Arapahoe Basin Ski Area plans via ferrata climbing zones, 10 miles of new hiking, biking trails

With its 2018-19 winter season just days away, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s plans to reimagine its summer on-mountain recreational offerings recently took a giant jump into the future.

The White River National Forest announced on Tuesday that its Dillon Ranger District is now accepting comments on A-Basin’s plans for approximately 10 miles of new trails for hiking and mountain biking and two “via ferrata” zones — one beneath tree line at lower mountain terrain and one above tree line on upper mountain terrain.

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 bedrock, in this case A-Basin’s East Wall and a rock face within the ski area’s “Steep Gullies” terrain. The proposal doesn’t mention if those areas would be affected in the winter season. Climbers then typically scale the via ferrata by securing themselves to the cable, which limits the possibility of falling. Additional climbing aids are often provided as well, with a via ferrata kit.

Via ferratas allow otherwise dangerous climbing routes to be scaled without the risks associated with unprotected scrambling and climbing, or the need for climbing equipment such as ropes.

Via ferratas are traditionally found in the Alps, though Telluride has the most well-known example in Colorado. As for via ferratas at ski areas like A-Basin, there is currently one at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

With this plan for the above-tree-line via ferrata zone, the East Wall would offer a brand new summertime recreational activity in Colorado. The East Wall is A-Basin’s impressive and steep above-tree-line skiable terrain that has a summit elevation of 13,050 feet.

In his notice soliciting comments on A-Basin’s proposal, USFS forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the ski area’s proposed projects are consistent with the goals and objectives identified in A-Basin’s master development plan.

“The hiking and mountain biking trails and via ferratas would be designed to highlight A-Basin’s unique National Forest setting, which includes the East Wall,” Fitzwilliams wrote.

“Currently, summer hiking and mountain biking opportunities at A-Basin are limited to the mountain access road and one summer trail,” he continued, “which runs between the base area and Black Mountain Lodge at mid-mountain. The proposed action would better meet the expectations of summer visitors by diversifying difficulty, variety and spatial extent of trails available for hiking and mountain biking.”

Via ferratas

Fitzwilliams wrote that guests climbing A-Basin’s via ferratas would wear harnesses and helmets and navigate under the supervision of a guide. The ski area hopes this new offering will allow guests to experience high alpine, exposed areas in a safe fashion.

A-Basin’s more difficult routes would be located in the upper via ferrata zone, along an approximate 700-foot cliff band on the East Wall in the vicinity of the North Pole couloir. The via ferrata climbing options in this zone would be entirely above tree line, also providing an opportunity to summit the East Wall ridge. In this zone, only 10-25 guests would be expected to climb each day, with each five-person tour taking five hours to complete.

As for the lower via ferrata zone, it would contain routes traversing an approximate 200-foot cliff band in the Steep Gullies area, near the Gauthier and Janitors Only chutes. The via ferrata routes in this below-tree-line area would be intended for entry-level climbers. The USFS adds that between 20-50 guests could navigate the via ferratas in this zone each day, with each tour taking three to four hours to complete. Guests would access this lower route by way of a 0.7-mile hiking trail from the ski area’s base that would be open to hiking only.

The installation of the via ferratas would require drilling and anchoring hardware — such as iron rungs, safety cable and aerial walkway anchors — into the rock face of the chosen route. Loose or hazardous rock within an approximate 4-foot corridor surrounding the routes would also be removed. Once routes are constructed, guests would be connected to a safety line and required to stay on the established routes at all times.

As part of the via ferrata construction, Fitzwilliams said temporary awnings and/or toilets may be installed during the summer at both via ferrata locations.

Hiking & mountain biking trails

A-Basin’s proposed new hiking and mountain biking plan would include trails of varying difficulty levels. Fitzwilliams also added that the proposed trails would integrate well with A-Basin’s existing trail and road network by dispersing guests more effectively throughout the ski area’s special-use permit area.

The ski area’s plans include routing hiking-only, mountain-biking-only and multi-use trails both above tree line and across the ski area’s existing ski runs. The mountain bike-specific trails may also include banked turns and other man-made features to reduce the frequency of pedaling and braking during descents, Fitzwilliams wrote.

The trails would be designed, Fitzwilliams wrote, using established guidelines for sustainability and would be routed to avoid sensitive resources such as rare plants and wetlands. In the case wetlands cannot be avoided, he added the trails would be spanned with bridges to avoid impacts.

How to comment

If you wish to comment on A-Basin’s proposal, you can submit written or electronic comments to the forest service by a Nov. 4 deadline. If you do, Fitzwilliams asks you to reference “Arapahoe Basin Trails and Via Ferrata project.” The comments themselves must be submitted to: Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor, c/o Sam Massman, Dillon Ranger District, P.O. Box 620, Silverthorne, CO 80498-0620. Electronic comments can be sent to

For more information, visit FS.USDA.Gov/project?project=54841.

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