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TRIP REPORT: Cuchara Mountain Park, CO - March 2022

Cuchara Mountain Park in southern Colorado just north of the New Mexico border is nestled between the towering Spanish Peaks to the east and the impressive Trinchera Peak ridgeline to the west. Cuchara is one of the seven original recent-history downhill ski areas in our beloved Sangre de Cristo mountain range (from north to south: Cuchara, Rio Costilla, Red River, Taos Ski Valley, Angel Fire, Sipapu, and Ski Santa Fe). 

I feel a particular affinity for Cuchara both as a member of our Sangres family and also because it lies adjacent to the Spanish Peaks which I have always found mesmerizingly beautiful.

Cuchara is quickly being discovered as a great alpine touring destination. But that is not all! A well-organized team of volunteers with the non-profit Panadero Ski Corporation is working hard to revive a long-dormant ski lift to provide lift-based skiing and activities to all residents in the region and visitors alike. 

Growing up in Santa Fe and spending a good chunk of my life in Colorado I've driven by the Cuchara turn off on Highway 160 between Alamosa and Walsenburg just east of La Veta Pass a hundred times. On March 18th and 19th I finally checked Cuchara off my bucket list. But unlike many bucket list destinations, I will definitely be back to Cuchara as a regular visitor.

I woke up to a gorgeous bluebird morning on March 18th after a sweet 10" storm on the 17th. In the parking lot gearing up, I was lucky to run into Will Pirkey, a member of the Panadero Ski Corp board of directors, who was out for some fresh turns. Will generously took time to give me the beta on the best skin track and which runs would ski well given the overnight winds and high March sun angle.

Cuchara is a unique mountain on the eastern flank of the Sangres and does really well with a northeast and north wind that shoots the gap between the Spanish Peaks to the east and the central Sangre mountain chain to the north-northwest. Much of Cuchara's runs have an east-northeast aspect. The most-north facing runs are Diablo and Bear Bumps.

I got to spend two days exploring the mountain following the double-digit storm. The main skin track follows the green run Gallina Gulch switchbacks lookers right. On day #1 I teamed up with two other visitors chasing the storm and on day #2 met some close friends from Santa Fe/Denver who have a place in Cuchara.

Incredible vistas of the Spanish Peaks keep you company the entire climb. And when we got to the first sharp left-turn switch back and I looked up Lower Diablo (lower right photo below) I knew we were in store for some amazing powder. At the summit of Cuchara just a short walk up from the chairlift shack you get full views of Trinchera and adjacent peaks. 

By the way, the first switchback where you look up Lower Diablo is a great place to lap your first run down and then shorten your second skin up. Our first run on March 18th down Upper and Lower Diablo was dreamy.

The one line down Diablo before us was Will's track from that morning and you can check out the video of his first tracks on Panadero Ski Corp's Facebook page.

Our second run on March 18th was down Rattlesnake and even though it faces east and had gotten some morning sun, the cold temperatures kept the snow perfectly soft and fast on the low-angle blue terrain.

Our run on March 19th, two days after the storm was straight down Bear Bumps under the main lift it was still skiing and riding really well.

Two full days after the storm there were plenty of fresh tracks for anyone who wanted to satisfy their spring powder appetite!

We happened to be up on a Saturday that Cuchara Mountain Mercantile was hosting their Spring Market with really cool local artisan and farm booths and vendors. The Mercantile is housed in the old resort main lodge building and is now a gorgeous event venue (apparently the summer 2022 wedding calendar is jam-packed!). Below from left to right: Mercantile Spring Market space, Will and Kelly of Panadero Ski Corp at the info booth raising donations and recruiting volunteers, me and Will before a skin up, and my friends Rich and Kelly talking to Mercantile owner, Chris.

You can follow Mercantile's event calendar and also see on-mountain post-storm totals posted on the Mercantile Facebook page.

The closely-knit community was super welcoming and everyone I met is deeply committed to nurturing Cuchara to be a thriving mountain park for generations to come. I loved everything about my time visiting Cuchara: the mountains, the snow, the terrain, the history, and the people and community.

After my visit, I donated money to the Panadero Ski Corp and I am planning to volunteer to help out where some of my skills might line up with their needs. All efforts to restore the chairlift are completed by community volunteers and have been funded by generous donors. They still face significant expenses to complete lift operations and have the lift approved by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board. If you would like to help with this restoration effort, please donate to the Panadero Ski Corporation, a 501c3 charitable organization, and follow them on Instagram for pictures & videos!

In addition to financial contributions, Panadero Ski Corp also shared with me their operational items wishlist here (ranging from pickup trucks to a vice) for in-kind material contributions. You can contact Panadero here to inquire about donating items on the list. ¡Viva Cuchara!

OPENSNOW RESOURCES

Snow Forecast & Report: Cuchara Mountain Park

Daily Snow Forecasts: Colorado Daily Snow, New Mexico Daily Snow

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JULIEN ROSS
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