Things are looking up
City takes long-range look at Chapman Hill improvements, expansion

Things are looking up

The rope tow at Chapman Hill, which has been in use for more than 50 years, will likely be replaced as part of several improvements laid out in the Chapman Hill Master Plan. Additional changes include creating a ski yard for beginners and creating expanded terrain for experts./Photo by Jennaye Derge.

Tracy Chamberlin - 11/30/2017

One of Durango’s most unique features – the Chapman Hill ski area – will get some much-needed upgrades in the coming years.

Following a public presentation at the end of October, city officials are taking the next steps to upgrade equipment, expand terrain and add amenities to the local ski hill.

“The history of Chapman runs deep in our community,” Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said. “There’s a lot of attachment to (it).”

City officials have been taking public comment on the first draft of the Chapman Hill Master Plan since the October meeting, something they’ll continue in coming months. 

Metz said the key takeaway from the public, so far, has been about diversity. Skiers and riders of all skill levels, from first-timers to experts, use the in-town hill and everyone wants to keep it that way.

“It really services a range of skiers,” Metz said. “That was a really important theme.”

Residents are hoping the master plan can better accommodate that diversity, while also keeping an eye on safety. In the future, the plan is to open up additional terrain south of the ski hill for expert terrain. Along the north side, closer to the Chapman Hill Ice Rink, they’ll add either a magic carpet or rope tow to access new beginner terrain, and even install a rotundo circular lift in a beginner “ski yard.” These changes would open up the ski hill and create more distinct areas for expert, intermediate and beginner skiers. 

The Chapman Hill Master Plan, developed by Zehren and Associates, an Avon-based design firm, and local company Russell Planning and Engineering, is based on a phased approach to construction and expansion.

The first phase would focus on creating the new beginner area near the ice rink, dealing with a shallow gas line, and regrading the upper portion of the hill.

In the beginner area, the existing little rope tow would be removed and replaced with a new rope tow or magic carpet, installed at a slightly different angle. Additional snowmaking in this area and the rotundo circular lift would also come in with the first phase.

The second phase is about expanding the ski hill with expert terrain to the south, adding snowmaking equipment needed to support it, and replacing the existing rope tow.

Finally, in the third phase, the city would move the sledding and tubing hill behind the ice rink – where it would get less direct sunlight – as well as add two parking lots, build a halfpipe in the new expert area and consider expanding the ice rink facilities.

The most immediate concern for city officials is a meeting this week with the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board. City officials plan to ask the board if it would be possible to replace the existing rope tow, which takes skiers and riders to the top of the hill, with a chair lift. The steep grade of the hill might rule out the option. It turns out, though, replacing the rope tow with a new one isn’t an option either.

The existing one, which Metz said residents often call a “rite of passage” for Durango youth, has been operating at the hill for more than 50 years. It certainly passes inspection, but with Chapman’s steep upper slope, a new rope tow wouldn’t meet existing standards.

“We will have to go with a different device,” she added.

The price for each type of replacement will also be a factor. A new chair lift could cost between $972,000 - $1.2 million, while other options, like a T-bar, could be $476,000. Even a used chair, which would likely require higher maintenance costs, runs $200,000-$500,000.

Metz said some residents voiced desire to just keep the existing rope tow. However, eventually the aging icon will need to be replaced. She said it’s smart for the city to start the conversation now.

Another one of the more immediate issues is a shallow gas line running across the top of the hill. Because it’s not buried deep in the ground, the pipe would impede any attempts to regrade the slope or install a chair lift. So, city officials have started working with Atmos Energy.

Metz said the company has been receptive and, in fact, already had the line’s replacement on its list of capital improvements.

While the meetings with the Tramway Board, Atmos and others continue, the City is continuing to take public input on the master plan.

Once the City has spoken with regulators and heard from residents, it’ll likely present an official master plan to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in the coming year.

No construction will take place in 2018. Metz said it’s not in the budget. “At this point we’re trying to complete the planning process,” she said.

Construction, however, is something the City will be looking to include in the budget for 2019.