The quintessential Colorado ski area may be a Boomer, but it still thinks life is a Beach.
Let’s just say that’s a lot of years of serving up some of the steepest high-alpine skiing—and core-skiing vibe—in Colorado. Arapahoe Basin kicked off its 75th anniversary in style the weekend of April 2-3, rolling out three days of events to reveling skiers and riders there to celebrate the resort’s chill ambiance that has remained true to its core for seven and a half decades.
The celebration kicked off with a 1946-themed dinner in the 6th Alley Bar & Grill, complete with 1946-inspired costumes and scallop appetizers. The next day it brought back the ‘70s with a costumed Bump Bash just uphill from The Beach (daffies and one-pieces, anyone?), followed by a party at Mountain Goat Plaza with surf tunes by the Beloved Invaders. For those with the energy, an after-hours costumed, uphill skimo event ended near sunset at mid-mountain Black Mountain Lodge. The next day saw an East Wall Scavenger Hunt (with outdoor prizes, not eggs) and another Plaza Apres Party, with New Family Dog getting people, unfortunately, gyrating in their ski boots.
The party-goers had a lot to celebrate. The first post-WWII ski area to open in Colorado and the oldest ski area in Summit County, “The Basin,” as it’s affectionately known, was founded in 1946 by former ski racers and 10th Mountain Division WWII veterans Larry Jump and Sandy, who found it the perfect spot to re-create the high, steep, snowy skiing they loved in the Alps.With the help Marnie Jump, Thor Groswold, Dick Durrance, Max and Edna Dercum, and U.S. Forest Service ranger Wilfred “Slim” Davis, the “resort” opened after just five months with one rope tow from mid-mountain to the summit, built from discarded mining equipment and leftover WWII machinery. Skiers were hauled up to the rope tow in a surplus Army weapons carrier pulled by a four-wheel drive vehicle nicknamed “The Monster,” with tickets costing a whopping $1.25.
The ski area has kept its chill vibe ever since, even after getting purchased by Ralston Purina, owner of Keystone, in 1978 and later Vail Resorts. A-Basin was later acquired by Dundee Resort Development of Canada (now DREAM), which still owns it today and has let it continue its quirky, anti-big-resort ways. Following the purchase, in fact, employees signed a “Declaration of Independence” per se, reading: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all ski areas are created common and equal, except, of course, Arapahoe Basin – ‘cause we have the Pali Chair! – whose loyal friends are endowed by Dundee Realty with certain unalienable rights, that among these are: A Fair Deal, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Fresh Tracks.”
But quirkiness didn’t supersede improvements, with Dundee investing $15 million into the resort in its first decade alone. Through 2019, it expanded from 900 acres to more than 1,400, adding such lifts and terrain as Montezuma Bowl, The Beavers, and the notorious, previously out-of-bounds Steep Gullies, which, combined with the hike-to terrain of the east wall, dish up some of the most adrenaline-addled schussing in the state. It also added the Black Mountain Lodge and Black Mountain Express Lift, as well as il Rifugio at Snow Plume Refuge—the world’s highest ski-area solar project at 12,456 feet—as part of its sustainability plan to get the ski area to carbon neutrality by 2025. It’s also added a host of summer activities, including an aerial adventure park, hiking and biking trails, a disc golf course, parties, and North America’s highest-elevation via ferrata climbing route.
And all along, it’s kept true to its roots, despite today’s era of mega-resort consolidation and corporate culture elbowing its way into skiers’ and riders’ lines.
“There weren’t many models for creating a ski area in 1946 so what our founders did was rather unique and quite special,” says the resort’s Katherine Fuller. “They didn’t come into this with grand plans or deep pockets. The founders just wanted to ski and share this steep, high-alpine terrain and had to pour their lives—and life savings, in Larry Jump’s case—into A-Basin to make it work.
“By some accounts, the way the early years went, A-Basin maybe should not have survived. We owe that generation of pioneers many thanks because here we’re able to grow, evolve, and improve while still remaining true to ourselves. The food is now delicious and we have one of the youngest lift fleets in the country—things we are very proud of. Otherwise, I think it’s remarkable that people pretty much come here now for the same reasons they came in ’46: a welcoming vibe and incredible terrain. “
—Want to learn more? Check out the recently released book “Arapahoe Basin, A Colorado Legend since 1946,” co-authored by Cathleen Norman and Alan Henceroth.
Top photo by Doug Schnitzspahn. All other photos courtesy Arapahoe Basin.