The North Pole – Santa’s Workshop: 66 Years of Whimsy and Wonder
If you’ve ever headed west on Highway 24 out of Colorado Springs in the evening, you’ve likely seen the iconic Ferris wheel glowing in the foothills rolling out beyond the winding mountain pass. It’s a beacon that reminds us that a magical Christmastime adventure awaits the young and old alike at the base of Pikes Peak in a little bit of holiday heaven on earth known as the North Pole – Santa’s Workshop.
Built in 1956, the Christmas-themed amusement park has been a beloved attraction for visitors to Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region from the day the gates first opened. And who could blame them? It features holiday-themed gift shops, concession booths packed with your favorite fair foods (yes, including funnel cake) and everyone’s favorite — thrill rides. Even better, the thrill rides are geared to all ages and stages. There are gentler rides for toddling tots, regular rides for the intermediate thrill chaser and even one or two with a bit more pizazz.
The attraction draws families from all over the country and even its share of international travelers, offering an immersive holiday fun experience through every season the park is open. From the candy-striped slide to the drifting gondolas, the North Pole was made for magic.
Vintage Touches Add to Modern Fun at Santa’s Workshop
Maintaining the North Pole isn’t an easy job. The weather in the Pikes Peak region isn’t exactly friendly to the buildings and rides. Santa’s crew performs steady maintenance all year long to keep the park safe for the thousands of families that visit. The aesthetics of the North Pole are important, too. After all, the village and decor are part of creating the holiday environment that enchants young visitors and sparks their imaginations.
“If you look at the handcrafted window shutters around our village you can see an old anvil cutout on the shop that used to be a blacksmith, and a candle for the candle maker,” says Austin Lawhorn, manager of the North Pole. “We oil and treat our real log cabins by hand every season so they stay looking just as you might remember them. It takes a lot of time to do this every year, but it’s important to us to maintain our original architecture instead of replacing it.”
Maintaining the nostalgia is a powerful part of the North Pole’s business strategy. They’re not just marketing to the kiddos. They’re appealing to the parents and grandparents and great grandparents who have loved and visited the park for decades (six and a half and still counting). The goal is to create a living memory families can visit year after year, bringing each new generation into the experience and creating special traditions.
“While change and upgrades are part of our business, part of what makes us special is not making big changes to the experience up here,” Lawhorn explains. “Part of how we stay relevant to new generations is being what older generations remember. We are a place where parents can be kids again and experience their own childhood memories with their kids. There are very few experiences in this day and age that can bring you back to those simpler times, but we are one of them. I believe our family-oriented attraction brings a very unique opportunity for those who are young and young at heart.”
Staying Strong in Challenging Times
The choice to stick with a focus on multi-generational family fun has proven to be quite effective. Santa’s Workshop has held on through some exceedingly difficult hardships in recent years. The Waldo Canyon fire, for example, which cut into one of the most important points in the season for the small business. The floods that came the following summer added further hardship for the North Pole, shutting down the only road to the attraction or discouraging visitors altogether due to fears of flooding while in the park. Running an outdoor attraction in Colorado is not the easiest in the best of circumstances. Doing so when Mother Nature seems to be actively campaigning against you is even harder.
The North Pole persevered through those challenges only to be met with a new obstacle that no one was prepared for — the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Covid shutdowns hit small businesses hard, and we were no exception,” says Lawhorn. “Finding our way into a new ‘normal’ has not been easy either. But we found our way through and will continue to overcome whatever is next. We are a true labor of love, and it will take a lot more than fires, floods and a pandemic to get us down.”
The Heart of the Matter — Making Lifelong Memories
And it truly is a labor of love — love being the operative word. When Austin is asked what she wishes people knew about the attraction, her answer isn’t about some fancy ride or special souvenir in the gift shop. She simply hopes that parents will discover what she knows their kids see each time they visit — the joy that can be found in sweet simplicity.
“If you sat back and watched kids up here or asked them, ‘What was your favorite part of the day,’ you will almost always hear that it’s the slide, train, carousel or Ferris Wheel,” says Austin. “Almost every child’s favorite ride is a simple ride — mostly the ones they can ride with their parents or grandparents. Kids really know what is important and it’s not the biggest and flashiest rides that get their attention; it’s the simple ones, the old-fashioned ones. The ones that take more than one minute start to finish and then it’s over and on to the next. While some amusement parks might be in the business of moving people through, we are a place where you can come and sit a while so kids can be kids.