A-Basin bails on Vail, after investing $40 million and building new Beaver's Lift

A-Basin bails on Vail, after investing $40 million and building new Beaver's Lift

An Epic breakup in the making

CultureFebruary 19, 2019 By Will Brendza

Vail’s newest rival is one of their oldest partners and resort competition in Summit County is about to ramp up in response.

On Monday the 18th, Arapahoe Basin announced that they would be splitting their ties with Vail Resorts, the world’s hungriest ski corporation, in order to pursue their own business ends. It’s a breakup that is going to rock Summit County and drastically shift the status quo for skiers and riders in the region.

For 20 years the partnership between A-Basin and Vail has flourished, benefitting every party involved: front range Epic Pass holders have had easy, (relatively) fast access to a beautiful mountain with great terrain. A-Basin also helped redistribute some of the insane crowds that hit other Epic resorts. Vail has made a lot of money offering Keystone/A-Basin combo passes for under $400. And, of course, A-Basin has profited too. Without Vail’s partnership, and all that Epic traffic, it’s unlikely A-Basin could have expanded as widely or as quickly as they have.

Now, though, they’re ready for a change. They’ve outgrown their Epic association, apparently, and so they’re breaking it off to become Keystone’s closest rival — Vail’s newest competition.

We think we’re ready to go this on our own and handle this in a different way than we have the last 22 years,” A-Basin’s chief operating officer, Alan Henceroth told Summit Daily News.

“I think everyone who skis and rides here knows that there’s plenty of space out there on the hill,” Henceroth said. “But we’re really feeling a pinch in other places, parking in particular, and at some of our facilities, restaurants.”

Which makes a great excuse — Vail Resort's crowds are a frustrating force to be reckoned with.

But it is strange that this announcement comes the same year A-Basin opens up their brand new, high-speed Beaver’s Lift; the same year they open another restaurant on the mountain; the same year they cut free parking in the lower lot by half. They are finally starting to look and act like any other Vail resort, and indeed, they’ve poured in excess of $40 million into on-mountain upgrades over the last 15 years.

Which makes one wonder: would A-Basin have been able to afford all that, if not for their partnership with Vail?

Epic pass shredders may soon have one less mountain to shred

Whatever the answer to that question, it’s clear that Vail isn’t going to take this breakup lying down. They’re sweetening the Keystone deal by adding unlimited spring skiing at Breck (after April 1st) to the new “Keystone Plus pass,” plus five days at Crested Butte. They’ve also upped the number of “buddy passes” Epic local pass holders have from six to 10.

On top of all that, Vail Resorts simultaneously announced that they are going to have Keystone compete to be the earliest ski resort open in the US — a title that A-Basin has held up until now. Breckenridge will also be extending its season by more than a month, starting this year.

It’s pretty evident that Vail is already positioning itself to compete with A-Basin. And A-Basin might be doing the same.

Henceroth conceded that A-Basin officials were discussing the option of linking up with another ski resort, or ski corporation aside from Vail. That could mean a partnership with Loveland, which is only a stone’s throw from A-Bay; partnership with some other small or local mountains like Monarch or Pergatory; or, perhaps most deviously, that could mean hopping aboard the Ikon pass and joining forces with Alterra Mountain Company — Vail’s arch nemesis.

Which, would be a pretty cutthroat move.

Regardless, Henceroth says that decision is still being mulled over and likely wouldn’t be settled until this summer. “Before the next ski season,” Henceroth said.

What does all this mean for skiers and riders who loved ripping A-Bay one day and Breck, Key or Vail the next?

Nothing good. A-Basin acted as a preassure release valve for crowds in Summit County resorts. For those who plan on sticking with the Epic pass this breakup means that a lot of people, who would otherwise be skiing at A-Basin, will be redirected to Keystone and Breckenridge, making crowds at those resorts even worse than they already are… which is both difficult and terrifying to imagine.

It also means that Front Range weekend warriors are going to have to choose between convenience and variety. A lot of skiers and riders from Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins skied A-Basin more than any other resort simply because it was closest and it usually had shorter lift lines than any other mountain on the Epic pass. With that option now gone, it may encourage a lot of folks to give up on Vail, their insane prices and ridiculous crowds altogether.

That is something that A-Basin seems to be banking on.

We know a lot of the A-Basin faithful are on Vail Resorts passes, and we hope to convert some of them to our passes,” Henceroth said. Though, he admits that there will likely be a significant drop in skier and rider traffic at A-Basin. 

This divorce is shaping up to be an epic one. And whether you are happy for A-Basin or sad to see them go, their breaking ties with the ever-hungry corporate mammoth that is Vail Resorts is probably the best thing for them. 

A-Basin's beautiful base