Arapahoe Basin Ski Area moves forward with capital projects despite financial setbacks
ARAPAHOE BASIN SKI AREA — Arapahoe Basin Ski Area has been busy this summer as crews work to replace two chairlifts, build the new Aerial Adventure Park and via ferrata course, and install radio-frequency identification ticket scanning gates.
While neighboring resorts put a halt on capital projects once the COVID-19 pandemic shut down ski areas, A-Basin has pushed forward with these five major projects and eliminated smaller plans such as building new bike trails.
Skiers and snowboarders will be most excited about the new Pallavicini chairlift, which is expected to be operational for the 2020-21 ski season along with the replacement of the Molly Hogan beginner lift.
Chief Operating Officer Alan Henceroth has been giving project updates in his blog posts, which have been met with excited comments like “can’t wait to ride it!” and “it’s going to be cool.”
Henceroth recently wrote that the wire ropes for both lifts have arrived at the ski area, the motor rooms have been set and 10 of 12 tower holes for the Pallavicini lift have been dug. He wrote Sunday that the lift team would work on the remaining tower holes over the next several days, and he predicted concrete might be brought in by the end of the week.
While work continues on the lifts, the new Aerial Adventure Park is complete and is expected to open within a week or so, Henceroth wrote.
In an interview with the Summit Daily News on Tuesday, July 22, Henceroth explained that the park is inherently great for physical distancing because only a few people can stand on a platform at once and people will move through the course with their own group.
Henceroth said the via ferrata course is about 40% complete and that he anticipates it being done around Labor Day, though it might not open until next summer.
A via ferrata — which is Italian for “iron path” — traditionally is a protected climbing route most often involving a steel cable that runs along the route and is periodically fixed to the rock.
“It is going to be a very exciting thing,” Henceroth said. “The views up there are dramatic. People are going to get a chance to climb a really rugged, rocky face and stand on top of a pinnacle that’s at about 12,900 feet, and I can’t wait until we can share that with people.”
As for the RFID gates, Henceroth said they will help minimize contact between guests and employees — though they weren’t originally intended to be a response to COVID-19 — therefore adding another layer of safety this season.
The new technology includes RFID tag in tickets and passes that will be automatically scanned at gates leading to chairlifts.
Henceroth explained that despite the negative financial impacts of the shutdown, A-Basin decided to push forward with the projects to keep employees working and because the projects were already about 40% funded.
“I can’t (overstate) how big of a negative hit COVID has been on us,” Henceroth said. “We missed the three very best months of the season for us. So the hit was really large, but we had a very big capital year scheduled. And in the weeks following the closure, we went through some real soul-searching as to what we were going to do and how we were going to be and what we were going to do for our employees. … We decided to carry through on those projects.”
By continuing work on the projects as well as normal summer operations, Henceroth said the ski area has been able to employ about 40 seasonal employees and keep about 70 year-round employees. Leaving the projects hanging would have been a tough situation, he said.
Funding already had been set aside for the projects, but the loss of revenue hurt and “things are very tight as a result,” Henceroth said.
The three four-day weekends the ski area has operated so far this summer have been the best A-Basin has ever had in summer, according to Henceroth. That said, summer operations are a “drop in the bucket” compared to what was lost in the spring.
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