If there is any mountain resort in North America that best defines high-altitude alpine skiing and snowboarding it has to be Arapahoe Basin.
Tucked up against the Continental Divide in Colorado, A-Basin’s base lodge at 10,780 feet is higher than the summits of most other resorts. And although the lifts top out at 12,434 feet, an intrepid rider can add another 600 to 800 feet of vertical by hiking to the resort’s twin in-bounds summits, 13,202-foot Lenawee Mountain and 13,050-foot Arapahoe Basin peak.
Because A-Basin is so high up in the Rockies, much of the skiing and snowboarding is above tree-line, which makes its relatively modest size of 1,458 acres — about half the acreage of nearby resorts Keystone (3,148 acres) and Breckenridge (2,908 acres) — seem so much bigger.
Throw in an annual average of 350 inches of Colorado’s finest product, and you’ve got a powder hound’s paradise.
Start Out Easy
Since A-Basin is in such rarefied air, it’s best for a newcomer, especially those coming from sea level, to start out slow and get acclimated. Hop on the Black Mountain Express, the only high-speed conveyance among the resort’s seven lifts, and take a couple of leisurely laps on such groomers as High Noon or Sundance.
Once you’ve got your legs and lungs sufficiently adjusted to the altitude, make your way to the Lenawee chair, which takes you to the summit. At the top make a U-turn and select either the Lenawee Face or Cornice Run, a couple of blue groomers that will help you get your bearings in the massive upper bowl of A-Basin. After a lap or two — and if the wind is coming out of the northwest — head for the Knolls and King Cornice runs off the Cornice Run; these shots generally have superb wind-drift powder in them.
Next, head over to Montezuma Bowl, which is on A-Basin’s “backside”. Take a couple orienteering laps on Columbine and/or Larkspur runs, the resort’s signature groomers, before making your way to Mountain Goat Traverse. At the end of the traverse, head for a trio of tree shots — Torrey’s, Grays and Bierstadt — for delightful, seldom skied powder runs.
Take in the New
Now it’s time to check out A-Basin’s newest terrain, The Beavers. From top of the Lenawee lift, head skier’s right past the Snow Plume Refuge (a good spot to grab a quick bite or a cuppa joe) to either the Loafer or Davis run, a couple of blue zoomers that bring you to the base of the Beavers lift. As you ride back up the fixed-gripped quad, scope out the tree runs on either side of the lift line for perhaps the best tree skiing in A-basin. A great choice is the Dog Woods, which is on your right as your ride the lift and is accessed by the Loafer run. The four tree shots there — Digger, Alex, Jeta and Jaeger — are named for A-Basin’s first four avalanche dogs.
By now your stomach’s probably growling, so make a bee-line to Bear Mountain Lodge at the top of the Bear Mountain quad for a hearty lunch. There you can also check out the many shots that define the resort’s classic terrain, the East Wall, where you can pick your own adventure and hiking is a definite and common option.
But first head back down to the base area and the Pallavichini chair, a.k.a., The Center of the Universe. Pallavichini is an iconic lift that provides access to A-Basin’s signature double diamond bump runs, such as the Spine and International. Also check out 3rd Alley for some leftover wind-drift pow.
Finally, it’s time for some real challenging terrain, the Steep Gullies. This portion of the resort, which is access by descending Palli Cornice run off the Pallavichini chair, had been skied for a number of years, but it was considered “back-country.” Now, it is regularly patrolled and controlled and considered part of the resort.
A few words of caution: Ride the Steep Gullies with someone familiar with the terrain because of the hidden drop offs and other dangers that lurk there. If you go it alone, SG 2 is the best option because it’s the only one of the five gullies that you can actually see all the way to the bottom.
Once you’ve exited the Steep Gullies you have up to a half-hour walk back to the Palli chair, so maybe it’s time to hang up the boards for the day.
If that’s the call, head for the A-Frame Lodge and the 6th Alley bar and grill for their awesome apres menu and signature Bacon Bloody Mary’s. Or if you’re there in the spring, join the rousing tailgate party in the Early Riser parking lot.