This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.
In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.
Echo Mountain ski area in Clear Creek County has a new owner.
Serial entrepreneur Dan Dietrich, a Parker father of nine who is the CEO of several companies, is the fourth investor to take the reins at the closest ski area to Denver since the tiny ski hill was revived in 2005.
Dietrich is quite the businessman, guiding several newly minted businesses in health care, transportation, renewable energy, fitness and staffing industries. He did not respond to emails seeking comment on his plans for the closest ski area to metro Denver.
Details of the deal were not disclosed but documents filed with Clear Creek County indicate Dietrich paid at least $7.35 million for the ski area and a bit more for peripheral properties and water rights.
Dietrich started Jogan Health in 2021 to help with staffing at overworked hospitals and clinics. His LinkedIn profile says Jogan Health has deployed more than 5,000 health care workers in 30 states.
An investigation by Denver7 in 2022 scrutinized Jogan Health’s $74 million contract with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to help distribute 175,000 COVID vaccinations in 2021, two months after Dietrich created Jogan Health. The television news channel quoted several Jogan Health employees saying they had not been paid. It also questioned the Jogan Health application for the contract citing work in other states before the company was created. The state health department also fielded complaints that Jogan administered expired doses of the vaccines.
The state department of health ended its contract with Jogan Health in 2022. Douglas County also hired Jogan Health in November 2021 and extended the contract in June 2022. A civil case filed in Douglas County District Court in April 2022 accused Jogan Health of not paying one of its subcontractors.
Dietrich sued Denver7 for defamation and an Arapahoe County District Court judge in 2022 dismissed the lawsuit.
Dietrich in March told the ProCO360 Colorado business podcast that he launched Jogan Health with more than $300,000 in credit card loans.
“I ended up boot-strapping this thing off of credit cards,” said Dietrich, who told the podcast host Dave Tabor that he paid off the high-interest loans in three months.
Dietrich, a father of 9, said he went to several Home Depots and Lowes stores to buy pop-ups and chairs and tables for his vaccine distribution plan. He eventually turned the company into a larger healthcare staffing company and told Tabor his revenues have topped $1 billion.
Tabor said Dietrich’s Jogan Health start-up timeline “is the nuttiest story of success I’ve heard yet.”
In the past few years Dietrich has created several new companies. His Jogan Traffic develops “thermal traffic detection solutions” and the tagline “You’re not safe unless you’re Jogan safe.” Dietrich also this month listed himself as CEO of Recoup, a company selling muscle recovery tools. In June he founded H2 Power Co., a renewable hydrogen power business. He’s also CEO of West Haus Med Spa in Englewood. And CEO of D2 Striping, a road marking business. And CEO of All Hands Consulting, a Maryland-based emergency management business.
Earlier this month Dietrich’s LinkedIn profile also included a position as CEO of Echo Mountain ski area. He has not commented on any plans for the ski area.
The Squaw Pass ski area opened in 1960 and closed in 1975. It remained dormant until 2002 when Maryland-based hotelier Gerald Petitt bought the 226-acre area for $680,000. Petitt invested $5 million in the ski area, building two surface lifts, a chairlift, 16 trails and snowmaking across about 75 acres. He opened the Echo Mountain ski area for the 2005-06 season with unique terrain park features. Petitt in 2012 put the ski area up for auction, saying a new owner could have “limitless opportunities” that include building hotels, condos or “simply owning a personal ski resort.”
Nora Pykkonen, an entrepreneur and mother of ski racers, acquired the ski area in August 2012 for $1.5 million with plans to abandon the terrain park concept and develop a private ski racing training facility. She sold memberships to ski racing teams but eventually opened to the public in 2015. In early 2016 she filed for bankruptcy protection after defaulting on a roughly $1 million loan.
She sold the ski area for $4 million in October 2016 to Peter Burwell, the son of late Minnesota investor Rod Burwell, whose Burrell Enterprises once owned hotels in Snowmass Village. Burwell and manager Fred Klaas spent the past seven years building Echo Mountain into an affordable, accessible ski area with a focus on attracting new skiers to the sport.
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The Burwell team came in “with a lot of ideas and certainly some naivety as well as some innovative ideas and different ways of looking at things,” Klaas said.
One thing that surprised Klaas, the general manager of the resort, was the diversity of Echo Mountain skiers. The U.S. resort industry has been challenged with attracting people of color to ski areas, with the country’s resorts stuck at around 12% non-white guests every year. More than half of the skiers at Echo Mountain for the past several years have been people of color.
“The culture we created and the community we created was appealing to a lot of different folks, including newcomers and people testing out snowsports,” Klaas said.
The American ski resort industry is strong right now, with two years of record-setting visits to ski areas and highest-ever participation coming out of the pandemic. Echo Mountain has enjoyed some of that success, but there’s a unique challenge to a very small ski area operating in the shadow of the biggest, busiest ski hills in the country.
The secret to survival, Klaas said, was making it clear that Echo Mountain was not like the bigger hills.
“We never felt like we were trying to steal customers from anyone around us,” he said. “The hope was that we were creating new customers for those larger ski areas.”
One of the biggest growth areas for Echo Mountain is the $99 night skiing pass.
Visitation by night skiers has soared in recent years with core skiers and newcomers rallying for quick laps after work. That’s one way Echo Mountain has differentiated itself from other resorts in the state, Klaas said.
Klaas said he and his team are helping with the ownership transition with the expectation that they will continue to work at the ski area. They will be firing up the snowmaking system in the next couple weeks with a plan to open in early December. So no dramatic changes.
“There is a lot of potential here for sure,” Klaas said, “and the new ownership sees that.”