Droves of freedom riders descend on Arapahoe Basin Ski Area for sunny July 4 | VailDaily.com

Droves of freedom riders descend on Arapahoe Basin Ski Area for sunny July 4

Antonio Olivero
Summit Daily News

On the day of this nation’s independence, it was indeed the people’s party high up on the Continental Divide.

Shortly after 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the first skiers and riders hopped off the top of the Lenawee Mountain chairlift above 12,000 feet. They were here — where the country’s eastern slope meets it western slope — from all across the country, from Orlando to the east to San Francisco to the west. And whether they took one run or lapped all day, the thousands who made up the sea of skiers and snowboarders at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area were in search of a once-in-a-lifetime Fourth of July memory.

“There is nothing anywhere like what’s happening here today,” A-Basin chief operating officer Alan Henceroth said while looking out at the mass of skiers and riders in the Mountain Goat Plaza base area.

A couple of hours earlier at the top of the ski area, many of these people got the moment they were looking for as they dropped in for their Fourth of July ride. Before they did, many looked out to see the summer sunshine illuminating a tribe of mountain goats in the saddle along the rocky hillside leading toward Little Lenawee Peak. The goats soon made their way over to the closed Montezuma Express Chairlift, as if to say, “Hey, we can join in on the fun, too.”

Despite the monumental crowds — vehicle after vehicle was parked along U.S. Highway 6 around several switchbacks leading up to Loveland Pass — and despite the slushy, summer snow, these party people celebrated to the fullest what was the first Fourth of July ski day at A-Basin in almost a decade.

“A lot of people turned out — a lot, a lot of people turned out,” Henceroth said. “We’re full. But, gosh, people are having a ball. We’ve got bands going. Lake Reveal (pond skim) is going off right now. Everywhere I turn, people are just smiling and talking. I don’t know how many people have said thanks today — for a great day, for a great season. This is awesome. I love it.”

The crowds at A-Basin on Thursday were, in a word, humongous. For a ski area known as “The Legend,” one steeped in decades of history, Thursday likely will go down as one to remember. Sure, it was the first time the ski area opened on Fourth of July in eight years, but it also was the final day of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass being accepted at the ski area. And then there were the pristine, partly cloudy conditions. It all rolled up into a day of quantity and quality at Summit County’s oldest ski area, where most every face in the crowd left smiling.

Here’s a look at some of those faces in the crowd.

Captain America: Larry Paige, of Vail
Antonio Olivero / aolivero@summitdaily.com

Captain America: Larry Paige, of Vail

This might have been the final day of the ski season for many, but for Paige, who traveled last year to ski July 4 in Chile, this was Day 1 of his 2019-20 ski season. He logged 118 days this past season, starting with Wolf Creek’s early opening in October.

The retired Marine concocted his Captain America getup with a red, white and blue compression shirt and a small helmet with an “A” affixed to the front. Thursday was special for Paige as July 4 was the fourth birthday for his grandson.

“This will go down as one of my more memorable Fourths,” Paige said. “…I’ve been to (Washington,) D.C., on the Fourth of July several times. But with this group, this crowd, enduring everything they have to — to park, to get here, even the police had no ability to win. ‘No parking, no parking.’ I think the crowd dictated, ‘Yes, we are going to park here. Because we are going to ski. We are going to enjoy the Fourth of July.’ And even though it’s crowded and there are lines, everybody is still having fun and enjoying the celebrations.”

The military man: Andrew Peeples, of Longmont
Antonio Olivero / aolivero@summitdaily.com

The military man: Andrew Peeples, of Longmont

Peeples first got onto the slope five hours after he left his house at 6 a.m. Thursday. The trip was worth it, though, as the skier rode the mountain while holding a giant American flag he picked up from his front porch.

“I’m just a big fan of the World War II army look,” Peeples said about his outfit, which featured his father’s pilot gloves and an old military helmet found at a surplus store. “I threw it together the best I could, bought some green pants for it and decided to have some fun. I respect the hell out of our troops. I love ’em all to death and figured it was a way to have some fun and say ‘thanks.’”

The wet eaglet: Jonathan Sutton, of Aurora
Antonio Olivero / aolivero@summitdaily.com

The wet eaglet: Jonathan Sutton, of Aurora

The 10-year-old Sutton convinced his dad to drop into the Lake Reveal pond skim with him. Father and son got soaked, and while young Jonathan emptied out the water from his ski boots, he described how he made the special eagle’s-nest helmet with his dad.

“He used wires through the air holes and then taped it on,” Jonathan said about his dad’s method of using electrical tape to affix the Fourth of July hat to his ski helmet.

The Grateful gang: Marti Drum, of Knoxville, Tennessee; Michael Whitewolf, of Orlando, Florida; and Scott Bunkin, of San Francisco
Antonio Olivero / aolivero@summitdaily.com

The Grateful gang: Marti Drum, of Knoxville, Tennessee; Michael Whitewolf, of Orlando, Florida; and Scott Bunkin, of San Francisco

Drum was the ringleader of her Grateful Dead-loving trio of friends, who thought, “Why not trip up to A-Basin for a ski before this weekend’s Dead & Company shows at Folsom Field in Boulder?”

“To get our freak flags flying,” Whitewolf said.

Drum wore a Lady Liberty-themed crown and gown with whacky sunglasses purchased from the A-Basin gift shop while Bunkin wore his Uncle Sam outfit.

“‘I’m Uncle Sam, that’s who I am,’” Bunkin said, quoting the Grateful Dead song “U.S. Blues.”

As for Whitewolf, he donned some borrowed gear from Drum.

“I was just standing there,” he said, “Marti handed me a beer, and she says, ‘Rock my tutu.’ What was I gonna say?”

The mustachioed firefighter: Brett Bartlett, of Evergreen
Antonio Olivero / aolivero@summitdaily.com

The mustachioed firefighter: Brett Bartlett, of Evergreen

Though he was unable to ride Thursday due to a knee injury suffered while firefighting, Bartlett wasn’t going to miss Fourth of July at A-Basin. He was here eight years ago, the last time A-Basin opened for the summertime holiday, and said the crowds on Thursday were “exponentially” larger.

Donning a USA-themed cowboy hat with a couple of above-the-ear cylindrical holders for coozies and beverages, Bartlett regarded the day as almost a spiritual experience.

“Snowboarding is my passion my whole life,” he said. “I have done everything from competing to ski patrol to avalanche search and rescue to dog handler. The mountains are my church.”

The star-spangled speedo: Mitch Rodrigues, of Austin, Texas
Antonio Olivero / aolivero@summitdaily.com

The star-spangled speedo: Mitch Rodrigues, of Austin, Texas

Lucky enough to get a tailgating spot at A-Basin’s “beach” front-row parking area, Rodrigues opted for the lightest gear imaginable.

“I played water polo in high school, so I had the speedo still,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Well, screw it. I’ll bring it.’ And it ended up being such a great day out, I decided to wear it the whole time.”