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Mountain News: A-Basin getting busier

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DILLON, Colo. - Founded in 1946, one of Colorado's earliest ski areas, Arapahoe Basin constituted little more than chump change in the Colorado ski industry by the 1990s.

But what a difference just 10 years can make. The Summit Daily News reports that for the second consecutive winter, A-Basin surpassed 400,000 skier days, this year hitting 409,000. Last year there were 431,000.

Those numbers say nothing about income for the ski area operator, as many customers use low-priced season passes. But there were likely more customers than were recorded at three of the Aspen Skiing Co.'s four ski areas and a great many other ski areas in the West.

By comparison, A-Basin a decade ago was notching 200,000 to 300,000 skier days a winter, but just 150,000 in the perilously dry winter of 2001-2002.

How did A-Basin get this traction? The story starts in the mid-1990s, when Vail Associates, then with two ski areas, purchased Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. Competitors cried foul, arguing that the purchases tripped the federal anti-trust regulations. In time, the U.S. government agreed, and ordered the enlarged company, which called itself Vail Resorts, to sell one of its ski areas.

In a deal that many critics believed barely survived the arm's-length ruling, Vail sold A-Basin, the smallest of the operations, to a Canadian firm, Dundee Realty, which was based at Beaver Creek, then a short distance from Vail corporate headquarters.

But if independently owned, A-Basin and Vail Resorts work co-operatively. A-Basin is included in the Vail Resorts low-priced deals. Sources also say A-Basin has contracted with Vail for some basic operational services.

The new owners have invested significantly into A-Basin. At the time of the purchase, the ski area barely nudged 200,000 skier days per year. One of just three ski areas in Colorado without snowmaking, sometimes it often did not open until December, sometimes even January.

With this snowmaking, A-Basin opens reliably in October, often the first ski area in the United States. Two winters ago it opened a major new backside bowl called Montezuma and this past winter it unveiled a nice sit-down restaurant at mid-mountain, which offers fancy evening meals. It also has new parking lots to accommodate the larger crowds.

Dundee also picked up a ski area in California called Bear Valley. Company officials tell the Summit Daily that resort suffered from the housing implosion in California, as several of its major markets in California's Central Valley lead the nation in real estate foreclosures.

Funicular will take skiers to hotel

PARK CITY, Utah - A funicular has been installed in a new hotel being completed at the Deer Valley Resort. It is the only funicular at a ski area in North America.

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