Ouray: History of Ski Hill documented

Map showing lots 13-21 and the west and east portions of lots 22-24, Block 30, of the City of Ouray, where the ski hill sits.

By Beecher Threatt

Ever wonder where the “Lee” came from in “Lee’s Ski Hill?” Or how the hill came to be? Thanks to Ouray resident Rick Trujillo, the history of Lee’s Ski Hill will not be lost to time.
“I have a story I need you to write,” Trujillo said in a phone call earlier this year. “I’ll be right over.”
About 20 minutes later, in walks Trujillo with a folder full of city block maps, letters, newspaper articles, recorded deeds, receipts and pages filled with his minuscule handwriting. It was an impressive research effort.
In late 1991, Trujillo returned home to Ouray from a business trip to South America and heard that a city councilman had suggested selling the ski hill land. Having learned to ski there, as did most of his friends, Trujillo decided to find out if the local lore was correct, that the land had been donated for use as a ski hill only.
Just six months later, Trujillo and Rob Carrick installed the plaque that sits at the base of the hill on a limestone boulder:
This plaque in in recognition of
Who in 1946 donated this property
To the City of Ouray to be used as
A ski hill and park by the young people of the area
Presented in gratitude by the kids of Ouray
February 15, 1992
Dema Mary Lee, interviewed in 1992 from her California home for a Plaindealer story, said, “In the ‘40s, children in Ouray had nothing to do…I remember thinking, ‘What in the world could I do to help them?’”
What she did was make a generous donation to the city of six city lots in 1946. Trujillo’s file revealed the real property transactions before and after that date that resulted in the current ski hill layout.
There were no takers in 1940 at a treasurer’s sale of lots 13-18, Block 30, up for bid because taxes for 1939 had not been paid. The county received a certificate of sale and in 1944, assigned the certificate of sale to Lee for $10, according to deed records. Fewer than two years later, Lee assigned the certificate to the City of Ouray “for public municipal park purposes only and should never be sold or disposed of by the said City of Ouray, except in the manner provided by law for the sale and disposal of municipal park property generally.”
The previous owner did not redeem the property by paying the taxes within the time required by statute, so in 1947 the county treasurer presented the city with a free and clear deed to the six lots.
Lots 13-18 are the bottom half of the east half of Block 30. The top half comprises lots 19-24. Three of those lots, 19-21, were designated by the county as a “recreation district” in 1953. The top three, lots 22-24, were owned by Henry J. Wise.
In 1971, the county and Wise found a way for the ski hill to traverse the entire length of Block 30 (officially). Lots 19-24 were divided into halves, east and west. The county gave Wise the west half of lots 19-21 and Wise gave the county the east half of lots 22-24.
Nearby, Vinegar Hill was the traditional sledding area. In 1971, the city banned sledding there, claiming it was too dangerous. Apparently sledding went back and forth from Vinegar Hill for the next 40 years. At times residents of Vinegar Hill wanted access to their property; at times the dangers of sledding on the ski hill caused a move back to Vinegar Hill.
When they were banned from Vinegar Hill, sledders moved to the ski hill, causing all kinds of discord between skiers and sledders. Skiers said sledders were walking up the hill, poking holes that skis caught in. The hill was too steep for sledding, some said. Two children were severely injured in 2000, sledding on the ski hill.
City council redesignated Vinegar Hill as the sledding area in 1991 and again in 2001, with an agreement between residents and the city and placing of hay bales at the base.
The first rope tow on Lee’s Ski Hill was “manufactured” by Mayor Al Fedel. He fashioned the rope tow with a rear axle and transmission from a two-ton Dodge truck, two rims welded together, two pulleys, a five-horsepower engine and rope from the Idarado Mine, according to a story in the Plaindealer in 1992. In 2002, the state required a cage around the machinery.
Trujillo contacted the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board in 2007 regarding the rope tow. Larry Smith, an engineer with the agency, provided information that Ouray’s is one of five rope tows in Colorado. Two at Chapman Hill (Durango) and the one at Lee’s Ski Hill are older, home-built models, Smith said. The others, at Breckenridge and Winter Park, are newer.
Smith could not confirm that Ouray has the oldest rope tow in the state. Its license number is CO-001, but that is because the numbering system starts with 001 in each area of the state. The “CO” apparently refers to City of Ouray.
In January 1992, Trujillo ordered and paid for the plaque that now sits at the base of the hill. That same month, city council named the hill "Lee Ski Slope" in honor of Dema Mary Lee.