During a weekend wrapped in red, white, and blue, and dedicated to observing Independence Day, a tight-knit community of skiers gathered on Saturday July 6th at the Estes Park Convention Center to commemorate a small ski area that once was: Ski Hidden Valley. Tucked in on the Eastern Slope of Rocky Mountain National Park just 10 miles west of Estes Park, Ski Hidden Valley, like so many other ski areas here in Colorado, was founded by a member of the 10th Mountain Division returning home from World War II.
In 1947 George Hurt, the area’s founder, transported the first skiers up the area’s notoriously challenging slopes from a rope tow he built from hand. The area was further developed into a hometown hill boasting 27 trails with 2,000 vertical feet topping out at 11,500 feet serviced by two Poma (platter) lifts, two T-bars, and for a short time, a chairlift. The operation was overseen by the U.S. National Park Service and the Estes Valley Recreation and Park District until it ceased operation in 1991.
Now, some 22 years later, filmmaker Brian Brown has compiled historical video footage and photography and coupled it with interviews of nearly 50 former Hidden Valley skiers, staff and family members, and Park Service employees to produce the two-hour documentary film “Ski Hidden Valley Estes Park.” More than 400 Hidden Valley enthusiasts attended the movie’s premiere which was nine months in the making. Hidden Valley was a local mountain. Most of the people sliding down its slopes lived in Estes Park, and the nearby communities of Loveland, Longmont, and Fort Collins. As such, the movie premiere felt much like a high-school class reunion.
From the first days of operation, to the formative years of local daredevil teens inspired by legendary freestyle skier Wayne Wong (who was recently inducted into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame), the movie tracks the development of the ski area through the decades. In the film patrollers recount the rough-and-tumble nature of the fledgling area, while ski instructors and the families they taught reminisce about how the unassuming area introduced them to a sport that offered life-lessons they would continue to draw from for decades to come. One thing that each of those interviewed agreed: If you can ski Hidden Valley, you can ski anywhere. The words have become the ski area’s mantra.
Yet like all ski areas, Hidden Valley was not immune to the challenges of sustaining operations. As years progressed, buildings began to decay, and the aging lift infrastructure required costly maintenance upgrades. Compounding this, the park service began to take a different view about offering such “concessions” on national public lands. In the end, Hidden Valley lost the continued support of the park service as well as that of the local recreation district. In a rather ironic twist of fate, George Hurt’s son Dennis, who went on to become a leading lift installation contractor in the ski industry, was commissioned in 1992 to deconstruct the ski area his father built more than 40 years ago.
In many ways, the local community felt betrayed by the park service and its disinterest in keeping the ski area open. The movie delicately depicts this sense of loss and heart break that still persists among the community to this day. No one mourns the closing of a golf course or an amusement park. The story of Ski Hidden Valley defines that which is so unique to the sport of skiing and the deep affinity skiers have for the places where their fear of falling ultimately transformed into a life’s passion. It’s a passion that parents seek to pass on to their children, and their children’s children.
The Greatest Generation is defined by its stoicism and selflessness. A veteran of World War II, George Hurt embodied those traits, and passed them on to his sons. When asked what their father would think of the movie premiere and the countless joys and eternal memories experienced at the ski area he built, both Dennis and his brother Monte Hurt agreed. If he could convince the park service and local recreation district to open the area and show them how to operate it, he would. The answer is less nostalgic, and more pragmatic. What the Hurt’s tell us, is if you just keep the lifts turning, and if you know how to maintain the trails and manage the snow fencing, the smiles and laughter, the friendships and loving family memories that ensue will tell the rest of the story.
To order a DVD copy of “Ski Hidden Valley Estes Park” visit www.skihiddenvalleyfilm.org. Contact filmmaker Brian Brown, BrownCow Production by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-359-6737. A movie trailer is available on You Tube. Find Ski Hidden Valley on Facebook and follow filmmaker Brian Brown on Twitter at @SkiEstesParkHV.