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Why a Colorado ski area already plans to stay closed for 2024-25 season

As ski passes for the 2024-25 season go on sale this month, one small Colorado resort has decided it will not open for at least the next year.

Hesperus Ski Area near Durango said it “will not operate for the 2024/2025 season. … Both downhill and uphill skiing as well as winter tubing will not be available.”

That means Hesperus will be closed for two consecutive seasons after a mechanical failure with its sole chairlift prevented the ski area from opening this winter.

While Hesperus’ Bighorn Lift is still in disrepair, general manager Dave Rathbun attributed the closure to an even more basic essential for skiing: snow. The ski area, which is owned by Mountain Capital Partners, apparently doesn’t have a water supply for snowmaking. In fact, it’s never made snow since opening in 1962, Rathbun said.

“We came to the realization that without having some water rights there, even if we got the lift fixed, there’s no guarantee that we’d be able to open,” he said. “We need natural snow out there.”

Rathbun said the decision to remain closed is also financial. The chairlift gearbox is like its transmission and needs to be custom fabricated. Between the costs of shipping, materials, labor and inspections, “we’re looking at six figures, hundreds of thousands of dollars when all that is said and done,” he said.

That money would be better spent securing water rights to make snow so that at least some terrain could open for tubing, skiing and snowboarding.

“It became pretty painfully obvious that we’ve invested a lot to get to where we are, but really to go any further at this point, we need to have some assurance that we could make snow out there and give ourselves a chance to be open at Christmas. That’s what we’ve learned at Hesperus needs to happen in order to make it viable financially,” Rathbun said.

Bringing snowmaking to Hesperus would require infrastructure like snowmakers and water storage, but those are the easy parts of the equation, according to Rathbun.

“That’s what we are experts at – we are snow farmers,” he said. “That part we are fully prepared to do, but obviously you can’t do that without having water to do it with.”

With 60 skiable acres, Hesperus has long been a local favorite among folks in Durango for its quaint vibe and affordable prices. In 2016, the ski area was purchased by Purgatory Ski Resort owner James Coleman, who remains a managing partner of Mountain Capital Partners. The company operates about a dozen resorts between the U.S. and South America, including the nearby Purgatory Ski Resort in Durango.

Rathbun, who is also the general manager of Purgatory, said Mountain Capital Partners has operated Hesperus as efficiently as possible, even absorbing some operational costs in Purgatory’s budget and sharing staff. While he couldn’t comment on the future beyond next winter, Rathbun said the owners aren’t giving up.

“It’s an entirely different type of experience than what we offer at Purgatory and it’s a different customer. We’re committed to trying to find any avenue we can to get ahold of water rights so we can make some snow and be sure we can operate Hesperus in the future,” he said.

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