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It almost felt like a normal weekday in late May at Arapahoe Basin when the resort reopened on Wednesday.
The snow was slushy, the slopes were wide open and uncrowded, the skill level was high, the staff was friendly, and temperatures were balmy to the point that many donned shorts and T-shirts down the slopes. Jubilation marked the day, but most smiles went unseen because everyone was wearing a face mask. The crowd was about half of what it would normally be on a weekday this time of year, there were no services available other than restrooms, and no tailgating or partying allowed on “the beach” (A-Basin’s notorious base-area parking lot).
Even if it didn’t feel completely “normal,” this was a long time coming. Along with nearly every ski area in North America, A-Basin was mandated to close in March in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but on Wednesday it became Colorado’s only resort to reopen for the 2019-’20 season after securing an agreement with Colorado’s public health officials.
As part of that agreement, the mountain’s re-opening is restricted to a maximum number of 600 guests per day, including Arapahoe Basin and Ikon season pass holders and a maximum of 30 day-ticket buyers. All skiers and riders must make a reservation 36 hours in advance, wear face coverings in chairlift mazes and inside lodges, and maintain six feet of distance from others.
Within minutes of the Basin’s website launching Monday evening for Wednesday reservations, more than 4,000 people attempted to make a reservation, crashing the site and requiring the 600 daily spots be issued by a lottery system.
“The amount of people who knew about it, were ready, and waiting to pull the trigger, is remarkable,” says Katherine Fuller, A-Basin’s communications manager.
Black Mountain Express, Pallavicini and Lenawee chairlifts were operating on Wednesday with access to about 20 ski runs. Lift operators were donning masks and refraining from “bumping” chairs as part of the re-opening’s physical distancing protocol. Guests rode the chairs only with those they came with or alone, and signs marked six feet of distance in lift mazes. Other than the early crowd—more than half of the day’s guests arrived around 8:30 a.m.—lift lines were almost non-existent.
“Everyone is saying they feel like they have the place to themselves,” says A-Basin Chief Operating Officer Alan Henceroth, who was multi-tasking on Wednesday, setting up physical distance markers, chiseling snow staircases, and thanking nearly every skier who passed by. “It’s great to get people skiing. We’re going to have to get more people than this. But it’s a great way to start.”
Henceroth said he expected the Basin to launch additional services—food and beverage and some retail—on Friday, and that the ski area will stay open as long as the snow lasts. A-Basin was the first resort to open this ski season (October 11), and now it can say, once again, it will certainly be the last.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a Fourth of July year, but we’ll stay open as long as we can,” Henceroth says.