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By James R. White
Special to The SUN
Continuing with Dean Cox’s great article a few weeks ago on Pagosa’s ski areas, and the SUN’s 25 years ago section in the Feb. 28 Legacies, Pagosa had another ski area — Pirate Hill, south of the school bus barn.
The Pagosa Springs High School and junior high kids practiced downhill events there in preparation for CHSAA-sanctioned ski meets on weekends.
The Hill had no lift. Most ex-students, when asked about Pirate Hill, say they will never ski sidestep up that hill again. A lift was proposed on one of the new high school schematics, but never happened.
Yes, the school district had funded men’s and women’s ski teams, with both high school and junior high athletes participating.
The season started with conditioning the first day of school. Nordic was practiced on Reservoir Hill, at the golf course or the top of Wolf Creek Pass.
When meets began, kids got on Dewey (Dad) Lattin’s school bus at about noon on Thursdays and travelled for contests at Vail, Copper Mountain, Leadville, Nederland, Winter Park and other ski areas. They spent two nights on the road.
Friday events were alpine (slalom and giant slalom) and Saturday events included Nordic races of various distances. Over Wolf Creek in all kinds of weather Dewey would go, telling the kids to “sit down, shut up and nobody will get hurt.” And they always got home safe and sound (but late into the night, or sometimes the next day if the pass was closed). Grades were rarely a problem; if they were, kids didn’t get to travel.
Pagosa hosted meets at Wolf Creek Ski Area in the 1980s with parents, teachers, coaches, administration and school board members turning out to officiate.
Nordic events were held on Reservoir Hill or at the golf course. It wasn’t unusual to see Superintendent Terry Alley with a stopwatch or working in some other capacity on the slope.
Pagosa hosted the state meet in 1984 and 1989, complete with a dinner and awards ceremony.
Many of the local kids didn’t have modern ski clothes. Longjohns and Levis, and large garbage bags copped from the Lodge, with holes cut for arms and head, were sometimes used to ward off a blizzard. The sights and sounds of swirling snow, plastic flapping in the wind and the “thwap” of bamboo poles being crashed into is something to remember!
Longtime coach and English teacher Reenie Neel put in extraordinary effort, spending long hours at practice, setting courses, organizing meets and going on away trips to develop young people, not only as skiers but as future leaders.
Other coaches putting in yeoman effort over the years were Pete Peterson, Lindsey Kurt-Mason, Cynthia Mitchell, Betsy Carpino, Sunny Schneider and others.
Kitzel (Laverty) Farrah was a state champion in 1982, whipping most all of the lady skiers in the state that year. Her brothers, Steve and Kurt, were also state participants. Mike (Skippy J) Werner blew everybody away in the 8-K Nordic as state champion, and went on to a ski scholarship at Western State. Melinda (Formwalt) Volger and Mike Martinez were on the team in the 1970s, along with Barbara Seielstad and Tony Rackham. Later came Brad (Aldo) and Scott Marquez, the Wilger boys John and Scott (Wigs), Mary (Bobsled) Callen, the White kids (Mary Helen Cammack, Jim and Scott), Stacy (Formwalt) Barker, John Kennedy and the Sanders boys (Steve and Trey). Blue (Pitcher) Lindner was State Skimeister in 1989. Mike Werner, Jason Kelly and Todd Shelton were an awesome Nordic trio from 1987 through 1989. Both the men’s and women’s teams took second place in the 1989 state meet. There were many more kids involved over the years, as well as many supportive parents.
Pagosa’s CHSAA program began in the mid 1970s, and ended in the early 1990s because of budget priorities. A basically Nordic club program ran for a few years after that. Nowadays, we all sit and stare at Pirate Hill when the fireworks go off on July 4, and some dream of old ski team days. But, as Cox’s article indicated, there has always been a real and obvious need, and desire, for a ski area in snowy Pagosa Springs. Texas has its multimillion dollar high school football stadiums in small towns. Would it make sense to have a little ski area on Reservoir Hill?