New life at Chapman Ski Hill
DMR offers to help with snowmaking, terrain park

A sign welcomes visitors to Chapman Hill, off Florida Road. The ski area has yet to open this season because of a lack of snow, but that could be a thing of the past if a partnership between local skiers and Durango Mountain Resort comes to fruition. The city’s Recreation Advisory Board is currently looking at the possibility of snowmaking and adding a terrain park, with the help of DMR./Photo by Todd Newcomer. 

by Missy Votel

The Chapman Hill bull wheel may be silent, but things may get rolling again at the little ski area with the help of the big resort up the road.

In January, a group of concerned locals as well as representatives from Durango Mountain Resort met with the city’s Recreation and Advisory Board to jumpstart talks on upgrading the small ski hill located in Durango, said Cathy Metz, Durango’s director of parks and recreation. Among the ideas discussed were the possibility of snowmaking and the addition of a terrain park, with DMR offering up its expertise and services.

“DMR is interested in assisting the city and offered to give us some guidance and expertise,” said Metz.

According to Sven Brunso, director of sales at DMR, the partnership between the resort and city would be a two-way street. The resort would supply support, and in turn, Chapman could serve as a “feeder area,” introducing young and inexperienced skiers to the sport, who hopefully will develop a lifelong passion. Chapman also would provide access to winter snow sports for those who otherwise can’t afford them.

“Skiing is expensive,” Brunso said. “This will open up the sport to a lot of people who can’t afford it.”

In addition, skiing at Chapman will help parents of small children who don’t have a lot of time to drive to the resort to teach their children how to ski.

“With two parents working, the only time to go skiing is at night after work,” he said. “It’s really hard to do unless you provide an outlet for it.”

Pat Morrissey, a lifelong Durangoan who was on the Chapman Hill Task Force a few years ago, said he became involved with the current effort because of his two daughters, ages 6 and 8.

“With little kids, trying to get them to DMR is hard,” he said. “When I was growing up, my parents lived a block away, and I went skiing every day after school. People say, ‘It snowed back then,’ but it did and it didn’t.”

Unlike the list of improvements submitted by the Task Force to the city in 2003, which included chairlifts, a ski lodge and extensive snowmaking, Morrissey said he believes the ski hill can be made viable by taking smaller steps. “The conceptual plan was put together by the public, and it had some relatively big numbers in it,” he said. “I’d like to open up the feasibility study again. Maybe this time, we can start a little smaller. I think the ski hill just needs a little ‘oomph’ to get going again.”

At the same time, he said it would be a waste to dismiss everything that was collected in that first feasibility report by the Task Force, which was headed up by local skiing legend Dolph Kuss.

“So much work was started,” he said. “We’re not trying to recreate the wheel, but just trying to get the ball rolling again.”

Among the ideas being considered to get Chapman off the ground is the use of portable snow-making guns to provide a consistent base and a terrain park to bring in more people. “The terrain parks seem to be what draws people today,” said Morrissey.

An old tire sits at the bottom of Chapman Ski Hill recently. Beleaguered by spotty snow over the last few years, a new effort headed up by locals and representatives from DMR is afoot to bring snowmaking and a small terrian park to the area. /Photo by Todd Newcomer. 

Brunso agreed. “The way to make this feasible, is to make a mini terrain park,” he said.

DMR would be willing to offer its expertise on grooming and could play more of a role by co-sponsoring the park, helping to build it at the beginning of the season or providing money to offset the costs.

As for the snowmaking, Brunso said the prospects are good. “Our head of mountain operations said even with the weather this year, it would work fine,” he said. “The aspect will hold snow. Obviously there would be some problems, but this is feasible.”

For several years in teh ’80s and ’90s, the ski hill had snowmaking, however, there were complaints from neighbors over noise and misdirected snow, which ended up on Florida Road instead of the ski hill. But Brunso said with advances in technology, snowmaking is more precise and quieter. One mobile “fan gun,” the type being proposed for Chapman, emits about 50 decibels at 75 feet and 25 at 150 feet. “Cars driving on Riverview would make more noise,” he said.

Plus, since the guns are mobile, snowmakers will be able to pinpoint areas where they want snow to go. Once a good base is built, Brunso said it can be maintained by “refreshing” it every few days with an inch or two of snow, if needed, and grooming it. He estimates a used snow gun and good used snow cat for grooming can be had for around $100,000.

Both men believe it is money that will be well spent, noting that people at first were skeptical of spending money on the ice rink, which has become hugely successful.

“Durango is a pretty physical place,” said Morrissey. “If you just build it, it seems the area overtakes it. It’s an ‘If-you-build-it-they-will-come’ type of thing.”

In addition, Brunso noted that other local businesses besides DMR could profit from skiing at Chapman. “It would benefit everyone in the ski business, from shops to rentals,” he said.

On a personal note, Brunso also said the improvements would pay off by fostering a sense of community. A professional skier who made his living for several years appearing in and filming ski movies, he said he has seen the success of other small ski hills.

“In Jackson, Steamboat Springs, all over Europe, I’ve seen these places that are small and the towns rally behind them,” he said.

But before that can happen, the city must first buy off on the plan. To that end, Morrissey and others interested in the ski hill will be drawing up a proposed usage map and looking further into the issue of noise, water usage and the terrain park. Their findings will be presented to the Recreation Advisory Board, which, if it likes what it hears, could recommend the plan to Durango City Council.

Matt Morrissey, recreation supervisor at Chapman, said although the city went through the involved process of drawing up a conceptual plan three years ago, the latest effort has been enlightening to some members of the Recreation Advisory Board, who are appointed every two years.

“Nothing has been done, but they’re trying to get more information and possibly get the council to take a look at it,” he said.

With the exception of this season, he said the ski hill has been open every year since 2000 but has never drawn more than 400 skier days a season. By contrast, he said about 10,000 people used the adjacent rink, which is open for roller hockey in the summer, last year. However, he said the new plans could be a step in the right direction.

“I think the terrain park is the way to go,” he said. “Who knows? We’ll have to see what happens.”



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