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Arapahoe Basin’s effort to avoid overcrowding by leaving the Epic Pass may be working too well

“This was new ground and we have learned a lot,” says resort leader Al Henceroth. A-Basin joined the Ikon Pass in a deal that limits days.

The Pallavicini chairlift carries skiers and snowboarders up the mountain at Arapahoe Basin on Feb. 9, 2019. Loveland Pass winds its way up to the Continental Divide in the background. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Alan Henceroth wanted about 100,000 fewer skier visits at his Arapahoe Basin ski area when he left the Epic Pass last year, citing overflowing parking lots and crowds that threatened to degrade the 1,400-acre resort’s ski experience. He got it. And more. 

After 10 years with the Epic Pass, spearheaded by Vail Resorts, and a partnership with Keystone Resort that dated back to 1978, the 2019-20 ski season is Arapahoe Basin’s first venture into the single life. The resort courted a host of suitors and eventually settled with a seven-day and a five-day deal on the Ikon Pass as well as membership in the 18-resort Mountain Collective. 

It’s working for The Legend, as A-Basin is lovingly known.

Visits were way down in the first part of the season but have picked up since Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in January.

“This was new ground and we have learned a lot. The second half is shaping up to be exactly what we thought it would be. We like where we are going,” Henceroth said. “We definitely have some work to do in the fall to focus on that early season.”

The Pallavicini chairlift will be replaced in the summer of 2020 with a fixed-grip double that will not increase capacity. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Here are some numbers Henceroth shared Tuesday on his blog, a welcome bit of transparency in an industry that seems increasingly keen to hide and blur the specifics:

  • A 39% decline in skier visits through January compared with visits through January 2019.
  • A 35% decline in skier visits through February compared with visits through February 2019.
  • A 20% decline in skiers visits in February compared with February 2019. 
  • A 69% decline in skiers using the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes through February compared with Epic Pass skiers through February 2019. 
  • A 51% decline in skiers using the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes in February compared with Epic Pass skiers in February 2019.
  • Through February, there were six days in the ski area’s 142-day season that were busier than last season. 

Henceroth last summer said he hoped the new pass deals would reduce visitation by about 20%. He hit that mark in February, yet admitted the 35% decline for the season is too much. But crowding has been rare this season, especially in the early months. In December 2018, parking lots swelled beyond capacity before lifts even opened. In December 2019, there were open spots late into the morning. 

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Still, the slow start pinched revenues and income for Arapahoe Basin’s owner, Canadian real estate developer Dream, which manages $9 billion Canadian worth of properties in North America and Europe and controls several real estate investment trusts.  (Dream trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange and its finances are reported in Canadian dollars.) 

Dream reported in late February that Arapahoe Basin generated CA$7.4 million in revenue and posted a net loss of CA$70,000 in the final three months of 2019, compared with CA$9.5 million in revenue and CA$1.5 million in net income for the same period in 2018. So for the final quarter of 2019 — Arapahoe Basin’s first three ski months without the Epic Pass — the ski area’s net income fell CA$1.6 million from the year before.  

Last year Arapahoe Basin reported CA$39.3 million in revenue and $10.6 million in net income, which compares to CA$34.5 million in revenue and CA$8.5 million in net income in 2018. In 2017, Dream reported a 28% annual spike in net operating income from its three recreational properties — which include a golf course in Saskatchewan and 50% of a hotel in Ontario — “primarily due to strong ski conditions at Arapahoe Basin.”  

Skier Nathan Hahn makes his way drown a run at Arapahoe Basin on Feb. 9, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Arapahoe Basin, while a sliver of Dream’s overall holdings, is a consistent and reliable workhorse for the company. 

“Over the last five years, the ski hill has seen skier visits more than double and yield per visit has grown by nearly 20%,” reads the company’s 2016 annual report, showing yet another annual bump in recreational income credited to good skiing at the ski area. “Arapahoe Basin continues to expand and represents a growing source of recurring income for the company.”

Henceroth said the decline in revenue and income for his ski hill is not impacting plans for investment and growth. 

“Yet,” he said. 

This summer he plans to replace the Pallavicini and Molly Hogan chairlifts. (Henceroth, who is acutely attuned to his loyal skiers, is not increasing capacity for the Pali chair, replacing the 1978 double with a fixed-grip double. He said: “That was a difficult question. Most people who ski here love it the way it is but there is a heck of an argument to build a bigger lift. We are keeping it the same.”)

This fall, in an effort to increase visits in October, November and December, Henceroth and his team plan to offer a multi-day pass for early season turns as well as a pass for just the early season. 

“We are going to focus on that part of the season a little differently,” he said. “If we can get the early part of the season shopped up a bit next fall, I don’t really see this (the slow start to 2019-20) impacting our capital expansion plans.”


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