When you look west from Westcliffe, you’ll see signature streaks of grass on a mountainside, recalling the Conquistador Ski Area. It operated from the late 1970s until 1988. During the following decade, new owners renamed and tried to revive the area but ultimately failed.
Dick Milstein purchased 3,000 acres of Wet Mountain Valley ranches in the 1960s, along with significant water rights for snowmaking, as he formulated plans to build the ski resort. Although locals protested, fearing the resort would change the the valley’s culture, the ski area opened in 1976 with two surface lifts taking skiers up 250 vertical feet.
Several lean snow years caused the ski resort to grow slowly. But Milstein continued to pursue his vision by adding terrain and installing two new chairlifts in 1982. They increased the vertical drop to 1,200 feet.
Despite these additions, the slopes’ comparatively low elevation, poor orientation and distance from major cities cursed the ski resort. Milstein’s plans failed, but the resort continued operating under federal receivership until 1988.
New owners opened Mountain Cliffe resort for the 1992-93 season, but poor weather and management disputes doomed their efforts. The resort closed for the last time in March 1993.
The ski area’s base is now the Hermit Basin Conference Center, hosting Christian groups, and when there’s room at their inn, private guests. Besides conference space, food and lodging, the center offers up recreation in the surrounding hills and valley.
But the area’s ski history gently haunts the place. A fleet of rental gear from the 1980s packs a storage building. And the hillside’s grassy swaths still tempt occasional backcountry skiers—who must skin in and out, via National Forest property, avoiding the privately owned base area.