“I bet they call it skinning because it sounds painful,” I grumbled to my husband. My chest heaved with exertion as I slid one ski in front of the other.
It was early on a Saturday and the two of us were on the side of Georgetown’s Guanella Pass somewhere between Highway 285 and the 11,670-foot summit. Laden down with packs full of backcountry skiing gear and calorie-dense snacks, we focused on our singular objective: find Geneva Basin.
Originally dubbed Indianhead Ski Area, Geneva Basin is easily Colorado’s most famous abandoned ski resort. It first opened in 1963 with two chairlifts: a double known as the Duck Creek lift and a T-bar called Sundance. Two more Poma lifts were added in the 1960s to provide additional access to bowl and beginner-friendly terrain.
However, ambitious planning couldn’t supersede the ski resort’s financial woes. In 1965, Geneva Basin succumbed to bankruptcy, and former Gov. Roy Romer purchased it, along with the Burke family.
But their ownership didn’t last much longer. Between 1972 and 1984, Geneva Basin changed hands numerous times, and the resort fell into disrepair due to minimal funding. The lack of maintenance became grossly evident in 1984 when a chair fell from the cable on the Duck Creek lift. As a result, the Colorado Tramway Board closed the resort until adequate maintenance could resolve the issues.
Between 1984 and 1992, multiple groups attempted to unsuccessfully reopen Geneva Basin. Finally, in 1993, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) opted to burn down the ski lodge at the base to avoid any future liability concerns. For traditional skiers, Geneva Basin was never coming back.
However, the resort’s memory lives on with backcountry skiers who are willing to earn their turns on the still-visible ski runs. Last spring, my husband and I were two of them as we stood at the site of the former ski lodge and marveled at the solitude. We were the only skiers on the hill; we had the entirety of Geneva Basin to ourselves.
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We identified a mellow cat track on the looker’s left of the mountain and began trudging upwards. Our skins — sticky, carpet-like swaths that prevent skis from sliding downhill — gripped the loose snow as we created our own switchbacks through thigh-deep powder, crisscrossing a path uphill. From there, we spotted a small structure perched at the summit of the resort: the former ski patrol hut.
Miraculously, the USFS did not burn down the cabin when mitigating liability in the early 1990s. Instead, the old ski patrol building still stands, complete with an oversized trail map secured to the wall. It appears to be a gentleman’s agreement between government officials and outdoor enthusiasts: They’ll leave the hut standing as long as we don’t abuse the privilege.
The interior is dark and dingy — exactly what you’d expect from a long-abandoned cabin — but it practically oozes old-timey ski lore. We spent awhile lingering inside, quietly listening to the wind filtering through the cracks in the boards and wondering at all the memories created within the four walls. But eventually, it was time to create our own. It was time to ski.
Will and I ripped our skins from the bottom of our skis, flipped our bindings and boots into downhill mode, and double-checked that the beacons were in send mode. Ready to fly, we selected a once-black run known as Tomahawk that spiraled down the center of the mountain before dumping out at the base of the former Duck Creek Chair.
My ski tips pointed downhill, I launched into the untouched run, hooting and hollering with abandon as pristine powder flew through the air and soaked the perma-smile stretched across my face. Behind me, I heard Will’s delighted laughter echo throughout the trees as the two of us carved S-turns down the untracked mountainside.
The joy felt never-ending, even as the singular ski run came to a close. Undaunted, I turned to Will to gauge his reaction. “Wanna go again?” I asked.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
If you go
Directions: While you can approach Geneva Basin from Georgetown, I’d recommend heading south and driving up via Highway 285. Not only will you avoid ski traffic but you also aren’t forced to ski up and over the summit of Guanella Pass. From Grant, look for signs on the right-hand side that indicate Guanella Pass. From there, drive roughly 7 miles to the winter-access gate. This is where you will begin touring.
Mileage: It’s roughly 4 miles from the gate to the base of Geneva Basin. Beyond that, mileage will vary depending on how many laps you run. We logged roughly 11 miles round-trip.
Elevation gain: Roughly 1,200 feet from the gate to the base
Necessary gear: Even though it is a former ski resort, you still need to treat Geneva Basin with all the caution you would use on traditional backcountry terrain. In addition to backcountry skiing gear, you will need an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe. Also, pack layers, food and water.
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