CASCADE, Colo. – Colorado often delivers dry sweltering summers, but visitors can take a mental break from the heat by celebrating Christmas in July with a visit to North Pole: Home of Santa’s Workshop, a children’s amusement park that’s open nearly year-round.
North Pole welcomes families from May to Dec. 24 each year and every day the park is open, Santa Claus is in residence and ready to greet children.
The family of president and general manager Tom Haggard has owned the park at the base of Pike’s Peak near Colorado Springs since its second year of operation in 1957; his earliest memories are of tending to the park’s goats as a 6-year-old.
Geared for children ages 12 and under, North Pole Colorado features about 30 family and kiddie rides.
Those rides started to be added in 1958 – this year’s newest attraction is a motorized zip line ride – and include a whip ride similar to the one found at Kennywood. (Mr. Haggard was friendly with members of the family of one of Kennywood’s former owners, the Henningers, who he knew from theme park conferences.) This isn’t a gleaming Disney park; it’s closer to a storybook-style children’s park.
Many of the rides at the North Pole carry a Christmas theme, from the Candy Cane Coaster to a Peppermint Slide. Even the new zip line ride is decked out to make it appear that guests are soaring in Santa’s Sleigh.
A sign boasts that the park’s Ferris wheel is the “highest Ferris wheel in the world” -- by virtue of the park’s 7,500-foot elevation.
“We laugh about that,” Mr. Haggard said, acknowledging he has no proof to support the claim. “If somebody wanted to argue the point, I’d be glad to listen.”
North Pole Colorado was built shortly after another North Pole park that still exists near Lake Placid, N.Y. (www.northpoleny.com/). Both parks feature a North Pole village constructed from the same building designs with an official North Pole pole at the center.
The New York park was designed by a former artist with the Walt Disney Co. in the 1940s and was based on an 8-year-old girl’s imaginings about what Santa’s home would look like. The artist translated her description into blueprints for what would become the actual village.
When North Pole Colorado opened, its village structures looked identical to those in New York.
“We used to sell postcards when I was a kid and they would say ‘North Pole Colorado’ but I would know the picture was of North Pole New York,” Mr. Haggard recalled, laughing. “Those postcards are all gone now.”
The North Pole Colorado village buildings are still the originals with few changes beyond new paint over the years.
“The only thing that’s changed on Santa’s house is there are two doors now instead of one: an entrance door and an exit door,” Mr. Haggard said.
In addition to Santa’s house, there are shops, a chapel and a post office where guests can send mail that receives a special North Pole postmark. Children who write to Santa at North Pole Colorado between Oct. 1 and Dec. 10 and include a return address receive a postcard response at no charge (details online at http://northpolecolorado.com/other-info/faq/).
Until 15 years ago, summer was North Pole Colorado’s busiest time but in recent years visitor turnout during the holiday season has eclipsed attendance in the warmer months.
Last December on Christmas Eve a line of two dozen people deep stretched out the entry house but that didn’t deter our 3-year-old son; the pint-sized coaster made him giggle and he was so wound up he forgot to be scared of Santa, which is what happened on every trip to the mall.
Mother Nature even cooperated with seasonally appropriate weather: Around lunchtime it began to snow. That won’t happen during a summer trip but visitors who get in the spirit of the holiday season may hope for snow anyway.
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If you go ... North Pole, Colo.
Where: 5050 Pikes Peak Hwy., Cascade, Colo, at the foot of Pikes Peak, about a 90-minute drive from Denver or 20 minutes from Colorado Springs.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. May 1 through Dec. 24 weather permitting; closed some weekdays in the fall. Park is closed Dec. 25-May 1 of each year.
Admission: Free for children younger than 2; $21 for ages 2-59 ($3 off coupon on the park website); free for seniors 60 and older; $16 with military ID.
Best deal: If your visit takes you to Colorado Springs for a while, consider a Twilight pass. Pay full park admission two hours before scheduled close time and receive a pass to return for free admission any day during the 2014 season.
Contact: 1-719-684-9432 or northpolecolorado.com.
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.