The first thing that struck me about Echo Mountain Resort is the people: There aren’t very many. In one sense, Echo looks like any other alpine destination, just on a smaller scale. Streams of white runs still cut through vast swaths of evergreen like a river, but normally there are little dots weaving down the slope that kick up powder behind them. At Echo, the corduroy runs remain undisturbed.
That is, until I had my go. I clicked into my skis, pulled my goggles down, and started to carve. I picked up speed and, not thirty seconds into my run, I caught air. I then face planted and destroyed a good 20 feet of beautiful, groomed, untouched snow. Much earlier than expected, I had already left my mark on Echo Mountain.
Fortunately, my skiing partner and Echo instructor Ursula Smith was there to help pick up the pieces after my fall. She glided effortlessly over the small bump that sent me careening into the air, and was carrying one of my skis, which I apparently lost in the fall.
Smith has seen Echo Mountain go through several different owners. Most recently, the resort filed for bankruptcy last February, when then-owner Nora Pykkonen fell behind on loan payments. In October, Echo was bought by University of Denver alum Peter Burwell for about $4 million. Although this latest incarnation has only been in operation since January 10, Smith feels like the new management is succeeding in make this mountain a more personal experience. “It’s almost like a family,” she says. Perhaps this will help the new management reach a previously elusive goal: sustained success.
Echo is a very small mountain. In an hour, I managed to ski almost all 60 acres of its skiable terrain. That acreage is a fraction of what can be found another hour west on I-70. Fred Klaas, the resort’s general manager, is aware of this, but also believes there’s more to Echo’s draw than runs.
“For a lot of people in Denver or the front range, skiing is inaccessible,” Klaas says. “It’s too expensive, or too far away, or takes too much time out of their day. For those reasons, Echo has potential to grow and can be a viable option to those people.”
Its size makes the mountain cozy, but it’s the people who make the experience memorable. Before I even made it on the mountain, I overheard a happy reunion in the kitchen, where one of the regulars was thrilled to see Bob McCullough cooking up food. McCullough’s been here for a few years now, and is the first person Smith’s kids want to see when they arrive. Like the mountain, the staff is small and most are working quite a lot. This gives the Echo staff the ability to build real relationships with its guests, which is certainly something you won’t find at the bigger resorts.
The staff wants you to enjoy the mountain as much as they do, even if you fall because you were a little more careless than you should’ve been. It’s the people who are there that makes Echo Mountain such a great place to learn and visit.
Update, Aug. 29, 2017: Echo Mountain has joined Colorado Ski Country U.S.A. (CSCUSA), and will participate in two of CSCUSA’s existing pass programs: the Passport Program ($105), which offers three free days of skiing to fifth graders and four free days of skiing to sixth graders, and the Gems Card ($25), which provides two-for-one lift passes or 30 percent off adult lift passes. Echo Mountain is scheduled to open for the 2017–18 season on November 21. 19285 CO-103 in Idaho Springs. Ski lessons can be booked at echomountainresort.com/lessons; call 970-531-5038