Backcountry Skiing an Abandoned Resort: Geneva Basin

A few weeks back, Will and I decided to tackle a new-to-us adventure: venturing to an abandoned ski resort known as Geneva Basin. In many places, the onset of spring means the end of ski season. But one of my favorite things about Colorado is that it’s the exact opposite! With our sketchy snowpack {easily the most volatile in the country}, spring brings safer snow conditions in the high country. What does that mean for Will and me? All the backcountry skiing adventures!

Originally coined Indianhead Ski Area, Geneva Basin opened in 1963 on the backside of Guanella Pass. It was eventually owned by former Governor Roy Romer and operated for some years until permanently closing in 1984.

Skiing Geneva Basin

But the fun thing about an abandoned ski resort? The ski runs are still there– if you can get to them!

We originally planned to skin in on Saturday with some friends and camp out at the base of the ski area on Saturday night, leaving us with two solid days of skiing. Alas, life got in the way and Will and I couldn’t make it up on Saturday. Instead of scrapping the trip, however, we opted to wake up SUPER early on Sunday to skin into the base, run a lap, and ski back out.

Backcountry skiing at Geneva Basin

There are two options when skinning into Geneva Basin: approaching from the north or the south. If from the north, you have to skin up and over Guanella Pass before dropping into the basin where the ski area is. Will had done this previously and said that it would be a lot of climbing for a single day trip. As such, we opted to approach from the south and highway 285.  We knew this would be sporting when we got a text from our friends on Saturday: “Heads up guys: there is a locked gate at the base of the pass. And there is no snow as far as we can see on the road.”

Well, shoot.

Not easily deterred, we still awoke early, drove up to the south entrance, and found the locked gate. Sure enough, we were not driving around that metal barrier….and there was definitely no snow on the road. To complicate our situation further, I realized I was an idiot. I’ve been struggling with my backcountry ski boots for months, constantly battling blisters, hot spots, and losing toe nails. Finally, as a surprise, Will bought me a new pair of Salomon ski boots {yay!} This was my first outing in them and I was psyched to give them a try…until I went to pull them on and realized they had no insoles. Whoops!

I tried pulling insoles out of the shoes I was wearing but they unfortunately did not fit. At this point, we were left with a decision: suck it up and tackle the day without any insoles or cut our losses, pack it up and head back to Denver.

Backcountry skiing at Geneva Basin

Obviously, we chose the former. After all, why did we get up at 4am?!

Because the road was dry as a bone, we stayed in our hiking shoes and A-framed our skis on our daypacks. It made for some heavy backpacks, but it was the only choice we had. Then, we began hiking the road.

Hiking with skis is never anybody’s favorite thing, so we tried to make the best of it. I discovered that wedging my ski poles underneath my pack transferred the weight from my back to the poles. I had a brief moment of concern when I worried about snapping a pole, but then I decided I didn’t care– this way way more comfortable!

Will and I hiked for a mile or so, watching the snow gradually creep back onto the pavement. Eventually, the road had a light covering of the white stuff, so we decided it was time to skin up. Sure beats hiking!

Backcountry skiing at Geneva Basin

From the gate to the Geneva Basin, it is roughly four miles so we still had a trek ahead of us. And for awhile, our skin was no big deal. Snow covered the road, we were steadily climbing towards the pass, and our spirits were high. Any day outside with my husband is a good day, yanno?

But then things got….tricky. The road took a sharp switchback and turned left, entirely changing the aspect of the pavement. Almost immediately, it was clear that the sun had melted all of the snow. Blank patches of black pavement appeared and Will and I continued skinning towards the side of there road where the snow still lived. Eventually, we weren’t even on the road– we were in the grassy ditch alongside it. And for awhile that worked, but it became a “choose your own adventure” of sorts. Not wanting to take the time to remove our skins and skis, we found ourselves picking our way through rocks, desperate to make contact with any snow. Eventually, we knew it was ridiculous and threw in the towel: time to remove the skis!

