Geneva Basin

Born 1962, Died 1984

1962 was a huge year for the ski industry in Colorado.  The inaugural season for industry heavyweights Vail and Steamboat Springs.  It was also the first year for Geneva Basin.  “Generic Basin,” as it was affectionately known, would try to be something different – a locals’ alternative to the mega-resorts.

Geneva Basin had some things going for it.  The resort was high enough in altitude to provide decent snowpack most years.  It was marketed aggressively as an alternative to the destination resorts in Summit and Eagle counties.  And it had connections –three-term Governor Roy Romer was once an ownership partner.

By most accounts, Geneva Basin was an uncrowded slice of heaven for the brown bag set.  Rarely more than a hundred skiers were present on weekdays, so powder enthusiasts had little competition.  Geneva Basin kept its prices low:  a season pass cost $175 for a family of five. The variety of terrain, trail types and difficulty levels packed into the modest size was similar to Eldora Mountain, a smaller Front Range resort that also started in 1962.  Eldora thrives to this day.  Why, then, did Geneva Basin fail?

For one thing, it was farther removed from the population centers of Denver and Boulder than most Front Range areas.   Geneva Basin straddles Clear Creek and Park counties, a couple miles south of Guanella Pass.  But it could only be accessed over 10 miles of unpaved road leading from the town of Grant, which is 50 miles southwest of Denver.

Of the four of five ownership groups who had the resort, only Roy Romer and his partner, Walter Burke, made money.  This might have been due, in part, to their practice of having their own children to run the mountain (they had 15 between them).  If you go to the Colorado Ski History website http://www.coloradoskihistory.com/lost/genevabasin.html, you can read comments and remembrances from many of their children.

Like many small areas, Geneva Basin tried various gimmicks to stay afloat, even promoting a search for the Reynolds’ Gang “hidden treasure” to encourage summer visitors, in a 1978 newsletter.  (The Reynolds Gang were a band of stagecoach robbers from Texas who waylaid travelers on the stage route over Kenosha Pass in the 1860s.)

Geneva Basin struggled into the 1980’s under the name “Alpenbach.”  Its death spiral began in November 1984.  As the operators were preparing for the season, an empty chair dropped from their only chairlift, prompting the Colorado Tramway Board to condemn the lift.  (A Denver Post article from the early 1980s reported that when the area did get busy, they only loaded the Sundance double chairlift “every other” chair to avoid overloading.)

Unable to operate the lift, Geneva Basin was only open for 60 days that year.  As word spread about Geneva Basin’s struggles, a citizens’ group mounted a campaign to pass bonds that would provide for improvements to Park County infrastructure, including widening and paving the road to Geneva Basin.  The vote failed and Geneva closed for good.  Two days later, the Forest Service burned the lodge to the ground.

SKI geneva basin

Virtual View of Geneva Basin from Mt. Bierstadt (Google Earth)

Looking north toward the cliffs from the base today, you can still see some snow clinging to the steepest slopes in late August.  Viewed from nearby Mt. Bierstadt, one sees a fairly extensive trail network fanning out from subalpine bowls and cliffs (the trail network that actually spells out the word “SKI”).

This is the only one of my Lost Ski Areas series of caches that I did not place.  The cache was placed by the South Park Historical Association for the South Park Geocaching Tour.  Rather than placing a second Geneva Basin cache, I piggybacked on their effort, after getting permission.

I visited in August.  It is a magnificent trip along the Guanella Pass Road in the late summer, with wildflowers blooming and the late summer sun glazing the granite outcrops that line the road.  You must park near the road and hike down into the Geneva Creek valley and up the other side.  Then it is a short distance up what was once a blue cruiser called The Passage.

Near Cache Location.

Near Cache Location.

If you do visit, you may not be alone.   Area resident Ed Guanella (the pass was named for his father) was involved in the construction of the ski area.  He was decapitated by accident when they were stringing cable for one of the lifts.  Ski area employees reported seeing his ghost (Eddie the Head) wandering around at night near the top of the Duck Creek lift.  A lost soul, haunting a lost ski area?  Visit and see for yourself.

 

 

Sources:

“$200,000 Stolen!  Buried near Geneva Basin.”  Geneva Getaway.  Vol. 1, No. 1. Summer 1978.

Colorado Ski History website:  www.coloradoskihistory.com

“No frills attached at “Generic Basin.”  Denver Post.  Mike Madigan.  Winter 1983.

“$200,000 Stolen!  Buried near Geneva Basin.”  Geneva Getaway.  Vol. 1, No. 1. Summer 1978.

Powder Ghost Towns:  Epic Backcountry Runs in Colorado’s Lost Ski Resorts.  Peter Bronski.  Wilderness Press.  2008.