They don’t call it ‘the Legend’ for nothing
Any ski area with a history involving a man named Larry Jump is bound to be legendary. And legends are what Arapahoe Basin is all about.
A-Basin is Summit County’s oldest ski area, and the third oldest in Colorado, behind Aspen and the now-defunct Berthoud Pass. The Basin is famous for maintaining its rustic charm while other ski areas have opted for high-speed chair lifts and glitzy condominiums.
“We want to balance tradition with sustainability,” said Jim Gentling, chief operations officer of Dundee Realty, which has owned Arapahoe Basin since 1997.
“When we talk about that kind of balance, for example, we put in a new lift. But, it wasn’t a high-speed lift. It’s a triple chair, to meet the needs of carrying more people up the mountain but maintain the atmosphere everyone has come to know and love.”
The new lift, Lenawee, is named for Lenawee Mountain, which, in turn, is named after an old miner’s daughter – “wee Lena.” Lenawee Mountain contains some of the Basin’s steepest and most popular hiking terrain – the East Wall. The mountain, like many of the trails at Arapahoe Basin, is named after local miners and their families.
Gentling has been with the Basin for 24 years and said that, during that time, the most noteworthy character trait of the ski area is that it has not undergone any sort of transformation. It has not been subjected to the same caliber of makeover as others have in the United States.
“In my time, there’s been no change here,” Gentling said. “In 2002, it is the same as it was in 1978, when I first came here. We have an amazing consistency. That’s the first and foremost quality, keeping it the same – comfortable, warm, traditional and casual.”
Arapahoe Basin opened in 1946 with one, mid-mountain rope tow that skiers reached in an Army weapons carrier pulled by a four-wheel drive vehicle.
In 1945, the Winter Sports Committee and the Denver Chamber of Commerce hired 10th Mountain Division veteran Larry Jump and Olympic Ski Team member Frederick Schauffler to survey Colorado for potential ski area sites. The two recruited Olympic medalist Richard Durrance, and the three went on to develop a $150,000 plan that included two chairlifts, a rope tow and a trail layout designed by forest ranger Wilfred David. Jump elected local resident and forestry professor Max Dercum (who still resides near Keystone and recently turned 90 and for whom the Basin’s Dercum’s Gulch is named after) as one of Arapahoe Basin’s board of directors. The company was unable to attain funds to build the two lifts for the ski area’s inauguration, but the skier-day tally for the first, rope-tow-only season was 1,200. They accessed the mountain for $3 per day.
By the next season, Marnie Brown, soon to be known as Marnie Jump, helped finance the original plan. Ross Davis founded the Arapahoe Basin ski school, and Dercum and his wife, Edna, who also owned the Ski Tip Ranch (Colorado’s oldest guest ranch), became instructors.
Jump supervised the ski area for the next 20 years, and in the mid 60s, patrolman Joe Jankowsky took over management.
In 1978, Keystone’s parent company, Ralston-Purina, purchased Arapahoe Basin for $3.2 million, and by 1979, there were five chairlifts.
Dundee Realty, based in Canada, took over the ski area in 1997, when Vail Resorts acquired Keystone and Breckenridge.
The ski area still has just five chairlifts, but one of the largest landmarks in A-Basin history is taking place this season. After 46 years of relying soley on Mother Nature to blanket its slopes with the white stuff, the ski area will begin making its own snow.
“It’s a life cycle of a ski area,” Gentling said. “They all start out small, and depending on funding, popularity and financial commitment, they grow. We’re still growing, but we’re not ever going to have real estate development. We need to have positive growth without impacting the tradition.”
And what besides tradition sets A-Basin apart from other ski areas? Representatives say the elevation and the challenging terrain make A-Basin a legend.
“There’s no question that our average skier is more adventurous and of a higher skill level than the average skier at any other mountain,” said A-Basin mountain operations director Alan Henceroth, who has worked at the area for 15 years. “It skis like a big mountain, but the base area is a small, friendly place. You can park right at the bottom. You don’t feel like you’re in the city getting on a bus system. And at this elevation (base: 10,780 feet), the snow is the best anywhere.”
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