Chapman Hill

Old Calico Hill would now amaze Colton Chapman

Colton Chapman had a pot-belly stove in his warming hut at the bottom of Calico Hill, and tape and extra mittens and gloves on the counter. The tape was to patch the material across the palms that was destroyed by a loose grip on the rope tow. If too much of the palm was gone, Mr. Chapman, as his young fans called him, offered new (but used) mittens and gloves that he had acquired somewhere.

When he wasn’t handing out gloves, Chapman was overseeing the operation of the tow that went to the top of the hill. In at least one location, about midway, the tow spanned a depression and would lift a 10 year-old a couple of feet off the ground. Near the top, the hill was so steep that only the strongest 14-year-olds could keep from losing their grip. All along the tow, mittens and gloves suffered because of hands that did not have the needed strength.

Chapman was patient, ever-present and attentive. Calico Hill would be renamed in his memory.

What Chapman Hill-to-be offered in the second half of the 1950s was adequate; no one expected more. The ski area at Wolf Creek Pass was a long drive, and Purgatory was about 10 years in the future.

Colton Chapman would be amazed at what has come since.

A hillside that has been the place for international mountain bike competitions with vendors’ booths across the bottom, and, through the summer, has served as a training ground for local riders. Dirt has been moved to create cuts for riding trails, then moved back before the snow falls.

And before the arrival of mountain bikes, the Fort Lewis College ski team – which was discontinued in the late 1960s – practiced there. A ski jump constructed on the east side followed, then was dismantled, before the night lights were installed.

And while it does not intrude on the use of the hill, there was sufficient space for an enclosed ice rink that is so popular, ice time begins before light and ends after dark.

Now, supporters of Chapman Hill are working with the city to greatly improve the setting for more aggressive freestyle skiing than went on there more than 50 years ago.

The surface of the hill, especially the upper portion, is being better shaped to eliminate nature’s negative irregularities and to add man-made challenges. Artificial snow has been made for years (with gray water, not treated), but now a snowcat that can be tethered to the top of the hill (it is steep) will be used to groom for maximum advantage.

Supporters of the greatly improved freestyle skiing expect that the hill will be used by professionals as well as amateurs, and that it could be a venue for special freestyle events.

Chapman Hill is a rare treat; not many communities have a ski area within its boundaries. Chapman Hill has always benefitted from healthy volunteer enthusiasm, private generosity and city-tax revenue. Now, it is again.

We look forward to seeing its slopes receive even more use.