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COBWEB CORNERS: Stretching The Season

By Mel McFarland

       I specifically mean the tourist season. Before World War II, tourists were the primary source of income in this area, particularly for places like Manitou and Cripple Creek. Businesses opened in the spring, and closed in the fall. Except for a few residents, many of these little towns were closed in the winter. This was long before the ski industry started. Even Aspen and Breckenridge were ghost towns in the winter.
       The tourist season is considered at least Memorial Day to Labor Day. But as a teacher, I do not remember ever working where summer vacation was controlled by those dates.
       For those of you who haven't lived here long, our winters are at their worst from December to March, but not always. We can have serious storms as early as September and as late as May.
       The cog railroad now goes up Pikes Peak year-round. In earlier years, the cog owners would try to open in late April or May and keep trains running late into winter. Heavy train repair and maintenance started in February or March, followed by snow clearing. That would usually take a month in the days before the railroad had a big snow blower. With a mild winter, the cog owners would start trains going up in March, then be shocked in May by a really big storm! A spring storm of around eight feet of snow is not unusual.
       Pushing the end of the season was rare. Often big storms in September and October would close the mountain. The Pikes Peak Highway usually closed first. Occasionally the weather stayed nice until this time of year. The trains sometimes ran as late as December. In the early days of the highway, there were two summit houses, one for the road, another for the railroad. Both buildings had crews that lived on the summit, day and night, through the tourist season. Between the holidays was the most intense.
       On more than one occasion, year-end storms closed the mountain, stranding crews on the summit. The snow plow on the railroad would go up, followed by a passenger train, to rescue the crews. The summit houses had hotel rooms and dining facilities, and usually plenty of food, so rescues did not have to be immediate.
       The AdAmAn Club, on its annual New Year's hike and fireworks, has access to the present summit house. Sometimes, if it storms, club members have to sleep on the floor while they wait to go down. There have been trains to the summit on New Years Eve Day, but not during the fireworks. The club shoots them off where the train parks!

(Posted 1/13/14)

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