by Lucy Aspden, The Telegraph, September 24, 2018
With winter fast approaching, ski resorts around the world are preparing for the 2018/19 ski season, which as ever heralds the opening of new state-of-the-art lifts, expanded ski areas and freshly upgraded accommodation.
However, the polish and shine of the world’s most popular resorts held little appeal for one group of skiers in America, who chose to swap the conveniences of well-known modern destinations for the ruins of abandoned ski areas in Colorado, to create a new documentary, Abandoned.
It was co-founder Lionello DelPiccolo’s childhood memory of hiking up old abandoned runs in Geneva Basin that inspired the search to find more of Colorado’s hidden gems.
“We discovered there were hundreds of places in Colorado that were once ski areas," he says. "We made it our mission to go explore some of these places and document their history as well as ski them ourselves to see what they were like after years of sitting stagnant.”
Geneva Basin has been abandoned since 1984. Back in its heyday and before it was hit by the financial issues that forced it to close, the area was popular with families, as well as experts who enjoyed its challenging descents. Its steep terrain, tree skiing and remote location proved to be a tricky filming location for the team.
“This was the most difficult resort to access as we had to hike four miles on a closed road to access the former base area and then continue up the slopes from there,” says DelPiccolo.
“We were drawn to the history associated with some of these places. Berthoud Pass, for example, is considered by many to be the first official ski area in Colorado. Each of these areas had their own unique contribution in creating the ski industry we all know today.”
Berthoud Pass opened in 1937 and was home to one of the world’s first double chairlifts, installed in 1947. Despite being located in an area blessed by great natural snowfall the resort couldn’t compete with other major resorts and had to close in 2001. Since, it’s become a popular destination for backcountry skiing.
Cuchara first opened in 1981 and was a small family-run operation that went through a number of different owners, until it finally closed down in 2000. These days, 18 years later, the ski area is now a county park run by local people. The area’s skiing history hasn’t been forgotten however. “They hope to reopen one of the small lifts to create a learning area for local kids,” explains DelPiccolo.
Through a series of interviews with former owners, ski patrollers and historians, as well as some epic skiing and snowboarding, Abandoned documents what skiing used to be like before issues such as competition from bigger name resorts, lack of finance and climate change forced many independently owned ski areas to shut down.
Clips from the film’s trailer show faded piste map posters, crumbling lift stations and chairlifts left to swing in the wind.
“We were really interested in exploring the ruins and infrastructure that was left behind. There are some places where everything is still intact, but weathered, and others, where it is difficult to even tell there was a ski area there at all,” says DelPiccolo.
The crew were not only committed to uncovering the history of the resorts but were also keen to ride some of the untracked terrain and forgotten parts of the ski areas, often with just themselves for company.
“Cuchara Mountain Resort has quite an eerie feeling as the lifts chairs and buildings are still standing. It feels as if you are skiing in the apocalypse, because the area still appears to be in working order, yet the lifts are not running and there are no other people skiing. It was quite a strange feeling knowing you were the only ones skiing at the entire resort,” says DelPiccolo.
In Berthoud Pass however the story today is much more positive. “The old Berthoud Pass ski area has now become one of the most popular backcountry areas in the state of Colorado. On any given weekend the parking lots are full it almost feels as if there is still a ski area there,” he says.
Colorado is well known as a ski destination worldwide, and is home to some of the biggest and best ski resorts in America, including Vail, Aspen, Winter Park and Breckenridge, all of which are served by UK tour operators. Many are also now covered by global lift passes such as the Epic and Ikon Pass, which cover multiple resorts under one system.
The Abandoned film, which will premiere at the Oriental theatre in Denver, Colorado, on October 22, has been shortlisted for an award at the Adventure Shorts Film Festival and will also play at the Freeride Film Festival in Amsterdam on November 2.