Skiing is an integral part of family life for Andy and Julie Brazelton. They make the long drive to the mountains weekly from their home in Fort Collins, and they couldn’t wait for Colorado’s newest ski area to open last week on what was once Weld County farmland.
Located a couple of miles south of Windsor and 3 miles east of Interstate 25, humble Hoedown Hill celebrated its grand opening last week. The Brazeltons decided it would be a lovely place to enjoy a “date night,” and it didn’t matter that it was far too tame to challenge their ability, Or that the vertical drop is only 124 feet.
“Ski culture is a big part of our family’s lifestyle,” Andy said. “We love to be in the mountains. We have two boys, 15 and 17, and we want to get them out here to hit the little (terrain) parks and stuff. It’s just a way to be together and have a lot of fun, and it’s 10 minutes from our house. What a great representation of what we love to do every weekend, that (otherwise) takes two and a half hours to get to.”
Hoedown Hill has four trails covered by snowmaking and floodlights, two small terrain parks, two tubing hills, a ski and snowboard school, and four conveyor belts that move skiers, riders and tubers uphill. The closest Colorado ski area, Eldora Mountain Resort, is an hour and a half away. Breckenridge is two hours or more.
“It’s a hill for everybody,” said Tyler Lind, chief operating officer of hospitality and leisure for The Water Valley Company, which owns Hoedown. “If you’re an expert, you’re probably not going to spend your weekends coming here, but you have an opportunity to get off work at 5 o’clock in northern Colorado and, for $35, come and sharpen your skills, hit the terrain park, bring the family. They can tube and just have a great experience, without all the headaches that come with driving to the mountains.”
Julie Brazelton, who teaches second grade at an elementary school 3 miles away, thought it made for a perfect date night.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” she said. “All that’s crossing my mind is, ‘Wow, my students will love this.’ While I’m skiing, the whole time I’m thinking, ‘I wish we had this hill when we were teaching our boys to ski.’ This would have been perfect.”
Nidia Cuellar of Houston, who was in Colorado to visit a friend, went to Hoedown with her two children and put them on snowboards for the first time.
“We were looking for a place where they can begin to learn, so this was just up our alley,” Cuellar said. “This feels really, really comfortable.” Her 10-year-old son, Dylan, said it was “very exciting” and that he was “ready to go pro and have a lot of fun.”
Cuellar was visiting Gilles Roussel, a lifelong snowboarder who lives in Fort Collins. Usually, Roussel rides at the Snowy Range ski area in Wyoming because it’s closer and cheaper than Colorado ski areas. He was patiently teaching Cuellar’s kids the basics of riding as twilight fell on a beautiful evening.
“It’s an amazing place, just to be able to learn how to ski or snowboard in town,” Roussel said. “You don’t have to fight traffic and drive an hour and a half or two hours, sometimes three hours. It’s very cool. This is to see if the kids like (snowboarding), to discover a new sport and spend some time outside. I’m surprised this didn’t happen before, because we don’t have anything close.”
For Jordyn Wylie, Hoedown is 22 minutes from her home in Loveland. She typically does her snowboarding at the Loveland ski area, which took her an hour and 37 minutes the last time she went.
“I have a 4-year-old, and I’m pretty excited to bring him, so he can learn how to snowboard and I don’t have to drive three hours away for him to throw a fit on the hill,” said Wylie, 26. “We’re pretty excited about the sledding, too, because he’s been begging us to do that all year.”
Hoedown is not the area’s first ski hill. The Sharktooth ski area operated from 1971 to ’86 on a hill near Greeley with night skiing, tubing, snowmaking and ice skating. It had a vertical drop of 150 feet, according to the website ColoradoSkiHistory.com, which notes that Sharktooth had the lowest elevation of any ski area that has operated in Colorado at 4,750 feet.
“It opened on a small hill outside of Greeley, and did not have to worry about common ski area problems like avalanches,” the site says. “The area offered night skiing during its operation, and dust storms were just as common as snowstorms.”
Northern Colorado had another ski area from 1955 to ’91, Hidden Valley, which was located on slopes above and below Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. That area is still popular with skiers and riders willing to climb for their turns.
Just as Colorado mountain resorts honor their mining history, Hoedown Hill celebrates its farming roots. The restaurant and bar are located in a 90-foot metal grain bin called The Grainhouse. Inside is a massive big-screen TV, which Lind says is the largest in northern Colorado at 18 by 10 feet.
Other buildings on the property, which is also home to the RainDance National Golf Course, are smaller grain bins. Vintage farm implements and machinery proliferate on the property. Wheeled trusses that once were part of irrigation pivots — those rotating mechanisms that create crop circles — are repurposed as light poles in the parking lot.
Owner Martin Lind “grew up one of the poorest farmers in the community,” according to his son Tyler, growing beets, corn, hay and wheat.
“He ended up going broke in the end of the ’80s from hailstorms two years in a row on his crops,” Lind said. “He decided he was going to do something else. That slowly led to this. He knew all the farmers, he knew the water rights. He was able to buy land, use that land, buy more land.”
He started with gravel mining, then moved into commercial and residential development. He also has built three golf courses and owns the Colorado Eagles minor league hockey team.
“He’s got this vision,” Tyler Lind said. “He knows the area. He’s still a poor farm boy at heart, and he wants to do everything the best. This hill had nothing to do with money. We could have done it way cheaper. We have a million people within half an hour, so we knew this was a no-brainer. This is something the community needed, and they didn’t even know they needed it. The ski industry needs more of these.”
And it didn’t matter a bit to the Brazeltons that Hoedown is so small and easy for them to ski.
“For our family, the best moments of skiing are not about the challenge,” Andy Brazelton said. “They are about skiing are about laughing and messing around and being with your family.”
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