In the twenty-first century, ski resorts are not built with tinker toy towers, Army surplus generators, and a wing and a prayer. In the mid-1940s, when skiing had all the appeal of a deep freeze, convincing investors that there was great fun in the snow on the snowy slopes of the Continental Divide, was a hard sell at best. Nonetheless, a hearty group of pioneers sold stock, cut down trees, put up "lifts" and voila – a legend was born.
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Arapahoe Basin opened in December of 1946 with help from Larry Jump and his directors including Max and Edna Dercum. The inaugural season opened with a single rope tow and $1.25 daily lift tickets. Now at 66 years strong, A-Basin is just hitting its stride.
How a Legend was Born
In 1945-1946, the Winter Sports Committee from Denver's Chamber of Commerce hired two men to make a statewide survey of potential ski area sites – Laurance "Larry" Jump, a Dartmouth grad and 10th Mountain Division veteran, and Frederick "Sandy" Schauffler, Amherst grad and member of the 1940 Olympic ski team. At the time, only Berthoud Pass qualified as a winter sports area.
After surveying, Jump and Schauffler's site recommendation was the west side of Loveland Pass. When they learned that the U.S. Forest Service considered issuing a prospectus for bids on the Arapahoe Basin site, the two pioneers recruited Olympic medalist Richard "Dick" Durrance for credibility. The three men formed Arapahoe Basin, Inc on May 14, 1946. On June 10, 1946, they submitted an application for a special use permit to the USFS. Eleven days later, the plan was approved. Wilfred "Slim" David, a ranger with the USFS, designed the trail layout.
Larry met Max Dercum, a local resident and forestry professor from Pennsylvania, who owned several mining patents on the Arapahoe Basin Ski Area site. Larry immediately hired him to work on the mountain to utilize his forestry background.
Arapahoe's directors had an initial plan for the ski area: stocks were sold for $1.00 but not enough shares were sold to develop the group's initial plan. Arapahoe Basin opened for its inaugural 1946-1947 season with just a rope tow, which was located from midway to the top of the mountain. Skiers were transported to the base of the tow in an Army weapons carrier pulled by a four-wheel drive vehicle.
During the first season the skier-day count was 1200. Skier-day visits jumped to more than 13,000 during A-Basin's second season. The area's gross income in 1947-1948 was reported at $30,000. Today's skier visits reach over 425,000.
According to Larry Jump, Arapahoe's first single chairlifts incorporated some military surplus 'tinker toy' tows, but they also employed structural steel. These were the first post-war lifts ordered in Colorado. A 100 kilowatt army surplus generator and electric motors powered all the lifts.
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. A first aid patrol room was near the base of the lower lift, as were a row of outhouses.
In More Recent History
Arapahoe Basin was diversified from Vail Resorts, Inc. in August 1997. Dundee Resort Development, a subsidiary of Dream Unlimited Corporation ("Dream) of Toronto, Canada acquired A-Basin.
Dream has made improvements to the ski area, keeping its technology up-to-date without compromising its local feel. A snowmaking system, installed in 2002, helped A-Basin become the first ski area to open in the nation for both the 06/07 and the 07/08 seasons. An environmentally friendly warming hut and ski patrol headquarters were constructed in 2004. The chairlift at Lenawee was replaced in 2005 as to efficiently move more skiers and riders to the summit. In 05/06, a new snowsports building was constructed in the base area, housing lessons, rentals and a tune shop. A new mid-mountain restaurant, Black Mountain Lodge, was opened in the spring of 2007 and new deck was added in the summer of 2008.
In January of 2008, Arapahoe Basin expanded by 80 percent with the addition of Montezuma Bowl on the backside of the mountain. This expansion was the biggest terrain expansion in North America in 2008. A $1.2 million parking expansion and reconfiguration took place in the summer of 2008 which included a pedestrian tunnel under Highway 6,300 additional parking spaces and a new shuttle bus system to transport guests from the upper parking lot to the base area.
In 2010, A-Basin began construction on a new detachable quad chairlift, the Black Mountain Express. The lift replaced the Exhibition fixed grip triple chair located in the base area which was installed in 1978. The Black Mountain Express has a capacity of 2000 people per hour, a length of 2877 feet, a vertical rise of 719 feet and cost approximately $4 million. The ride time from the base to mid-mountain is just under three minutes, half the time of the old Exhibition lift ride.
Arapahoe Basin opened Montezuma Bowl in the 07/08 season. This 400-acre expansion was done with minimal impact and increased the ski area's terrain by 80 percent. A quad fixed grip lift was built in the summer of 2007 which transports the many skiers who experienced Montezuma Bowl last season to the summit.
Arapahoe Basin has a vast history; for more historical facts about A-Basin visit "Fun Facts."