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City-owned ski areas offer an accessible alternative to expensive ski resorts

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

Skiing is prohibitively expensive for many people with lift tickets at premier resorts often going for $200 or more. But in Colorado, city-owned ski areas offer a more accessible alternative. Colorado Public Radio's Stina Sieg reports.

STINA SIEG, BYLINE: Most are really small - small like if you're on Main Street in the little mountain town of Ouray. You just head up Third Avenue for two blocks, and here you are.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Unintelligible).

SIEG: Lee's Ski Hill, where kids in brightly colored jackets and helmets zoom down the one small slope and get right back on the rope tow, which they cling to as it pulls them uphill. Rick Trujillo did the same thing as a kid, with one big exception.

RICK TRUJIJLLO: There was no supervision, none whatsoever.

SIEG: Now a seasonal city employee is on site. But in the 1950s and '60s...

TRUJILLO: After school, we'd come and turn on the tow and ski till dark.

SIEG: Trujillo, the oldest of 11 kids, says he was able to spend so much of his childhood here because it was free.

TRUJILLO: And it's still free of charge, which I think is unique in Colorado or anywhere.

SIEG: All because a local woman donated much of this land to the city in 1946.

TRUJILLO: To be used, quote, "as a recreation area for the young people of Ouray."

SIEG: The desire to have something special for children has kept city-owned hills going across rural Colorado, including remote Lake City, home to a few hundred people and a popular kids ski team. Practice is on Monday mornings.

HENRY WOODS: Three, two, one, go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKIS SLIDING)

SIEG: Coach Henry Woods watches as a boy makes wide turns down the slope. Woods says local government did consider shutting this place down to save money a few times, but he successfully fought that with the help of local moms.

WOODS: That's - one of the biggest powers in the world is angry mothers.

SIEG: Woods also worked with the local school to get their students in for free - equipment included. Adults pay a nominal fee.

WOODS: So there's no haves and have-nots at the ski hill.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNOW CRUNCHING)

SIEG: Kids careen into line for the hill's sole lift. There's only a handful of runs here, but the small size and sparse crowds suit 11-year-old Labron Wampler.

LABRON WAMPLER: Well, I'm really shy, so I like it.

SIEG: Before he and his sister moved out here a few years ago, they had never skied. But Labron says he can feel himself getting better.

LABRON: Oh, yeah. Yeah, every day.

SIEG: It helps that he lives just a few minutes away.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes, they are.

SIEG: Back in Ouray, a crowd has gathered at the bottom of Lee's Ski Hill as kids compete in a ski jumping competition.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The Macarena.

SIEG: Yup. One of them performs the '90s dance the Macarena while airborne. This is a late winter celebration that Carrie Hickman remembers taking part in when she was a child.

CARRIE HICKMAN: And so to be back here with my kids participating as 5- and 7-year-olds - it's so cool.

SIEG: And kind of bittersweet, she says. After growing up here, she moved away and now lives in Utah, within an hour of many massive ski resorts. But there's nothing like this.

HICKMAN: I'm glad it's still a loving place here in Ouray.

SIEG: A free hill she hopes will be here for generations to come. For NPR News, I'm Stina Sieg in Ouray, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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