Bring back Cranor?
WSCU student tackles potential revival of local ski hill
Times Staff Writer
Originally published 2013-03-07
It’s been four years since the Cranor Hill ski area last cranked up the Poma lift for the public to enjoy a full day of downhill fun — Gunnison style.
Briant Wiles has been looking into what the City of Gunnison can do about that problem.
As a fourth year, non-traditional student at Western State Colorado University (WSCU), Wiles has undertaken an internship with the city that is primarily focused on what it would take to stage a revival at the 50-plus year old ski hill located a few miles north of town.
But Wiles brings more to the table than a typical student intern. After working for 10 years at various ski areas across Colorado — seven of which he spent as the manager for the terrain park at Arapahoe Basin — he carried a keen sense of current industry standards along with his ability to formulate a realistic cost analysis.
“When this internship came up, I thought it would be a great compliment to my past skills and work experiences,” said Wiles, who grew up in Wyoming. “The whole internship has been an exercise in creatively working through a task to come up with solutions.”
According to Dan Ampietro, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Gunnison, there’s been an ongoing discussion for the past several years about what it would take to build a functioning terrain park at Cranor Hill. All that was really missing from that discussion was a person with the right set of skills to oversee the feasibility statement.
“What I was looking for was good, reliable information,” said Ampietro. “I was looking for accuracy in creating a budget and detail as far as the park itself goes.”
So how do you turn Cranor Hill — which needs 16 inches of snow in order to open for skiing — into a fully operating ski area that isn’t dependent on the weather?
Wiles has a couple of ideas. The most likely scenario among those would be for the city to invest in snowmaking.
“Terrain parks live and die with snowmaking,” said Wiles. “You can have a limited size terrain park without (snow), but it just doesn’t happen all that often.”
This wouldn’t be an entirely new concept at Cranor, which opened to the public in 1966. According to Ampietro, it was during its early years that a group of “old time Cranor guys” tapped into a nearby well and began making snow themselves with make-shift equipment.
But that endeavor proved to have its problems as well.
“The problem was, and continues to be, that well pumps 60 degree water year round,” said Ampietro. “And then they ran into an issue where the water they were using had properties that made it turn brown.”
Wiles believes it would take a much more advanced snowmaking system than the one devised back in the ’60s. But as part of his internship, he’s included a number of different design options to consider — all of which could provide some range of increased action at Cranor.
“One of the designs looks at doing (the terrain park) with dirt work,” said Wiles. “They could have mounds already set and be able to open with a more minimal amount of snow.”
In order to come up with his designs and cost estimates, he’s been looking at ski hills that are similar to Cranor across the nation. Among those, the Chapman Hill ski area in Durango has provided a pretty good template for what might work in Gunnison.
For Wiles, laying out all the possible options is what’s most important. While he admits that he is a huge advocate of skiing in general and would love to see the project take roots, it’s been his job to analyze both the pros and cons of any future developments.
“Personally, I’m all for it. But I’m trying to approach this with an open mind,” said Wiles. “Maybe we go out and talk to people and find out there’s not the support out there that we need.”
Drumming up support is what he calls phase three of his internship. After formulating a number of cost projections that relate to the various designs and approaches for building the park, the next step will be putting his findings out to the public.
Wiles believes the opportunity for partnerships with both WSCU and the Gunnison Watershed School District could play a vital role.
Ampietro added that the project could be a perfect candidate to receive some financial backing through the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant system.
“If we’ve got something in the hopper with good, accurate information and decided it was a good priority to move forward with, we could use that info to apply for GOCO funding,” said Ampietro. “It’s the perfect kind of outdoor recreation project for that money.”
He went on to say that, without Wiles, the idea to develop such a project would have been dead in its tracks. But because of his specific knowledge about operating terrain parks and willingness to be detailed on the business end of the things, the partnership has been a success.
“I didn’t feel like I could miss out on the opportunity to have someone with that type of experience,” said Ampietro. “The guy has got way more knowledge than we do over here on these things and to bypass that would have been a sin.”
Wiles said that the internship does not fulfill any degree requirements. Instead, he’s hoping the experience will pay off when he’s ready to make a return to the working world after he graduates in May.
“It seems like a no brainer to go back into the ski industry and move up a little higher,” said Wiles. “This was a way to keep my foot in the door and my skills sharp.”
Stay tuned to future editions of the Gunnison Country Times for opportunities to weigh in on the potential revival of the Cranor Hill ski area.
(Matt Smith can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com)