldora serves local Front Range favorites such as Tender Belly meats, Ozo Coffee and Rowdy Mermaid kombucha.
Want to do some work in between shredding? Eldora is planning on adding a workspace at the Indian Peaks lodge, equipped with high-speed internet and conference rooms. Anyone who’s tried to work at Eldora in the past, knows that its weak cell signal and lack of WiFi obviated that opportunity.
No doubt Boulder’s booming tech industry will soon have slopeside office space. The question is: Will these techies, and the ancillary professionals they spawn, become Eldora Resort’s target client at the expense of a broader Front Range ski community?
Over Eldora’s 56 years, every type of person east of the divide has found sanctuary on its slopes. Students, skiing cowboys and Boulder entrepreneurs have long traded turns 21 miles up Boulder Canyon.
Here’s to hoping that legacy continues.
Cover photo: View of Eldora’s newest lift, “Alpenglow,” from the top. Photo credit: Marc Doherty, BLDRfly