Arapahoe Basin Ski Area CEO explains reasons for breakup with Vail Resorts
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Keystone Resort might have just become each other’s biggest competitors.
For years, the resort and ski area only 5 miles apart have worked together under an agreement that allows Keystone’s pass holders the opportunity to carve turns on A-Basin’s high-elevation runs.
However, Arapahoe Basin and Vail Resorts, which owns Keystone Resort, are severing ties for the 2019–20 ski season. Considering the proximity of the two ski areas, the dissolved partnership could set up a new round of competition in Summit County come spring.
On Monday, Arapahoe Basin announced it will discontinue its pass-partnership program with Vail Resorts next season. A-Basin officials cited “a pinch on parking and facility space” as the reason for the breakup.
At the base of the ski area, A-Basin’s chief operating officer Alan Henceroth talked about how Arapahoe Basin has invested $40 million in on-mountain upgrades over the last 15 years. He also cited the “tremendous growth” in skier and snowboarder traffic the ski area has seen over the last several years.
“I think everyone who skis and rides here knows that,” Henceroth said of the increasing traffic. “There’s plenty of space out there on the hill … but we’re really feeling a pinch in other places, parking in particular, and at some of our facilities, restaurants.”
While problems with parking have been frustrating A-Basin’s guests for some time now, the situation hit a boiling point earlier this year when A-Basin was warning drivers that cars illegally parked over the white lines on Highway 6 leading up to the ski area were getting towed.
On Monday, Henceroth said parking has gotten so bad that the ski area has to do something about it. He said there’s no room to build more parking lots and a multimillion-dollar parking garage isn’t a viable option right now. Instead, they severed ties with Vail Resorts. Henceroth declined to say exactly how many people are visiting A-Basin’s slopes on Vail Resorts passes but conceded it’s a big number.
“We think we’re ready to go this on our own and handle this in a different way than we have the last 22 years,” Henceroth explained. “It’s a tough time in that we’ve had a long, great relationship, but it’s really time for us to move on.”
In the announcement, A-Basin officials also said they are discussing “opportunities” with other resorts and resort groups. Many people would like to see some kind of agreement with Loveland Ski Area or have A-Basin join the Ikon Pass offered by Alterra Mountain Company, but there are no new partnerships to announce at this time.
“If we were to enter into a partnership with another place, we’re months and months away from that,” Henceroth said. “I think it would be before the next ski season, but it won’t be in time for spring pass sales.”
Almost on cue, Vail Resorts followed A-Basin’s Monday announcement by releasing details about its new “Keystone Plus Pass,” which will replace Keystone’s season pass that has been good at A-Basin.
The one currently offered for Keystone and A-Basin has been a popular choice, especially among some locals, who get access to the ski areas for less than $400 a season.
But Vail Resorts’ new Keystone pass is baiting the hook by offering access to Keystone Resort (with some restrictions), unlimited late spring skiing at Breckenridge Ski Resort starting April 1 and five days at Crested Butte with holiday restrictions next season.
Additionally, all of Vail Resorts’ unlimited season pass products will come with 10 buddy tickets next season, up from the six previously offered for the Epic, Epic Local and Summit Value passes this season.
And Vail Resorts is also looking to have Keystone Resort start competing to be the first to open in the U.S., a designation that has often gone to Arapahoe Basin, which typically opens in October and runs lifts into June. At the same time, another Vail Resorts property in Summit County — Breckenridge Ski Resort — will look to extend its winter seasons through Memorial Day every year starting this year, which will elongate its season by more than a month.
With earlier early season skiing at Keystone and later late-season runs at Breckenridge, Vail Resorts is pointing to both moves and saying that the two Summit resorts are now poised to offer pass holders “one of the longest ski and snowboard seasons in the country.”
Seeing Keystone’s efforts to compete with A-Basin for early season skiing, Henceroth acknowledged that A-Basin might have to start going head-to-head with Keystone.
However, he thinks Arapahoe Basin has a lot to offer, from terrain to culinary options, and he hopes that A-Basin will put a dent in Keystone’s pass sales, too.
“We know a lot of the A-Basin faithful are on Vail Resorts passes, and we hope to convert some of them to our passes,” he said.
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