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A Legend of the Legend: The History of Arapahoe Basin's Pallavicini Lift



This is the final season for the original lift (2019-20) before it's replaced summer 2020. Never met the Pali Lift or just want to learn more? Read on for some history...

The Pallavicini Lift is a legend of The Legend and may be the most famous, beloved and humanized lift in Colorado. Known as "the black jewel in the crown of the Basin" and the Center of the Universe, Pallavicini was dedicated to the vision of Larry Jump, 10th Mountain Division soldier, co-founder and president of the original Arapahoe Basin, Inc. Locals speak of "Pali" (pronounced Pall-E) as if it is a friend. And even though there's plenty of great terrain to ski at the Basin into June, Pali's closing each spring--usually in May--is a time of wistful mourning in our community because we're really going to miss her for the next six or seven months. 

"I came off this wonderful two-man Pallavicini chair last season so enamoured that I just had to write a blog about it and ask, 'the best chairlift on earth?' If we’re picking quads or sixes I can think of a handful of high-speeds off the top of my head that are right up there. But doubles? Nothing comes close to the awesome Pali." -- Jonny Richards, Fall Line Skiing Magazine UK


The Pali lift was installed in 1978 during the Ralston-Purina ownership years. "Ralston Resorts" also owned Keystone and, at that time, saw A-Basin as an expert ski area to supplement Keystone's beginner and intermediate runs. Installation of the Pali Lift was part of Ralston's significant upgrades to A-Basin.

"It was a phenomenal improvement. There was not much steep terrain like (Pallavicini) in the state, maybe in the country. Prior to Keystone ownership, the Pali was not even opened until March ... This was a very monumental change to the industry, bringing on that steep terrain." - Jim Gentling, A-Basin's general manager from 1985-2005.

Construction wasn't smooth, however. A group calling themselves the "Basin Liberation Organization" did not want the terrain to change, and spent the summer pulling up flags and survey stakes for the lift. Gentling, who was head of A-Basin's ski patrol at the time, had to stay onsite at night for several weeks until the tower foundations were set. 

The Pallavicini run and lift are named after a similarly shaped nose called the Pallavicini Couloir on Grossglockner, the highest peak in Austria (12,457 ft.). On August 18,1876, Hans Tribusser, Bauerle J. Kramser and Count Alfred Markgraf Pallavicini (that's him, below) became the first people to ascend the Grossglockner via the couloir. Supposedly, they hacked 2,500 steps in the 55 degree pitched ice making the ascent.

According to A-Basin lore, a prominent person in our early days saw some similarity between Austria's Pallavicini Couloir and Arapahoe Basin's Pallavicini Trail. This is where the history gets a little murky and we don't know much else. 


Historical photos credit


A significant part of Pali's uniqueness is its ability to deliver skiers and snowboarders directly to expert and extreme terrain with a single, old-school lift ride from the base area. As you ascend 1,329 feet, look around. The awe-inspiring views are of beautiful glades, rugged big-mountain terrain, 40-degree pitches and noticeably uncrowded ski runs. You're looking at some of the steepest inbounds terrain the state. In about seven minutes, you'll be delivered to the Pali Outpost at 12,130 feet, well above treeline and surrounded by breathtaking views; there's nothing but mountains as far as you can see. 

From there, you can access much of A-Basin's terrain, including the double-black/EX Pallavicini runs, The Beavers, The Steep Gullies and the front side of the mountain. If you're lucky enough to grab a spot on The Beach, the base of Pali is a very short slide from your car, your grill, your cooler and your friends. There aren't too many places where you can lap EX terrain in between charring your own hot dogs and tofu. 

Side note: there are intermediate blues accessible off the top of Pali, including Grizzly Road and West Wall, which drop you down to the front side. You can also access Davis, a "dark blue" that drops you into The Beavers. Griz Road and West Wall are worth it for the views alone. Don't skip Pali even if you aren't an expert skier or rider. 

One of the "5 Most Iconic 'Old School' Chair Lifts in the USA." -- Unofficial Networks 

The Pali Lift is also home to one of the most insane amateur ski and snowboard events anywhere. For 30 years, the friendly competition A-Basin Enduro has hosted teams of two skiing/riding as many laps as they can off the Pali Lift in a consecutive 10-hour period. The event and after-party raise funds for a community member in need. Winners charge down so much elevation that they basically descend Mount Everest. Twice. 


The original Pali will celebrate its 42nd birthday in 2020 and, as of winter 2019, has entered its final season of service. It will be replaced in summer 2020 with another fixed-grip double. Yes, it will have a bar because all new lifts do. The chairs will be silver so we don't spend considerable time and money repainting it black every few years. We thought about a detachable high-speed quad for a hot minute, then decided the Pali Lift should continue to match the Pali terrain. Another fixed double, it is! Your legs will appreciate the slower ride to the top and your soul will appreciate not over-crowding the terrain.

Finally, if you have ever noticed the plaques on the chairs, those are the names of A-Basin employees who reached 25 years of service and those chairs belong to them. While most of Pali's chairs will be auctioned or sold in 2020 with some of the proceeds going to support local charities, the chairs with names on them will go directly to those who have earned more than their turns over the years. Stay tuned for info about the chair sale, Pali's "A-Basin formal" retirement party (we don't know what that means, either), and other celebration events surrounding our old friend. (CHAIR SALES COMPLETE AS OF SUMMER 2020)

If you've got a great Pali lift story, we'd love to hear it. If you have photos from the 1970s or 1980s, we'd love to see those! Email us.

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