Arapahoe Basin shuts down ski lifts for 2019-20, a season that was different from the start
Under sunny skies on Sunday, Arapahoe Basin bid farewell to the 2019-20 season, solidifying its place as Colorado’s first-to-open, last-to-close ski area.
CEO Alan Henceroth described the season as one for the record books.
“The times have been weird,” Henceroth wrote on his blog. “Thanks to all of you that stuck with us … There is so much for us to talk about.”
The season started with one of the most exciting race-to-open contests Colorado has ever seen. After investing heavily in new snowmaking capabilities, nearby Keystone Resort threatened to become a new first-to-open resort in Colorado, announcing an Oct. 12 opening.
But in an amateur mistake, Keystone announced the plans for the Oct. 12 opening at around noon on Oct. 11.
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Arapahoe Basin was open for the season a few hours later, offering skiers an abbreviated 3:30-5:30 p.m. session to claim first opening.
“We thought it would be fun,” Henceroth said.
It was also the first season in decades in which Arapahoe Basin did not have a pass sharing agreement in place with Keystone, making the neighbors direct competitors in the race to open. Ikon Pass holders were entitled to seven days at A-Basin, and Taos and Monarch pass holders could also ski there.
By March, skier visits were down 39% as a result of the resort’s breakaway from the Epic Pass.
While that was a more significant drop than the company was shooting for, (A-Basin had stated it wanted to achieve a 20% reduction in skier traffic in separating from the Epic Pass) Henceroth said by every measure, A-Basin had improved the guest experience.
“Both face to face interaction and survey data tell us that people clearly are having a better time this season,” he wrote in a blog post on March 3. “This season is nothing like last season. The numbers speak for themselves. The experience is way up. The skier days are way down. Ikon, Mountain Collective, Taos and Monarch are great partners. We aren’t quite where we want to be yet, but we are heading in the right direction.”
Henceroth ended with an unfortunate prediction.
“Spring looks very promising,” he wrote.
Less that two weeks later, the ski area was ordered to be shut down by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, along with all others in the state.
Once Vail Resorts and Alterra decided to close their Colorado resorts, Gov. Polis said he didn’t feel the state’s 17 remaining ski areas should stay open.
“We couldn’t have a situation where more and more people were going to fewer and fewer smaller resorts to recreate without creating a public health crisis,” Gov. Polis said.
Henceroth said he supported the decision.
“While some folks encouraged us to close, hundreds, if not thousands, of people have asked us to stay open,” Henceroth wrote. “We tried our very best to be creative and modify operations to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. I know that many of you want to be here and many of you had a great week skiing here. This closure saddens me deeply. Unfortunately, it is time to close.”
Only area to reopen
When Polis lifted the executive order requiring ski area closures on May 25, A-Basin was the only ski area in Colorado to reopen its lifts in the days that followed.
Snowboarder Sarah May told the Denver Post that she became emotional in being able to get back on a chairlift again.
“The privilege of being able to ride a chair is amazing,” she said. “And I am very thankful.”
A lottery style reservations system served as a delight to those who were accepted — skier Dustin Burley told 9news he had won a lottery for once in his life, so he drove 5.5 hours from Durango to get there — and a disappointment to those who were not.
“I am so bummed that not everyone had a chance to ski,” Henceroth wrote. “While glad we squeezed an additional 12 days in before the final snow-melt, I know each of us wanted so much more skiing.”
After close on Sunday, Henceroth said considering the tough conditions on Saturday, Sunday felt like a good Closing Day.
“Considering conditions, I think today was the right day to shut her down,” he said.