75 years later, A-Basin’s mission and ‘vibe’ remains unchanged
75 years ago, in December 1946, Summit County’s only independently owned ski area, Arapahoe Basin, opened for it’s inaugural season.
Although many skiers and boarders know the Arapahoe Basin of today, which boasts expert terrain and a laid back atmosphere, what many may not know is how the ski area came to be seven and a half decades ago.
The founding of area that would become Arapahoe Ski Area began during the year 1945 when the Denver Chamber of Commerce formed the Winter Sports Committee in order to search for potential ski areas.
“At that time, only Berthoud Pass, which has since closed, qualified as a winter sports area,” according to the Colorado Snowsports Museum.
The Chamber of Commerce hired two men by the names of Laurence “Larry” Jump and Frederick “Sandy” Schauffler to scope out the Summit County area for a potential new ski area.
Jump and Schauffler hunted through the Summit County mountains looking and assessing an area that would be the best for a new ski area, and the pair discovered an area west of Loveland Pass that they thought would be perfect for a new winter sport designated area.
The duo with the help of Olympic medalist Richard “Dick” Durrance formed Arapahoe Basin, Inc. in May 1946, and on June 10, 1946, they submitted an application for a special use permit to the US Forest Service in order to acquire the area that is now A-Basin ski area.
Then with the help of Wilfred “Slim” Davis with the Forest Service, a trail map was designed in order to sketch out the early makings of A-Basin’s terrain.
From there, the hard work began to get Arapahoe Basin ski area up and running by the time snow rolled into the area for the 1946 season.
“Initial estimates for the construction of the area were about $150,000,” the Colorado Snowsport Museum reports.
Jump and his wife, Marnie Jump, Schauffler, Thor Groswold, Dick Durrance, and Max and Edna Dercum all played a role in making sure that Arapahoe Basin could open for their first ski season.
One of the first interactions the Dercum couple had with Jump happened while the couple was participating in the annual early spring Mine Dump downhill ski race at Loveland Pass. The Dercums had just purchased new mining patents and had moved all the way to Colorado from Pennslvania to oversee the mines.
Jump stopped mid ski race in front of the Dercums and pointed to a nearby snow bowl and informed them that’s where the race would be held next year.
The place where Jump pointed just happened to be where the Dercums new mines were, and also where Jump envisioned the A-Basin ski runs to someday be.
It wasn’t long after this interaction with Jump that the Dercums joined in on effort to turn the mountain into a ski area. Max utilized his knowledge in forestry as a forestry professor back in Pennsylvania to help in the design and layout of the new ski area.
Arapahoe Basin would end up opening for their first season in Dec. 1946 with just one tow rope lift and lift tickets selling for $1.25. Today lift tickets are still close to the cheapest in the area with the cheapest costing only $69.
“The “village” at the foot of the slopes consisted of a 32 by 40 foot shelter, housing a lunch counter, ski shop and ski school. A first aid patrol room was near the base of the lower lift, as were a row of outhouses,” according to the Colorado Snowsports Museum.
In it’s first year as a ski area, A-Basin saw a total of 1,200 visitors per day, but the founders must have done something right in their inaugural year as the very next season the number of daily visitors jumped to 13,000.
“I think it is sort of the maverick, get it done, founder story that sticks out to me,” Director of Marketing at A-Basin, Jesse True said. “What I love about this place is this sort of get it done sort of attitude, its skiing above treeline, its really the history of making it work in an environment that isn’t always easy to do those sort of things.”
From A-Basin’s inception, the area has stayed true to it’s roots, even constructing one of the area’s first ski lifts from a track cable from a mine shaft near Monarch Pass. This is also reflected in the employees at A-Basin and the vision the area has for the future.
The ski area has not conformed to change to a different atmosphere. Instead, the area, through needed renovations, upgrades and different owners, has kept the same local feel that focuses on community instead of transnational pursuits.
For many, this local only atmosphere is what makes A-Basin so special.
True said that everyone on the staff at A-Basin makes it their mission to maintain this type of vibe while on the mountain, from the lift operators, restaurant workers and ski instructors to Chief Operating Officer Alan Henceroth.
“Keeping the vibe alive is one of our core values and core business ethics that we try to make sure we contemplate when we are making decisions,” True said. “Alan is the embodiment of that, as well. His attitude is very steady, always very positive and always about making it the best for the skiing experience, and I think that is the most incredible part about this place.”
A-Basin has recently demonstrated this ideal by reducing the amount of season passes they sell in order to prevent overcrowding. True said the main reason A-Basin makes these decisions is for the area to stay true to it’s storied history
“We really try to instill in our people that it is an open and welcoming vibe, and we want to make sure that we sell fun all the time,” True said. “The history is all throughout. It’s really been this wild wild west kind of place forever, and we want to embrace the parts of that that are still super open and super welcoming and engaging.”
True thinks in the next 25-years that A-Basin will continue to grow, but it will be in ways that are different than other ski areas may measure their growth.
“Cultivating that welcoming feeling and trying to grow the sport is where we will continue to grow,” True said. “We are not about growing the volume of skiers, we are much more about making sure the quality of skiing remains the paramount decision maker.”
A-Basin is planning on celebrating their 75th Anniversary once the winter is over on Apr. 2-3. The celebratory weekend will feature parties, bands and other events in order to properly christen the area’s commemorative 75th season.