Arapahoe Basin navigating USFS process for terrain expansion
December 23, 2013
There's no doubt Arapahoe Basin Ski Area commands a special place in the hearts of skiers and riders.
During an era when so many resorts seem to be consumed with transporting their guests up the hill faster and providing posh accommodations, A-Basin seems content with simply being a ski hill and offering an experience uniquely local, regardless of where a guest happens to hail from.
Those passionate skiers and riders come from Summit County, Denver, the Front Range and beyond to soak up the laid back, party atmosphere of The Beach and the classic feel and charm of a mountain suspended in time. It's known as "The Legend," but even that nickname doesn't do the mountain justice.
Those who seek out her steep gullies and wide-open bowls do so with a love affair that may be best described as romantic. And with such a passionate following, it's not surprising to see at least some resistance whenever the times call for change.
It happened prior to the opening of Montezuma Bowl during the 2007-08 season, A-Basin COO and general manager Alan Henceroth said. Back then, A-Basin's most avid fans opposed the expansion for fear the introduction of new terrain would draw more skiers and riders to the mountain's signature runs, located skiers left off the iconic Palavicini double chair.
"Whenever improvements are proposed, people get really worried about us ruining the vibe and the feel of A-Basin, but when it was all said and done, many of those people who opposed the Montezuma Bowl expansion ended up thanking us," Henceroth said. "The addition of new terrain actually ended up drawing people away from Palavicini and improving the skiing there."
Now, Henceroth is hoping those same people who adamantly opposed the Montezuma Bowl expansion will become allies in the mountain's latest attempt to further expand its territory. A-Basin is in the midst of going through the U.S. Forest Service's public comment period on an environmental impact statement to add new attractions, such as a summer zip line tour, expand its reservoir to allow greater snowmaking operations, construct a surface lift to provide easier access to Montezuma Bowl and expand into an area known locally as The Beavers.
Although The Beavers fall within A-Basin's special use area — and are already popular with thrill seekers and backcountry enthusiasts — A-Basin has no authority to conduct anti-avalanche operations outside of its official boundary.
The purpose of the expansion is therefore two-fold, to provide better access to more than 434 acres of bowls, glades and gullies, but also make it safe enough for the average skier to enjoy. In addition to the highly sought after gullies, Henceroth said The Beavers feature two areas prime for blue-rated terrain.
"The addition of more blue terrain is key for us," Henceroth said. "With this expansion we could offer three separate skiing experiences, serviced by three different lifts that are all similar in size, but also drastically different. We really think this is going to complete our intermediate terrain experience, while at the same time increasing access to expert terrain already sought out by Summit County skiers."
Among the proposals for The Beavers is the construction of a 1,100 vertical-foot lift that would provide access to 282 of the 434 new acres. Access to the steep gullies would still require some hike to effort.
"We're getting to the end of our big expansion options," he said. "Our parking is limited, so we're never going to have the same crowds as our neighbors, but we think this would really complete the A-Basin experience."
The public comment period continues through Jan 17. Henceroth is hoping to see a record of decision by early 2015.
Barring any unplanned setbacks, Henceroth hopes construction could begin in 2016. In total the project is estimated to cost $4 to $5 million and would likely need to phased in over time.
When asked where he would prefer to start, Henceroth responded, "The expansion is vitally important to us, but it's going to require a lot of funds, so we'll have to wait and see."