April 1, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Pierce Sullivan | Photo by Sydney Morris
On South Platte River Rd. in Denver, a sudden wave of solar glare shines into the eyes of passing drivers. As cars approach Ruby Hill Park, a patch of snow starts to emerge from the reflected beams. Despite the 80-degree day, this acre of man-made snow is still holding strong. It contains a variety of terrain park features along with skiers and riders, of all ability levels, learning new skills on snow.
Created as a partnership between the Denver Department of Recreation and Winter Park Resort, the Ruby Hill Rail Yard makes its home in Ruby Hill Park annually from early January until the snow melts, usually around the beginning of April. Located just outside the University of Denver and under an hour from Colorado Springs, the Rail Yard is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Winter Park’s Mountain Operations team brings in snow guns and a snow cat in January to create this acre of man-made snow, and fills it with boxes, rails, and jumps for skiers and riders of all ability levels. It is free to the public, and the Department of Recreation offers free rentals throughout the season.
With the nearest ski mountains to Denver and Colorado Springs charging upwards of $150 dollars for a day ticket, and with traffic routinely plaguing Interstate 70, the Rail Yard provides seasoned skiers and riders with a welcome break from the hassle and cost of making it to the mountains every weekend.
For beginner skiers and riders, Ruby Hill is the perfect place for an entry to the sport. On an afternoon in late March, beginners could be seen making their first turns down the patch of snow. The community at the park fosters the perfect vibe for honing these new skills, with seasoned skiers and riders throwing out words of encouragement and tips for those who are struggling.
Although the Denver skyline may not hold the same appeal as a 12,000 foot mountaintop does, the Ruby Hill Rail Yard embodied what the ski and snowboard community should be. Compared to the bustling resorts overflowing with retail stores, microwave jackets, and $22 hamburgers, the Rail Yard was a breath of fresh air.
The air was filled with an organic, laid back excitement that is lacking at even the less popular resorts. Strangers were high-fiving strangers when someone landed a new trick, and everyone was smiling when a novice skier finally figured out how to hockey stop. Whether someone performed a backflip, or even just made their first turn on skis, the crowd always seemed to be thrilled. The welcoming environment was the perfect place for people of all experience levels to get stoked on skiing.
One of the novice skiers at Ruby Hill and student at the University of Denver noted that he tried to make it out to the mountains if he could, and how Ruby Hill allowed him to try out skiing initially without such a high bar for entry. He also explained that Ruby Hill is a far less intimidating environment than a resort.
Multiple riders at Ruby Hill expressed how they were shocked that the park is still so unheard of. It is the only urban terrain park of its kind in the world, and it is one of the most accessible places for skiing, both physically and economically, with its easy access and free rentals.
Skiing has become notoriously exclusive, but the community surrounding the sport has become increasingly toxic as well. White men overwhelmingly dominate the media coverage in the industry, and those who do not fit this demographic are often pushed out of the skiing and riding community.
Ruby Hill Rail Yard provides an opening to fight back against this culture. By making skiing and riding more accessible to all and providing a space for seasoned riders to showcase their abilities, this type of urban set-up allows the ski community to begin to shed its toxic nature.