Before you head to Hoedown Hill in Windsor’s RainDance neighborhood, try to go skiing at one of Colorado’s famous resorts. Tyler Lind is counting on it.
Given that Hoedown Hill is admittedly smaller and not as varied as the giant hills of Summit County, you may not fully appreciate the debut of Northern Colorado’s only ski resort without some knowledge of what it takes to drive up I-70.
Lind offers some perspective: A day trip to a big ski hill can mean getting up before dawn and sitting in traffic for three hours; spending hundreds, if not thousands, for a night in a hotel; spending more money for equipment, lessons for the kids and your own pass; spending even more money for lunch than if you were at Disneyland; listening to the kids whine about being cold, sore and not wanting to finish their lessons; and waiting in long lines for ski lifts.
Even if this all sounds like a worst-case scenario, Lind knows most skiers experience at least some of those foils, if not most, and he has proof. According to his research, only one percent of all first-time skiers try it again. That number shocked him, and it led him and The Water Valley Company, owned by his father, Martin Lind, to make Hoedown Hill a ski resort in addition to the tubing hill Martin first envisioned.
That one percent may be a bit low—other trade publications and the National Ski Areas Association have it anywhere from seven to 20 percent—but all agree that the retention rate is low, if not abysmal.
“If you think about the outrageous amount of money you spend for an experience that is usually not positive,” Lind says, “the (low) number makes sense.”
Lind hopes Hoedown Hill will survive, even thrive, by eliminating those inconveniences and allowing families to focus on the skiing and snowboarding. It’s close to all major cities in Northern Colorado, more affordable than the big ski resorts and has some hills for thrills that might be steeper and longer than you’d expect. Lind refers to the slope where kids (and adults) can learn as a “bunny hill on steroids” and armed it with videos showing first-timers how to pizza and French fry.
Tickets listed on Hoedown’s site offer day and night skiing in six-hour blocks for $60 on Mondays and Thursdays (they’re closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and $80 Friday through Sunday as well as holidays. By way of comparison, January day passes for Winter Park were listed from $159-$224 on its website in mid-December.
Lind hopes that experienced skiers may fall for the chance to ski a few runs after work, and he thinks Hoedown Hill will keep them coming back with its two terrain parks and, yes, a few black diamond runs. He admits those runs won’t match the difficulty of, say, Breckenridge’s, or the length, but he means it when he calls the 12-acre hill with a 130-foot drop “a hill for everyone.”
“There will be some challenging areas,” Lind says, “and you can’t go to Winter Park after work. I mean, you could, but it wouldn’t be fun.”
Hoedown Hill should be open by the time you read this. Lind says the goal was to be open by mid-December, and he is hoping for good-sized crowds after Jan. 1, when the resort should be fully operating.
Lind could be praying for those crowds. He admits that adding the ski resort made Hoedown Hill much more expensive than what Water Valley initially intended.
“This cost us much more per square foot than anything else we’ve done, and we have golf courses,” Lind says. “It was a ton of work to make everything come together. It was astronomical, actually. We don’t want people to think we just scraped together a snow hill to make money. We wanted to bring world-class accommodations.”
Small resorts encourage skiing
Even as Hoedown Hill uses the ski industry’s dismal retention numbers as a marketing tool, the resort could help improve the likelihood of more skiers hitting the slopes, says Adrienne Saia Isaac, director of communications for the National Ski Areas Association.
“Smaller resorts are critical to getting the next generation into this sport,” she says.
They tend to reduce the barriers to entry, including cost, experience level and transportation, the exact kinds of problems Lind cites for his belief that Hoedown Hill could compete with the larger resorts. It’s Isaac’s job to promote skiing, but even she acknowledges the downsides of the large ski resorts: She calls Colorado’s admittedly amazing ski mountains “a blessing and a curse.”
“It’s world-class, but they’re hard to get to and expensive,” Isaac says, “and it’s intimidating to go to one of those huge resorts up there.”
Lind admits that attracting the backcountry bunch, a group the larger resorts can draw with their bowls and ever-increasing raw terrain expansions, is probably an unrealistic goal. But if Hoedown can satisfy enough experienced skiers, the kind who love their blues and maybe a couple blacks, it has a good chance of making it, Isaac says.
“Small places do breed loyalists,” she says. “Even if they do graduate to Winter Park, they will come back and become very loyal to a vibe and a place.”
She says this because most resorts across the country are small like Hoedown. A great example exists just a couple hours from Northern Colorado, the Snowy Range Ski Area in Centennial, Wyo. But what makes Hoedown so interesting is the fact that it’s new.
“Small areas do persist, but they go through cycles of opening and closing,” she says. “To see a community ski area open like this is pretty cool.”
Tubing close to home
Hoedown Hill still has its tubing hills, which are also brand new. Lind calls one tubing hill the largest in North America, even bigger than the famous Fraser Tubing Hill in Grand County. Hoedown sells two-hour blocks instead of the hour-long tubing trips in other areas.
“It should be a way better experience for them,” Lind says of kids. “They can come after school.”
Hoedown’s tubing tickets cost $50 on Mondays and Thursdays and $60 Friday through Sunday as well as holidays. Rates listed on Fraser Tubing Hill’s website are $30 for an hour or $35 for 90 minutes. Both places include the use of a tube and a lift to the top.
Tubing is another way to get people interested in skiing, Isaac says. A tubing pass at Hoedown allows you to ride down their beginner tubing hill, Greenhorn Hill, as well as the relatively intense Bushwhacker Hill.
“You can get comfortable with [skiing] through tubing,” she says. “You don’t have to be super athletic. You just have to hold on and have fun.”
If Hoedown has repeat customers, they will have to buy a pass every time, as it won’t offer ski passes like the other resorts do (even the smaller ones). Lind says that’s something they may offer in the future.
Eventually, Hoedown will need to fully support itself to survive. Lind and Isaac both think it can.
“I love that this group has a plan for community engagement,” Isaac says. “It can serve as a model for other small areas.”