by Aaron Bible
Do you know the history of your home hill?
When you’re skiing in places like Aspen or Stowe or Deer Valley, for example, often times the town and resort history is right in your face. But that’s not always the case with Eldora, which feels so close to Boulder and the Front Range it’s easy to forget the area’s fascinating and rustic mountain town roots, even if it’s not on the scale of some of the other ski areas you may use with your Ikon Pass.
But for those skiers and riders that flock from Denver, Boulder, and other nearby towns, people know the mountain for its ease of access and craft-focused approach, as well as for the mountain culture Eldora serves to anchor for so many over the last five decades.
When visiting today, downtown Eldora, Colorado, incorporated in 1898, you’ll quickly see it’s no Crested Butte, perhaps, but it certainly has its charm – and its own unique history. And although Nederland is now of course the “urban hub” for the beloved Eldora Ski Resort, it got us wondering where this little town got its name and how we got our ski area.
The Colorado mountain town of Eldora was originally called Eldorado, and didn’t experience its first mining boom until more than 20 years after neighboring Caribou and Middle Boulder, which would come to be incorporated as Nederland in 1874. Even before Eldorado Canyon just south of Boulder was developed, the letter carriers of the day kept delivering mail there destined for Eldorado, California, so the name was quickly modified to “El Dora,” also called “Camp Eldorado,” and incorporated as Eldora in March of 1898. The town and area was also called Happy Valley, named after the discovery of gold at the Happy Valley Placer Mine in the 1890s. Some gold and silver ore was pulled out of Spencer Mountain and the surrounding peaks, but the boom didn’t last more than a couple of years. Even down the street in Nederland, only a handful of families remained by 1899, following the collapse of the silver market.
Nestled in the Roosevelt National Forest at approximately 8,700 feet, a gateway to the majestic Indian Peaks Wilderness and the Ute Mountains, the area is renowned for its frequent (and sometimes large) upslope snow storms throughout the winter. One can only imagine the almost 1,500 people who lived there in the 1890s, including nine hair salons and seven grocers, and the fun – and hardships -- they must have had come wintertime. Eldora served as an outpost town for all mines further west and after the turn of the century was central to attempts at finding a passage across the Continental Divide (which ultimately took place just south over Rollins Pass).
The ski resort itself is said to be named after nearby Lake Eldora, born along with the rest of the Colorado ski industry boom in the early 1960s. The land was purchased in 1961 and the first lift – Little Hawk – was installed in 1967, and remains the oldest operating chairlift in Colorado. Eldora has been continuously operating since then with the exception of the 1986-87 season, not due to low snow, but to a change in ownership, despite the development of I-70 luring more and more skiers each year.
But with the purchase of Eldora Mountain by POWDR Corp in 2016, the introduction of Woodward Mountain Park, and the implementation of the Ikon Pass as well as the installation of the high speed Alpenglow six-person lift two seasons ago, that is starting to change. With the earliest resort opening and the longest season in nearly two decades last year, Eldora is poised to continue to make history for the 2019/20 season and beyond.
All images courtesy of WesternMiningHistory.com: