Ski Cooper, a historic ski area about 12 miles north of Leadville in Lake County, has been managed for nearly 20 years by an all-volunteer management board. The board’s contract expires in 2012, and members want a new 20-year pact. But Lake County’s leaders are considering moves to broaden rustic Ski Cooper’s appeal, and market share, at the expense of the publicly owned ski hill’s down-home charm.

While a vocal group of locals urges change at the historic ski area about 12 miles north of town, the area’s 20-year, all-volunteer management board says it has kept the ski area stable and wants its contract renewed. Ski Cooper, established in 1941 as Cooper Hill Ski Area, has no debt and has paid for $5.5 million in upgrades since 1992 with cash savings. Ski Cooper averages about 62,000 skier visits a season. The $42 walk-up lift-ticket price is one of the state’s most affordable.
The Cooper board is asking county commissioners for another 20-year contract. The existing contract, which expires in 2012, requires that the nonprofit ski area be fiscally independent and reinvest all profits back into the operation. The proposed new contract is virtually identical.
But loosely knit groups — with names such as Friends for Change at Cooper Hill and Friends of Cooper Hill — are pushing to open a bid process to see how another group might manage the 400-acre, 26-run ski hill.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ski Cooper’s management repeatedly returned to the county’s commissioners asking for money, despite demands for fiscal sustainability.
In 1984, a new volunteer board took charge of the ski area, hiring new operators. Since then, the area has sustained itself on its modest revenues of about $2 million a year, using excess cash to expand the base lodge, buy new snow groomers and upgrade the fleet of rental equipment.
One group is suggesting that Ski Cooper offer its Sno-Cat-only terrain on Chicago Ridge to hiking skiers, which could draw visitors with a wider array of skills. Installation of a small surface lift up the steep ridge or a lift on the area’s gladed backside to attract intermediate and advanced riders is also advocated. And more aggressive marketing and opening up the bidding for food-service and Nordic-skiing concessions is being urged. Other ideas include offering a shuttle for local students and opening the closed-door meetings held by the area’s management board.

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