Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
As if Snowdown was not crazy enough, kids could be leaping into the air for a freestyle ski competition at Chapman Hill during the same week as the winter carnival in early February.
The in-town ski hill “would be lit up” for the nighttime event, said Mark Smith of the Durango Winter Sports Foundation, which raises money for amenity improvements the city normally could not afford.
Smith estimated the foundation “easily” is investing $50,000 to $60,000 of donated money, equipment and labor this week to improve Chapman Hill as a venue for events such as the freestyle competition of the U.S. Ski Association. But plans for that event still are tentative.
Volunteers from the foundation are filling in gullies and making structural improvements such as ski jumps and moguls, or bumps, for the freestyle course.
The foundation also is complementing the city’s recent purchase of snowmaking equipment and a snow tractor, or winch cat, with other improvements, including an anchor system to prevent the winch cat from tumbling down the steep hill.
“Volunteers and community advocates are difference-makers in Durango,” said Kevin Hall, the city’s director of Natural Lands, Trails and Sustainability. “They create momentum for projects by solidifying community support and bringing resources to bear that may not otherwise have been available.”
The city purchased its equipment for Chapman Hill from a dedicated sales tax for parks, recreation and open-space trails that was approved by voters in 2005.
By law, the fund can be used only for recreation purposes. City officials often emphasize this point because they get so many complaints from locals who wonder why the city cannot afford to fill in potholes.
Kirk Rawles, the freestyle coach of the Purgatory Ski and Snowboard team, has dreamed of the possibilities for Chapman Hill.
“I’ve always stood up here and thought, ‘Wow, this is the perfect place’” for a freestyle course, he said.
He believes Chapman Hill has the potential to become a practice site for Olympic skiers. His brother, Scott Rawles, is the mogul coach for the U.S. freestyle ski team.
“With a winch cat and snowmaking, you can make this a great in-town ski hill, but it also can satisfy the best skiers around,” Rawles said.
Chapman Hill has a tradition for training – its tow-rope lift originally was used by the troops at Camp Hale near Leadville to train for skiing and winter combat during World War II.
After the war, Dolph Kuss convinced the Lions Club of Durango to purchase the tow-rope system in 1954. The tow rope also is getting some maintenance work done this week.
Kuss, a former city parks and recreation director, said the history of Chapman Hill has “seen some advancements and some setbacks, but for the most part, it’s always been through contributions (of the community).”