In the mountains southwest of the Air Force Academy, in the Pike National Forest, Ormes Peak sits undisturbed by humans with the exception of an occasional adventurer.
As an AFA cadet in 2004, Eric Jesse first visited this mountain to go Nordic skiing. He recalls Ormes wasn't like much of Southern Colorado, where winters are mostly dry and days often warm. At Ormes, which climbs to 9,727 feet in elevation, the snowpack was impressive and the air crisp. The area more resembled Colorado's famous ski resorts than the muddy-brown open spaces.
Fast-forward 12 years. Eric, now an Air Force captain and accomplished athlete, holds a doctorate in policy analysis and has served in Africa, Europe and Afghanistan. After working in operations and policy analysis at multiple command headquarters, he's transitioning to a civilian position at Boston Consulting Group.
Eric met his wife, Ilana, in his hometown of Los Angeles. Her online biography says she helped launch a skin-care business and grow it into a multi-million-dollar company in five years, launched the outdoor website Thrillseekers Anonymous and is a sponsored climber and snowboarder. She is now finishing nursing school.
The couple moved permanently to Colorado Springs in 2014, and see only one problem here: It's 100-plus miles from the nearest ski resort. The way the Jesses see it, that's fixable. The solution, they say, is the snowy little spot that Eric first skied over a decade ago: Ormes Peak.
"There's no reason for it not to be here," Eric says by phone. The Jesses want to put a ski resort on Ormes and have a website, skiormespeak.com, to crowd-fund an initial $120,000 to get the project through approvals and show public interest. So far, Ilana says, they've raised about $2,000.
If they move forward, the Jesses plan to raise $70 million from major investors to pay for the rest of the project. Ilana notes Eric has raised large sums before as a consultant.
Eric says they have received encouragement from U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, Mayor John Suthers, some City Councilors, county staff and others. They've done research, talked with people in the ski industry and crafted a proposal that examines access issues, projected visitation, economic impact, watershed and, of course, snowfall.
They say Ormes has more snow because its bowl is blocked off by Blodgett Peak, it sits at a high elevation, winds bring more storms to the area, and the resort is proposed for the northern slopes. Jennifer Stark, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Pueblo, says there are no snow measurements on Ormes, but Colorado mountains do create "little micro-climates." She says, some forecasters living southwest of Pueblo have measured as much as 150 inches of snow in a season.
The closest data to Ormes that NWS tracks may be Ruxton Park (southwest of Manitou Springs) with similar elevation (about 9,000 feet) but dissimilar topography. Its mean annual snowfall is 131.8 inches. NWS didn't have snow measurements of Colorado ski resorts. Vail Resorts, which states it records snowfall without bias, lists average snowfall at Keystone as 235 inches and 353 inches at Breckenridge.
Ormes would feature runs exceeding 1.5 miles with a 1,500-foot vertical drop on 11,050 acres of the mountain, accessible off Forest Road 303. Interestingly, since 80 to 90 percent of Ormes was burned in the Waldo Canyon Fire, it would need to be reforested rather than clear-cut. The Jesses project 100,000 to 150,000 visits per season to start, likely growing to 250,000 visits. In summer, the resort could be a mountain biking and hiking hot spot, as well as a site for weddings, concerts and events.
Colorado Springs residents once had easier skiing access. Coloradoskihistory.com lists a sprinkling of "lost resorts" in or near Colorado Springs. Glen Cove, for instance, was open from the 1920s to the 1940s. Holiday Hills brought fun in the '60s and '70s. Pikes Peak ran from the 1930s until the mid-1980s. Ski Broadmoor, with a heavy reliance on mechanical snow-making, was open from 1959 to 1991.
For years, Boulder businessman John C. Ball planned a ski area on Pikes Peak near the Crags. But in 2015, Ball was barred from the Colorado security market for fraud associated with the project, which had financial and legal problems. The Broadmoor now owns that land and is trying to swap it with the Forest Service.
Getting Ormes off the ground could take decades — which Ilana says won't stop the couple.
The Forest Service allows motorized and nonmotorized recreation, from snowmobiling to hiking. Ski resort approval could require a lease and/or special permit, though the Forest Service won't specify until seeing the Ormes proposal. An initial meeting is planned with the Jesses in mid-August.
Jeff Hovermale, from the Pike National Forest's Pikes Peak Ranger District, can't say whether the Forest Service would entertain such a project. Considerations, he says, include environmental impact, the business plan, financial and technical capabilities, water rights, travel management, geology, soils, wildlife management, hydraulics, needed infrastructure and what other entities (such as other landowners) might be involved.
Even a successful bid for a Colorado ski resort, he says, can (and has) taken decades to win Forest Service approval, and resorts need other governmental approvals. For instance, Hovermale says, a ski lift or gondola must go through stringent government planning and testing to win approval.
Asked about Ormes' chances, Hovermale says, "I really am not comfortable until we meet with them."
City Council President Merv Bennett says he was excited to hear the Jesses' idea. But he offers this bit of wisdom: Don't expect it to happen overnight. Bennett says he and his wife own a cabin on Forest Service land and arranged for a land exchange that they were told would take 18 months. Ten years later, he says, it's almost complete.
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