I asked myself, “How does a ski resort have the guts to call itself The Legend?”. With so many legendary resorts scattered across the world, could a “medium-sized” resort in Colorado really distinguish itself from all the rest?
Every ski resort in the entire world attempts to capture and promote its vibe. That vibe can be anything from ritzy hotels with champagne to a rough and rugged backcountry feel. Arapahoe Basin lands somewhere in between, and it is wonderful.
Walking through A-Basin’s parking lot will give you a feel for the vibe that exudes from the resort. Locals have their tailgates open, music is playing, a few dogs are chasing after a tennis ball, and smiles can be seen on every face. I can smell something on the BBQ first thing in the morning.
I’m of course talking about the people that set-up shop at A-Basin’s legendary “Beach”. Rather than sand, you’ll find a few dozen people cooking out, drinking beers, and having a great time enjoying the Colorado sunshine. The Beach is where you want to be after a long day of skiing in the sun.
So A-Basin clearly has the Apres scene locked down… I figured that out by 9 AM, but what about the skiing? To be honest, I was overwhelmingly impressed. I had read a lot about A-Basin’s expansion with The Beavers, and The Steep Gullies in recent years, but I wondered how good could it really be? Let me assure you that A-Basin can deliver the goods.
My first day of skiing at A-Basin was sunny and mild with temperatures in the low-to-mid 30s. It was one of those days when you can feel comfortable shedding an extra layer because you know you’re going to work up a sweat in the trees.
I was treated to near 360 degree views of Summit County from the top of A-Basin’s Lenawee Lift. The daunting East Wall loomed over the basin, and I could pick out a couple of brave souls already making the hike to get some of the first turns on the East Wall this season.
Looking off the backside I could see a sliver of neighboring Keystone, and Breckenridge loomed in the distance. This view off the backside of A-Basin overlooking the Montezuma Bowl is truly a site to behold. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque view of the Rocky Mountains than what A-Basin can offer.
I was fortunate to meet up with an A-Basin ski patroller named Jake, and the Mountain Operations Manager Louis. We shook hands and immediately started exploring A-Basin’s terrain. I first had them take me into the resort’s relatively new Beavers section. The Beavers terrain and Beavers Lift can be found on the far West side of the resort property.
Louis explained the daunting, but responsible measures that A-Basin took to expand its boundaries into this land. Trail cutters hiked an hour into the area each morning with their gear and chainsaws, and then hiked over an hour out each evening to wrap-up the day. Louis explains that A-Basin felt these measures were preferable to building an access road to minimize the effects on the environment.
To highlight the excellent glading work done by A-Basin staff, the guys took me into the Glockenspiel Glades on the skier’s left side of The Beavers terrain. The glades were excellently cut with a consistent pitch that kept me locked in, but also allowed me to really let it rip. The snow was fast, yet soft, despite warmer than normal temperatures. Glockenspiel is a trail that you can lap several times a day without getting bored. There are numerous lines that you can pick through on your way down.
After learning all about The Beavers, we decided to venture into A-Basin’s famous back-bowl called Montezuma. To get there we rode up The Beavers lift and traversed the spine of the peak until we found our line. We settled with a steep entrance somewhere near Max or Griswold. A nice cornice had formed, so I gave it a few taps in honor of the legend Shane McConkey. I had to honor the legend at “The Legend” ya know?
This section of the Montezuma bowl is flat-out fun. I charged down behind Jake and Louis into big, soft moguls with the sun beaming onto my face. The Montezuma bowl is mostly south-facing and can suffer the consequence of that disposition, but not on this day. The quality of the snow was excellent, and I reached the bottom wanting to do it again.
After taking a couple of runs on the front-side, Jake and Louis asked me if I wanted to check-out The Steep Gullies. The Steep Gullies were part of the recent expansion into The Beavers a couple of seasons ago. The gullies themselves can actually be seen staggering above the access road when you’re driving up from Dillon to A-Basin. You can access them off the Pallavicini lift. I was interested in the Gullies, but admittedly I was slightly nervous. Could an East Coast boy really tackle extreme in-bounds terrain in Colorado? Louis and Jake seemed to think so. I followed them through the access gate preparing for anything.
One thing I truly appreciated about Jake and Louis was the time they took to explain A-Basin’s dedication to safety and responsibility for their mountain. Before entering the Gullies, we stopped for Jake to explain how the resort mitigates avalanches in the Steep Gullies area. Rather than hand-toss explosives or use the resort’s cannons, A-Basin’s ski patrol installed a series of bomb trams that span above the gullies. These tramways allow ski patrol to tie avalanche mitigation ordinance to a fixed cable, position it anywhere along the line, and trigger avalanches during risky times.
After my lesson on how bad-ass A-Basin’s ski patrol is, we headed towards Steep Gully #4. The entrance to the gully was a little spicy with some rocks poking through the snow. Once we side-stepped and scraped our way in we were greeted by a perfect line. I think Louis explained the Gully as “sexy”, and I would have to agree. I was flanked on either side by steep rock walls with glorious mostly-untracked powder in between. I hop-turned my way down grinning ear-to-ear. I had never skied in-bound terrain like this anywhere in North America. It was truly something special.
The Steep Gullies all funnel down to a hike-back trail that takes roughly 30 minutes to reach the main base area. You could argue that this is the only downside to skiing the Steep Gullies, but I can assure you its well worth the extra effort. In the interest of honesty, I was given a tow back to the Pallavicini lift by a ski patroller on a snowmobile, but I would still hike that trail any day for that terrain. I guess it’s all about who ya know, right?
In the interest of wrapping things up I’ll end with a few words about how A-Basin made me feel. If you’ve been following my posts, you know I’m a lunatic ski freak from the North East. I grew up skiing mom and pop hills that left me with more than just a good day on snow. I think that A-Basin has replicated this feeling in their own way. The skiing is world-class, but the experience sets it apart. It’s easy to be overshadowed by big-box Vail resorts, but A-Basin has found their niche in establishing a truly unique vibe.
I’m struggling to find the exact words to explain it. I felt that I was part of something bigger from when I arrived at A-Basin until I left after my last run on Sunday. A-Basin is more than just a ski resort. It’s a place where like-minded people come together to enjoy snow, sun, laughs, friends, and maybe some beers. I can’t recommend visiting A-Basin enough. Please go check it out for yourself, and let me know in the Facebook comments if you can describe the “vibe” better than I can.