On the Hill: A-Basin sets skier-day record | AspenTimes.com

On the Hill: A-Basin sets skier-day record

Bob BerwynSummit County correspondent

SUMMIT COUNTY – Arapahoe Basin officials are crediting improved marketing, good snowfall and resort improvements for a record number of skiers and snowboarders last season.A-Basin officials say they tallied 326,125 skiers and snowboarders, up from last season’s 275,428 skier days (a skier day is one lift ticket used for all or part of a day).The total sets a new record for the small ski area that really comes into its own in April, May and part of June when every other place is closed.The previous high came during the 2002-2003 season, at 317,401 skier days. The total may not seem huge compared to industry giants such as Vail (about 1.6 million skier days) or Breckenridge (about 1.45 million), but it’s impressive when compared to several other mid-sized destination ski hills in Colorado.Both Telluride and Crested Butte, for example, have averaged about 350,000 skier days the past few seasons at their remote locations. A-Basin’s 2004-2005 count even surpassed last year’s total at well-known Aspen Mountain.A-Basin spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer attributed the record to a fully operational snowmaking system that enabled an early start to the season, as well as to timely snowfall that resulted in good conditions for much of the year – as well as an ever-loyal local and Front Range contingent. Snowfall at A-Basin was only at about 80 percent of the historic average, but it came at the right time and stayed around, Hierholzer said.A-Basin also benefits from its ticketing and marketing agreement with Vail Resorts, said Greg Finch, executive vice president with A-Basin owner Dundee Realty USA.Under the deal, A-Basin is included in Vail Resorts brochures and other marketing materials.Vail Resorts tickets and season passes are valid at A-Basin throughout the winter, and the smaller ski area gets a percentage of the ticket price each time a Vail Resorts ticket is scanned. “We can tell from our scanning system how many of their passholders are skiing here, and that number is growing,” Finch said. “It’s a significant part of our business.” Finch said A-Basin-only season pass sales have been growing. In recent years, the ski area has sold out of its popular bonus passes, which offer unlimited skiing at A-Basin plus a set number of days at Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail or Beaver Creek.”It’s been rewarding, after all the money and work we’ve put into it, to see the growth,” Finch said. Finch estimates that Dundee has plowed an average of $1 million per year into Summit County’s oldest ski area, including a significant investment in a top-to-bottom snowmaking system. This summer, crews are building a new rental shop, a $1 million project that will help ease a base-area bottleneck.Finch is talking up a potential expansion into Montezuma Bowl, just south of the ski area’s existing boundary. The area is designated for lift-served skiing under the White River National Forest plan, and A-Basin experts have been exploring the area the past few winters to try and figure out the best location for a new lift.No formal proposal has yet been made to the Forest Service, although ski area officials this past spring met with residents of nearby towns for conceptual discussions.Finch said the Montezuma expansion makes sense from an investment standpoint, with the potential for gaining a significant amount of sunny, mostly intermediate and advanced terrain with a single lift. That could help change the widespread perception of A-Basin as being mainly an expert playground, Finch said.The Montezuma expansion plan will be addressed at least in part by an update of the ski area’s master plan, though additional site-specific analysis would still be required after a formal proposal goes to the Forest Service.”As you talk about Montezuma, it raises other issues, like parking and food service,” Finch said, explaining that the master plan update is intended to address some of those questions as well.