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Area History


A 9,000 thousand-foot high mountain valley lies in a cirque of the Colorado Rockies bounded on the east and south by the Continental Divide and on the west by the Vasquez Mountains. This small valley located in Grand County is just about 12-square miles. The area has had several nicknames in the past, like "little Switzerland" and "Heavenly Valley." The valley is presently named for the Fraser River, one of the headwaters of the Colorado River.

In its early-undisturbed state, the valley was known as a hunter's paradise. Archeological remains and recorded accounts of the first explorers indicate that the Utes and the Arapahos had fought over the area. In addition, the Lakota, Crow, and the Blackfeet Native Americans are believed to have fought over the area as well.

Until the early 1860's, the Fraser Valley remained isolated in the Rockies. Pressure to build the shortest possible transcontinental railroad over or under the Continental Divide brought several survey parties to the area. The U.S. Congress also felt it necessary to develop a mail route from Denver to the town of Breckenridge via the town of Idaho Springs. This survey was authorized in the winter of 1861. The expedition took place in May 1861. It was headed by Edward Louis Berthoud and consisted of eight people including mountain man Jim Bridger as an expert advisor. Although a horse trail was established over the pass (Berthoud Pass), a road for stagecoaches was not established until 1874. Around 1910, transcontinental automobile roads were being mapped. The Midland Trail was designated to cross the Rockies west of Denver using Berthoud Pass. The ski area that once sat on top of the pass (Berthoud Pass Ski area) was built in 1943 and a lodge was opened in December 1949. Berthoud no longer operates as a ski area or snowcat area.

In agreement at the time of the building of the Moffat railroad tunnel (completed in 1927), the City of Denver was deeded about 90 acres for a mountain park, which is now the base area of Winter Park Resort. The ski area was developed in the late 1930's. Winter Park officially opened January 1, 1940 with a half-mile long rope tow and only a couple of runs. In 1950, the mayor of Denver created the Winter Park Recreational Association as a non-profit corporation, which has operated the ski area ever since. Recently however, the City of Denver has leased the operations and some development rights to Intrawest Corporation, a major resort development company.

*Information provided by the Winter Park Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce & Grand County Historical Association.