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Hesperus Ski Area to remain closed through 2024-25 season

Local hill will remain closed to uphill and downhill access
Hesperus Ski Area will remain closed through the 2024-25 season after a mechanical problem with the lift prevented it from opening this season. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The bullwheel at Hesperus Ski Area will sit idle through the 2024-25 season, pass-holders were informed Tuesday.

The one-lift wonder ski hill west of Durango has long been considered a quaint community gem. The area did not open for the 2023-24 season after the gear box on the Bighorn Chairlift failed before the season got underway. Now, the hill will remain closed at least through next season.

Hesperus Ski Area is owned by Mountain Capital Partners, a Durango-based company that also owns Purgatory Resort. It sits on 160 acres of land owned by Jack Scott, whose family began leasing the property for use as a ski area in the late 1950s.

A rebuild of the Bighorn’s gear box, effectively a massive transmission, would cost a minimum of $200,000, said Purgatory and Hesperus General Manager Dave Rathbun. It’s a large investment that MCP is not willing to make until the future viability of the ski hill is assured. That future depends on snowmaking.

MCP’s intention when the business purchased Hesperus in 2016 was to make snow there. The north-facing slope tops out just over 8,800 feet of elevation, and has a relatively short natural ski season, given that it relies solely on natural snow accumulation. And often, the natural accumulation of snow is not enough to open by the Christmas holiday.

“It’s really clear that if you miss Christmas, you have no prayer of even breaking even at Hesperus,” Rathbun said.

In the eight years since MCP purchased the ski area, he said Hesperus was able to open during the Christmas holiday twice and before Christmas once. The ski area’s expenses have eclipsed its revenues every winter but one.

Hesperus Ski Area, seen here on Feb. 9, 2023, lights up the hillside south of U.S. Highway 160 west of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

With plans to secure water for snowmaking in limbo, MCP has decided to hold off on the six-figure investment necessary to get the bullwheel on the 1962 lift running again.

Although the amount of water necessary is relatively small, Rathbun said securing a source has presented a formidable challenge. MCP is not giving up on Hesperus, although a permanent closure is not out of the question either.

“We’re not hanging up our spurs here, so to speak. We’re taking a pause,” Rathbun said. “Let’s keep working on it. Let’s keep thinking about alternatives and options. But until we figure this out and get some kind of snowmaking out there, we’re gonna take a pause.”

Backcountry enthusiasts who prefer to walk uphill with skins affixed to the base of their skis and then ski down have used Hesperus as a quasi training ground or easily accessible exercise area outside of the lift’s operating hours. However, the hill will remain closed for uphill access as well.

Rathbun said that to allow uphill access, the area would need to provide other amenities.

“I think you probably need bathrooms. I think you need somebody to pick up the trash. I think you need to have some kind of general maintenance prepared to be there to deal with anything with the facilities there,” he said. “And that’s why we’re not going to pursue any of those other things.”

He emphasized that MCP does recognize the importance of Hesperus as a community staple that has served skiers across the Southwest for over 60 years.

“It’s a painful thing for all of us to be talking about this, and we’re still not going to stop,” Rathbun said. “We’ve invested a lot into where we are … if we can come up with a few million gallons of water for snowmaking, we’re going to figure out the rest.”

The Power Pass, which typically includes access to Hesperus Ski Area, will go on sale next week and will not grant access to the hill next season.


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