Backcountry skiing at Geneva Basin

Do you ever have those moments where you just think to yourself, “What the F am I doing?” This was one of those moments. Not only were we carrying our skis far more than we wearing them, but hiking in my insole-less ski boots was killing my feet. I had hot spots and blisters all over the place, and Geneva Basin was nowhere in sight. WHAT.

Thankfully my husband knows me well! He plopped us down on a guard rail and dug through his pack to find some chocolate-covered anything snacks. When I get cranky, food is typically the answer, and if it’s chocolate? Even better. Sure enough, he bought my love with food that day, and my energy returned. I was having fun again!

We hiked the remainder of the road, carrying our skis in our arms rather than taking the time to re-secure them to our packs. It was a welcome sight when we hiked around the corner to see a mountainside filled with snow-covered ski runs. Geneva Basin!

Backcountry skiing at Geneva Basin

We immediately saw our friends’ tent in the valley at the base of run, so we strapped our skis back on and headed that way. Miraculously, Danny had just finished skiing a lap and was beginning to skin back up to the top to meet his wife. Instead, we all hooked up and skinned up the mountain together.

The skin up to the top wasn’t easy. It was a bluebird day so the heat was blasting down on us but the wind was wicked. There were a few moment when I had to hunker down to get out of the gales; I was afraid I’d get blown right over. Thankfully, it didn’t take us *too* long to get to the summit and I let out a gleeful whoop when I saw the little cabin. It was the old ski patrol hut!

Backcountry skiing at Geneva Basin

Hands down, this hut is my favorite part of Geneva Basin! When the resort was in operation, it was used as a ski patrol hut but these days, it is the only remaining structure from the resort’s glory days. I read somewhere that the Forest Service originally planned to tear it down, but a group of locals got involved. They promised to take care of the hut and somehow everyone agreed on keeping it intact. Users can sleep in it if they want, but it is kinda dirty. It does have a wood burning stove though, so if you had wood, you could totally head it up all cozy. Plus, there is an old trail map on the wall so you can look at your options for ski runs!

Backcountry skiing at Geneva Basin

After the exhausting, multi-faceted morning of skinning, I was pretty damn tired. Danny and Rachel skied back down to begin tearing down their camp while Will and I pulled a couple chairs out on the deck and basked in the sunshine {maybe a bit too much. I ended up with a wicked burn!} It felt so good to sit in the sun and soak in the scenery. Moments like this are what makes all the sweat and pain worth it.

Backcountry skiing at Geneva Basin

Eventually, Will and I noticed the sun dipping lower on the horizon and knew we needed to get back. After all, we still had the four miles of road. When covered with snow, we could easily ski down in 30 minutes, but since so much of it was dry, we were going to have to hike a bit.

We chose a run that we had seen while skinning up and enjoyed the rewards of our skinning.  We ended up skinning/skiing 11 miles with a couple thousand feet of gain, which was definitely a big day. And when I told my mom about it, she asked me if it was worth it, all that work for a single downhill run.

Abso-freaking-lutely.

********************

15 Comments

  • Reply Art May 10, 2016 at 11:02 am

    What a great day, and a great adventure! It would be worth it for me too

  • Reply Kristen May 11, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    What a cool adventure. I would never think to go exploring like that! And I’m not sure I could have kept going if I’d had to hike in my ski boots. That hurts just thinking about it! But it doesn’t like you could beat the weather or the company 🙂 How did you get into back country skiing? I’d be really interested in trying it someday, but I wouldn’t even know where to start.

    • Reply heather May 12, 2016 at 10:50 am

      You know, I’ve gotten quite a few questions re: how to start backcountry skiing, so I think a post will be coming on that very topic. Standby!

      • Reply Kristen May 16, 2016 at 8:43 am

        Just saw your post about back country skiing!! Can’t wait to read it – thank you so much for writing a guide! So glad I asked 🙂

  • Reply Helena August 24, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Hi-
    never heard of this cabin, but it sounds like something fun to visit. Would you have some directions or a contact for someone who takes care of it.
    I was thinking about visiting in this fall before the snow comes. I am not ready to test it with the skis before then, as I am not that good on crosscountry skis.
    thanks

    • Reply heather August 24, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      There isn’t anyone that takes care of it; it’s essentially an abandoned hut that visitors drop in on. But if you google Geneva Basin, click on the Google Maps directions on the right side of the screen– you can get directions from wherever you are. It’s a pretty known area 🙂 Have fun!

