75 years later, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s mission and ‘vibe’ remains unchanged | SummitDaily.com

75 years later, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s mission and ‘vibe’ remains unchanged

A group of skiers stop to pose for a photo while skiing at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. A-Basin is celebrating it's 75th anniversary this 2021-22 ski season.
Colorado Snowsports Museum/Courtesy photo

Seventy-five years ago, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area opened for its inaugural season in December 1946.

Although many skiers and snowboarders know the A-Basin of today, which boasts expert terrain and a laid-back atmosphere, what many might not know is how the ski area came to be seven-and-a-half decades ago.

The founding of the area that would become A-Basin began in 1945, when the Denver Chamber of Commerce formed the Winter Sports Committee to search for potential ski area sites.

“At that time, only Berthoud Pass, which has since closed, qualified as a winter sports area,” according to the Colorado Snowsports Museum.

The chamber 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, assessing an area that would be the best for a ski area, and the pair discovered an area west of Loveland Pass they thought would be perfect.

With the help of Olympic medalist Richard “Dick” Durrance, the duo formed Arapahoe Basin Inc. in May 1946, and on June 10 that year, they submitted an application for a special-use permit to the U.S. Forest Service.

Then with the help of Wilfred “Slim” Davis of the Forest Service, a trail map was designed in order to sketch out the early makings of A-Basin’s terrain.

Larry Jump enjoys a day at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in 1949. He was one of the early pioneers who helped found the Summit County ski area in 1946. A-Basin is celebrating its 75th anniversary this season.
Colorado Snowsports Museum/Courtesy photo

From there, the hard work began to get A-Basin up and running by the time snow rolled into the area for the 1946 season. According to the Colorado Snowsports Museum, estimates for the construction of the area were about $150,000.

Jump and his wife, Marnie, along with Schauffler, Thor Groswold, Durrance and Max and Edna Dercum, played a role in making sure A-Basin could open for its first ski season.

One of the first interactions the Dercums had with Jump happened while the couple was participating in the annua early spring Mine Dump downhill ski race at Loveland Pass. The Dercums had just purchased new mining patents and had moved to Colorado from Pennsylvania to oversee the mines.

Jump stopped midturn in front of the Dercums and pointed to a nearby bowl, informing them that was where the race would be held next year.

The place where Jump pointed to just happened to be where the Dercums’ new mines were — and also where Jump envisioned the A-Basin ski runs to be someday. It wasn’t long after this interaction with Jump that the Dercums joined the effort to turn the mountain into a ski area. Max Dercum used his knowledge in forestry as a professor in Pennsylvania to help in the design and layout.

A-Basin opened in December 1946 with one tow rope and lift tickets selling for $1.25. Today, lift tickets are still among the least expensive in the area, with the cheapest costing $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,” according to the Colorado Snowsports Museum. “A first aid patrol room was near the base of the lower lift as were a row of outhouses.”

Max and Edna Dercum pose for a photo while skiing at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in 1946. The Dercums were some of the area's early ski pioneers. A-Basin is celebrating its 75th anniversary this season.
Colorado Snowsports Museum/Courtesy photo

A-Basin saw a total of 1,200 visitors in its first year as a ski area, but the founders must have done something right in its inaugural year. The number of visitors jumped to 13,000 the very next season.

“I think it is sort of the maverick, get-it-done founder story that sticks out to me,” A-Basin Director of Marketing Jesse True said. “What I love about this place is this sort of get-it-done … attitude. It’s skiing above treeline; it’s really the history of making it work in an environment that isn’t always that easy to do those sort of things.”

From A-Basin’s inception, the area has stayed true to its roots, even constructing one of the area’s first ski lifts from a track cable from a mine shaft near Monarch Pass. It is also reflected in the employees at A-Basin and the vision the area has for the future.

Through renovations, upgrades and different owners, the ski area has kept much of the same local feel that focuses on community. For many, this atmosphere is what makes A-Basin so special.

True said 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 to the restaurant workers, and from 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 it sells to prevent overcrowding. True said the main reason A-Basin makes these kinds of decisions is so the area will remain faithful to its 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.”

In the next 25 years, True thinks A-Basin will continue to grow, but that it will be in ways that are different than how other ski areas may measure 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 plans on celebrating its 75th anniversary April 2-3. The celebratory weekend will feature parties, bands and other events to properly commemorate the area’s 75th season.

Five of the main founders take a break from skiing to pose for a photo during the early days of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. The area was founded in 1946 and celebrates its 75th anniversary this season.
Arapahoe Ski Area/Courtesy photo

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