Born 1972, Died 1984
Golden, Colorado N 39° 41.762 W 105° 14.512
“An orphan waiting for a long, cold winter,” is how Larry Jump once described his Arapahoe East ski area.
Arapahoe East is the most visible of all the “lost” ski areas. Thousands of commuters and weekend ski warriors pass by it every day, though most do not realize it. If you have ever looked south while passing the Lookout Mountain exit of I-70 in the winter and thought, “Wow, that slope would make a nice ski area,” rest assured someone already has. That someone was ski area pioneer Larry Jump.
Arapahoe East was a product of the optimistic 1960s, when advances in snowmaking and the skyrocketing popularity of skiing made suburban skiing seem inevitable. The 1976 Denver Olympics generated a wave of speculative euphoria among businesspeople and developers. The can-do “Spirit of ’76,” however, was to be overshadowed by financial realities and environmental concerns about the limits of recreational development. The wave would crash, and Arapahoe East would eventually be caught in its undertow.
Arapahoe East was started in 1973 by Larry Jump, one of the original investors/owners of Arapahoe Basin (one of the chutes off the north wall of Montezuma Basin is named after him). He believed an area in close proximity to Denver could be used to teach people to ski and get them hooked, so they would become customers for life at Arapahoe Basin. His suburban hill had a 600-foot vertical drop and approximately 10 ski runs, served by a double chair and two surface lifts. It opened in 1972 with a skimpy 8-inch base.
The first two seasons were fairly successful and the venture broke even in 1973, the only year it did so. Unfortunately, artificial snowmaking could not keep up with the vagaries of spotty snowfall and the wicked winds barreling down Mount Vernon Canyon. The “January thaw,” a particularly acute phenomenon in the foothills, doomed the natural snowpack laid down by the early season storms.
Jump pulled out all the stops in trying to make the area successful. He experimented with “shift” skiing: a 4-hour shift in the morning, followed by afternoon and evening shifts (each was $4, so you could ski for a rate of $1 an hour). He also tried using a “pay-by-ride” model, with each lift ride requiring a 40-cent token, but this European concept was not particularly popular.
Finally, he proposed an Alpine Slide in 1978, to provide a more reliable revenue stream that could keep the place functioning year-round. However, the suburban subdivisions that were platted about the same time Arapahoe East opened, had grown up. The new residents did not look favorably on a potential year-round resort in the canyon and fought Jump’s proposal during an ugly series of public hearings. The Jefferson County commissioners rejected his permit application and Jump lost his dream. The very development that Arapahoe East heralded, turned against his area with NIMBY vehemence.
The loss broke his desire to continue operate the resort. It briefly reopened from 1983 to 1984 under the direction of grass-skiing promoter Mike Hansen. The new sport was popular for a time, but underlying insurance and lease problems forced Hansen to close, rather than purchasing the area for a proposed price of $310,000. Arapahoe East was dead.
Today the slopes are part of a private landholding. There is no access, or even a decent overlook, from Grapevine Road. The cache is placed at a good overlook off Highway 40, on the north slope of the canyon. It is located up the hill from a pull-out and you do not need to get anywhere near the edge of the road cut to find the cache.
Take a moment when you visit and imagine if Larry Jump’s dream for Arapahoe East did not die. Would it have been sustainable, given the shorter seasons we have experienced lately? If you visit during winter months (November through March), please take a picture and add to the gallery when you log into its webpage on geocaching.com.
ColoradoSkiHistory.com website: http://www.coloradoskihistory.com/lost/arap_east.html
McMillin, John, 1997, Mountains of Memories, Mountains of Dreams: A History of Skiing in Jefferson County, 10:18, pp.7-14