  • Reply flite February 3, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    its looked after by a lot of people. try to contact GEMS the Geneva Environmental Management Society their info is in the hut but you can probably find it on line somewhere

  • Reply Abandoned Colorado Ski Resorts: Mesa Creek -Just a Colorado Gal March 20, 2017 at 11:48 am

    […] year was our first foray into these Colorado ski resorts {or powder ghost towns!}, exploring both Geneva Basin {an abandoned resort} and Seven Utes {a resort that fizzled before it ever happened}. Knowing […]

  • Reply Stephen Nold March 31, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Heather,

    Good for you for finding Geneva Basin! I grew up skiing there in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The area had some pretty great runs (Henry’s Holler, Tomahawk, Knicker Knocker) and produced some amazing skiers. Learned a little ski patrolling there as well. You brought back some great memories!

    Best of luck with the book.

    Thanks!

    • Reply Heather April 1, 2017 at 7:15 am

      Thanks Stephen!

  • Reply Bill Long January 4, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    This is the last place I skied in my life. I took a long trail that wound along the top of a ridge and then descended into some other trails. I was all by myself, but there were still one or two ski patrol on the run. I was wearing my Rossi 195 GSs, and the cruising was nice and smooth. I remember the swishing sound as my skis drifted on the hard-packed powder. The sun was shining low in the sky in the late afternoon.

    As I recall, it was the spring of 1984, and almost nobody else was around, even though I think it was on a Saturday. I was not an expert skier (an upper immediate), but here I found myself all on my own, skimming down into the shadows below me. This was my neighborhood range: I lived on Conifer Mountain and had arrived via 285, from the south.

    My wife and I had skied most of the other slopes in Colorado over the years, but executive unemployment forced us back east where we live now–Virginia, in the Piedmont region where our daughter goes out to ski in Massanutten and Wintergreen. Now 73, I’m a little disinclined to brave the bumps and turn my ski-tips straight down.

  • Reply Carrie Stephenson January 6, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    Great article Heather. I would like to offer you a correction though. Roy Romer was not the sole owner of Geneva Basin but he is the familiar name. Actually, my father and uncle, Walter and Bob Burke, were more instrumental in the ownership and daily operations of Geneva Basin. Us Burke’s have very fond memories of the ski area and seem to be sensitive when dad doesn’t get any credit for all of the heart and soul he put into it. 😉 My dad is now 86 and really enjoys all of the articles posted about GB. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to it. I will definitely share your article with him.

    • Reply Heather January 7, 2018 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you for the correction! I love hearing about further history with GB; we really love that spot!

  • Reply Alan January 19, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    I missed that place grew up and learned to ski there and had fun for years every weekend with the exception of the lift stalling they were gas and you could hear them trying to start the engine up again LOL once and a while they would flood the engine. Was there the last day it was open and was heart broken when it closed. Grew up in Conifer so it was close and was always excited when I heard rumors it was purchased and may reopen but nope… Still ski at the big resorts now but those were great memories If I was younger Id just hike and ski.

  • Reply Debbie January 24, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Thanks Heather for the great write up on Geneva Basin. That ski area was my whole life growing up there. I lived at the bottom of the South (285) pass where the gate is now. I lived there since I was three years old and my mother worked there in the cafeteria. I started skiing at age 10. I joined the Ski Team when I was a freshman at Platte Canyon High school. My Brother was two years older and was on the ski team. The next four years were the best of my life. I still have contact with most of the Ski Team members and their families. We are planning on having a re-union in the next couple months at Geneva basin. I really wanted to buy the mountain and make it a great outdoor adventure with several adventures activities. However I did not get enough investors plus the snow fall there is limited. I just wanted to let you know you made me smile with the amazing memories I have about the best ski area that existed!

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