This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Editor's note • In this regular series, The Tribune explores the once-favorite places of Utahns, from restaurants to recreation to retail.
The two runs that made up one of Utah's tiniest ski resorts remain visible more than 25 years after Blue Mountain ski area folded.
They are a reminder of when the Blue Mountain Ski Club tried to create southeastern Utah's only lift-served ski area. It consisted of a Poma lift, one main run and a small side hill.
Longtime Monticello resident Victor Schafer said work began on cutting the runs near town in the late 1950s. A uranium miner bought the Poma lift that whisked skiers up the mountain.
"It was a community effort," he said. "The locals got together and cleared it."
The nonprofit operation formed the ski club to operate the little resort. Victor's brother, Gene, was a mechanic, and when the diesel engine that operated the lift broke down, he worked to get the thing running.
"We all grew up skiing there," said Schafer. "It was five miles from town and the greatest fun. It was very steep and had a lot of moguls."
He recalls that the cost of a lift ticket was "change in your pocket. It was less than five bucks."
Schafer said he started a rumor when he was in high school that school ended early on a Wednesday afternoon so kids could go skiing. It wasn't true.
"All of us were sluffing," said Schafer.
Mary Cokenour, a San Juan County historian and newspaper columnist who works in the Monticello welcome center, said the motto for the resort was, "If you can ski Blue Mountain, you can ski anywhere," largely because the main slope was so steep.
"The resort had a small lodge with a fireplace and a desk," she said. "Hot beverages and grilled food would be available to skiers."
She recently visited with former Blue Mountain manager David Krouskop, who told her that his sons didn't like the resort much because the bunny run was not so steep.
A poster advertising the ski area is on display at the Frontier Museum in Monticello, she said. Skiers came from Moab, Blanding and Cortez, Colo., to ski at Blue Mountain.
Writing on a forum called epicski.com in 2005, Rick Cahoon said he worked at the resort when he was younger. He remembers both the Poma lift as well as a T-bar.
The north run was steep and provided excellent powder runs after a snowstorm, he wrote. The south run consisted of several tracks split by a mature aspen forest, he added.
One skier listed that south run as a favorite in a 2006 poll of readers of The Salt Lake Tribune.
Utah ski historian Alexis Kelner said his research on Blue Mountain revealed that there were five principal owners in the development. The resort was one of the few small ski areas in the state that opened after World War II with a working lift, he said.
These days, said Pam Hanson of the San Juan County Economic Development Office, winter recreation enthusiasts still use the old runs for tubing and snowboarding.
According to Brian Murdock, recreation manager for the Manti-La Sal National Forest, that was one reason the U.S. Forest Service decided to remove the lift towers and cables.
"It's becoming a popular backcountry ski area," he said. "The runs are still there … It was becoming a hazardous situation with trees falling down on [the cables]. We needed the contractor to haul them off the hill."
The old lodge and lift house shack remain in place.
The old Blue Mountain Ski Club has revived a bit in recent years. It is now a Nordic skiing and snowshoe club that has formed a ski trail grooming partnership with the Forest Service. Many of the trails are close to the former resort.
Murdock said the Abajo Mountains have become a popular winter recreation area for skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers, and the Forest Service participated in avalanche forecasts for the area.
So why did the resort, which was associated with the city of Monticello, fold?
"It is at an elevation that doesn't get consistent snow all the time," said Murdock. "The last couple of years, they did not run it. It fell apart due to a lack of snow."
Cokenour said the resort closed circa 1990.
Schafer said it closed because liability insurance became too expensive and the lease with the Forest Service ran out. Light winters did not help. "Some years it was operational and functional, and other years it wasn't," he recalled.
Still, the old resort runs can easily be seen from Monticello, a testament to a time when Blue Mountain provided southeastern Utah's only lift-served terrain.
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