Boulder-based company The Road West Traveled’s debut film Abandoned, follows a trio of backcountry skiers exploring Colorado’s abandoned ski areas and uncovering their stories (specifically Geneva Basin, Berthoud Pass, and Cuchara Valley ski areas). For those of us who can remember what skiing in Colorado was like before the days of mega resorts and the I-70 parking lot, Abandoned promises to return us to a time when “skiing local” was a much different experience.
Colorado was once home to over 150 ski areas. Now, approximately 30 of them remain in operation.
Two years and one $3,000 crowdsourced campaign in the making, Abandoned distinguishes itself from the usual slew of ski films in that it captures a crucial part of Colorado ski history through extensive interviews with owners and former ski patrollers who frequented the areas in their heydays.
To be “Colorado proud” is to understand our state’s history.
“People, not profit” is an underlying theme of the film. Climate change, mergers, and acquisitions are attributing factors to the death of many family-owned ski areas.
RWT co-founder Sara Beam Robbins explained, “Skiing should be available to everyone. Unfortunately, skiing has become so expensive that only wealthier families can enjoy it.”
Is affordability a factor in increasing interest in backcountry skiing? Possibly. Perhaps it is the allure of enjoying a winter sport absent of consumerism and ski lift lines that go on for days.
Abandoned dives right into the core of Colorado ski culture and the stories the filmmakers uncover are both inspiring and heartbreaking.
The boom and bust narratives, combined with striking visuals of backcountry skiers (and fluffy requisite adventure dog in tow) sitting in a rusted two-seat chairlift, or hiking up slopes where there is more exposed grass and rock than snow, serve as a poignant reminder of how skiing in Colorado has transformed in a short amount of time.
In a state where “local” is heavily emphasized, Abandoned is a ski movie not to be missed, as it is all about being local.
While ski aficionados and local historians will appreciate Abandoned’s historical appeal and Colorado’s unique ski history influenced by the storied 10th Mountain Division, Abandoned also hopes to inspire fellow powder hounds to tap into the wanderlust and seek off-the-beaten-path adventures before it is too late.
Finally, Abandoned leaves its audience with a message that the Colorado ski experience as we know is at risk.
“The people whom we interviewed have seen a significant change in snow quality and quantity. It is so important that our audience goes out to vote and support climate activists like Protect Our Winters,” explained Robbins.
Through masterful storytelling of past and present, the film’s main achievement is giving its audiences a sense of ownership. In essence, it brings climate change activism right to our front yards. This was Colorado ski culture in the past, this is what it might be in the future. What are we going to do about it?
Kate Agathon of Engearment caught up with the filmmakers at the October 22 sold out world premiere of Abandoned at the Oriental Theater in Denver.
Engearment: What is the major takeaway you would like audiences to leave with after seeing this film?
RTW: We hope that people can leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for the lost ski areas that have helped shape Colorado skiing into what it is today. We really wanted to help preserve their stories for generations to come.
Engearment: What inspired you to make this film?
RWT: We are all Colorado natives and we were looking for new places to ski in the backcountry. We started looking into the history of the ski areas and were blown away with all the information we came across. We thought we would have to dig deeper and document some of the stories before they disappeared forever.
Engearment: Was there ever a “golden age” of Colorado ski areas? What happened?
RWT: It’s hard to say if a golden age of Colorado ski areas existed because that can be taken from a bunch of different angles. There definitely used to be many more small ski areas all over the state, nearly every mountain town had there own little ski area. They all closed for varying reasons. Each place has a different story and each person has a different perspective that is interesting.
Engearment: Are special permits required to explore these areas, or can anyone go at their own risk?
RTW: There are no special permits required to explore these places. There is actually a book that gives some beta on how to access the ski areas. However, there are a few lost ski areas that are on private property and are closed to the public. We did have to get permits from the Forest Service in order to film on National Forest land.
Engearment: What is the future of the handful of remaining Colorado ski areas not incorporated into ski resort conglomerates?
RWT: We don’t have the answers. It’s up to the individual resorts. We hope they can continue to thrive.
Miss the world premiere at the Oriental Theater?
Tickets are still available for the upcoming showings:
November 1, 2018 Kickoff to Winter Neptune Mountaineering Boulder, Colorado
November 2, 2018 Freeride Film Festival Tuchinski Theater Amsterdam, Netherlands
November 3, 2018 Backcountry Film Festival Egyptian Theater Boise, Idaho
November 5, 2018 Encore Screening The Oriental Theater Denver, Colorado
November 17, 2018 Nederland Film Festival Backdoor Theater Nederland, Colorado
Author’ Note: From a personal level, this film resonated because I learned how to ski at the now-defunct ski areas of Conquistador and Cuchara Valley in the 1980s and early 1990s. As a child from a small town in Colorado’s southeastern plains, I did not come from a ski family and the opportunities to ski were rare. I was fortunate that random middle and high school class trips provided the opportunity to hit the slopes. Even the ski class I took in college frequented the small ski areas.
During that time period, lift tickets were affordable, no one wore ski helmets or owned expensive equipment- it was just a bunch of kids from rural Colorado having fun skiing on ridiculously thin skis riding T bars or 2 person chair lifts. Today, it is a question of affordability and accessibility. The advent of mega-resorts with three-figure single day lift tickets and lack of snow unquestionably hinder that experience from being recreated for someone from my hometown of La Junta.