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Arapahoe Basin Opens Back Up — Saves the Season and Gives Hope to a Beleaguered Industry and its People

After more than 70 days of being shut down due to CDC regulations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Arapahoe Basin flipped the switch and its lifts spun again on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, following approval of Summit County’s request for a variance from the state public health order by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.

Just as quickly as the official ski season had come to a screeching catastrophic halt, it looked as if it might be opening back up again. And when I heard the news, my soul swelled with joy and excitement. Obviously not just because I could go skiing again — I honestly could have been skiing in the backcountry and in restricted and questionable areas as much as I wanted this entire quarantine/safe-at-home and then “safer-at-home” (which apparently Colorado recreationists didn’t understand or pay attention to whatsoever), but I wasn’t. 

But now, just one day last week, which started out like another groundhog day, after enduring multiple weeks of dealing with cancelled bike races, canceled tradeshows, adding to a depressing list of canceled travel and events, and having to explain to my daughter why everyone is wearing masks and why we can’t go to the library, the park, or the pool, I had been blessed with a renewed sense of optimism. A glimmer of hope. Something to do to feel human again. That optimism was, admittedly tempered, when I quickly realized that this was going to be a very limited and controlled and restricted endeavor.

That optimism was, admittedly tempered, when I quickly realized that this was going to be a very limited and controlled and restricted endeavor.

If you know you know. Arapahoe Basin is called The Legend because it’s a corner stone of ski culture, a Colorado legend, a sparkling gem of the the ski and resort industry, and for me and so many others it represents something more important than the sport itself, more important than the terrain, although it certainly does have that. 

I can’t even tell you how badly I have been wanting to poach some of my favorite ski areas, instead of skinning around my backyard (which fortunately backs up to National Forest at 9200 feet). I wanted to ski my local backcountry trails, to be skinning with friends. That much is obvious. But I didn’t. I skied in my backyard with my daughter and my dog, I stayed home, and I avoided any type of crowding at any trail heads or roadways for the good of my copatriots and out of respect for those who were suffering from or battling this virus. I used common sense and science, just like I’m doing now as I continue to try to protect my businesses, my life, my family, my inner circle, and my extended family globally.

I had stayed home. But this was different. This time we would all be under a mutually agreed-upon social contract. We could actually be nice to each other. We can treat each other like skiers and like human beings doing what we had to do, not as outsiders or violators of rules, carriers of disease. 

Having no idea what to expect, I mitigated my risk (at my wife’s request) by going up early in the morning to take advantage of uphill skiing — which is only open (from 4pm to 8am) to those already in possession of an uphill season pass at the Basin. Arriving just as the sun was rising over Loveland Pass and descending down valley to the famed A-Bay parking lot was a dreamlike state, part apocolypse and part glimmering ray of hope and perfection.

The ski area collaborated with state and local authorities since it closed March 14, and this opportunity for a limited reopening was the result of that ongoing partnership. A Basin is following all Centers for Disease Control and Summit County Public Health guidelines to keep guests healthy and maintain precautionary and protective measures. 

“This was a unique, moral victory, bringing the community back together,” said A-Basin’s Leigh Hierholzer. “From the day we closed we kept optimism that we would be able to reopen, and we really never fully shut down our operations. We’ve been farming the snow, keeping people on staff, and we had to maintain the ski area during the shutdown while following all of the safety protocols in order to open.”

Here is the important information you need to know before considering a trip to Arapahoe Basin, all available on their website.

  1. NO RESERVATION, NO ACCESS. A limited number of people will be admitted daily. Do not come if you do not have a pre-booked reservation.
  2. There are only two ways to ski / ride A-Basin during this time: pre-book a reservation with a valid pass or purchase a day ticket in advance. Can only be done online by entering a drawing. See below. 
  3. TAILGATING IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED. Arapahoe Basin staff will actively police the parking lots to ensure compliance with all state, county and company mandates. There are no exceptions.
  4. BRING A FACE COVERING. You must wear it when you cannot maintain 6 feet of physical distancing outdoors and in designated areas.
  5. You will be asked to leave if you do not follow all guidelines laid out by Arapahoe Basin, which were developed in conjunction with state and county health authorities. 
  6. Please stay home if you are sick or are considered high risk.
  7. This is not an experience suitable for beginners. To reduce injury risk, we recommend only experienced skiers/riders. Expect spring conditions.

The variance allows A-Basin to host a maximum of 600 skiers per day, administered through an advance online reservation system, about half of what they might normally see on these late spring/early summer days. Summit County Public Health may adjust the number of daily allowable skiers downward if physical distancing requirements cannot be met in any locations within the ski area boundary, including in parking lots, guest facilities and base areas.

As of now, we don’t know when A Basin will end its season, possibly as soon as June 7, but it is Colorado’s only resort high enough to not only have skiable acreage through July, but also not restricted by migratory Forest Service permits.

Within the next few days, the County plans to enact an amended Summit County Public Health Order that allows any local alpine ski area to open, pending approval of an operations plan that ensures physical distancing and other protective measures, although it might be too late. But Arapahoe Basin is not the only resort in the country to have opened back up after being shut down by COVID. Wolf Creek applied in early May and was denied a variance. Mt. Bachelor outside of Bend, Oregon, opened a few weeks ago as well, much to the delight of locals; and Ski Mag features a good roundup of them here.

“Re-opening Arapahoe Basin in a responsible manner is a moral victory for our guests, our employees and our community,” said Alan Henceroth, Arapahoe Basin Chief Operating Officer. “These first small steps will help all of us in Summit County get through this terrible disease and its very rough social and economic impacts.”

“Arapahoe Basin and Summit County believe it’s critical to begin the process of reopening our economy ahead of the summer tourist season,” the County said in a statement. “A-Basin’s plan is one of the first incremental steps in this process and will allow us to responsibly explore a model that could offer lessons and best practices for other tourism-focused businesses in our community.”

Consider it a small moral and philosophical victory during these difficult times.

–Elevation Outdoors contributing editor Aaron Bible specializes in travel, outdoor industry and event coverage, no matter the season. Follow his adventures on Instagram.

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