The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
Editor’s note: This story will be updated as we learn more details.
The Colorado ski industry’s latest shake-up is sure to break some hearts: Arapahoe Basin, one of the state’s most beloved independent ski hills, will be independent no more. On February 5, Alterra Mountain Company, the joint venture between KSL Capital Partners and Henry Crown and Company (the owners of Aspen Skiing Company), announced that it will purchase the iconic mountain for an undisclosed amount—making A-Basin the 18th resort owned outright by Alterra, which already owns Colorado’s Steamboat Ski Resort.
According to the press release, there will be no changes to the Ikon Pass—Alterra’s mega, multi-resort pass—this winter, so pass holders shouldn’t expect to get more than the seven days they already receive at A-Basin as part of an existing agreement with Alterra. That also means current Arapahoe Basin skiers and boarders shouldn’t expect bigger crowds quite yet.
But it’s unclear what will happen after the deal closes, which is expected to happen later in the year, “subject to certain closing conditions, including regulatory approvals,” according to a press release. Alan Henceroth, A-Basin’s current chief operating officer, says the sale has been in the works for the last two to three months.
View this post on Instagram
The purchase may rub A-Basin fans the wrong way. Arapahoe Basin could become an unrestricted member of the Ikon Pass after it had for so long bucked industry trends toward larger crowds brought on by the mega passes. The ski area has made a name for itself in recent years by actively limiting the number of day passes it sells to cap visitors on its slopes to just over 4,000 per day. This has only enhanced the mountain’s long-standing reputation for being a no-frills destination that focuses on the quality of its skiing experience.
Still, many A-Basin skiers and riders expect major changes. “There goes the neighborhood,” says Tyler Sexton, a Denver-based skier. “I would be surprised if they didn’t build up the base area.” If Alterra’s ownership led to such infrastructure, that could irrevocably alter A-Basin’s famous “beach,” a parking lot aprés hangout beloved by skiers who pride themselves on being far removed from the higher-end bar scene you’d expect at a place like Aspen or Vail. Others lament the potential loss of its popular Bloody Mary or the introduction of $20 chicken nugget plates. “If they put in a Starbucks, then I’ll really go to war,” says Josh Adams, another A-Basin devotee. But even if its infrastructure and dining remain unchanged, many fear the crowds that could come if the ski area becomes a full member of Alterra’s Ikon Pass.
The language in the press release is vague on this topic, with Alterra saying that it recognizes the “innate value of the unique culture found at each of the mountain communities,” and that its goal is “to preserve, sustain, and support its two most important resources: the mountains and the people who live and play in them.” One sign things might not change too much is Alterra’s decision to retain Henceroth, who has worked for the ski area for 36 years.
“Well, people love the Basin,” Henceroth says, “and whenever there is a change, sometimes they get nervous. We’ve had some positive feedback and some feedback that people are concerned.” And Arapahoe Basin has seen a lot of change recently—beyond its ticketing system. Over the past few years, Dream Unlimited Corporation—A-Basin’s owner since 1997 and Henceroth’s boss until the sale is finalized—has made several improvements to the ski area, including new lifts and on-mountain dining, all of which may have made the ski area a more attractive acquisition. “When Dream bought it, it was kind of a fixer-upper, and right now we are smooth running,” Henceroth says. “I can’t speak to Alterra’s motives…but I suspect one reason [for the purchase] is because we have a great business, we have a fantastic mountain, and we have an extraordinary group of employees and guests. All that combines to make a really unique ski experience.”
Henceroth is sure there will be more changes in store, but he likely won’t be able to talk specifics with Alterra until after the sale is finalized because he’s still employed by Dream. “I can’t answer for [Alterra’s leadership] except to say they are very familiar with our situation and know what makes A-Basin so great,” he says. “They’re very familiar with what we have done the past few years [with our ticketing system], and I know they want to keep A-Basin special.”