Photo Credit: Justin Cygan
Even as a lifelong Colorado and Front-Range resident, and even in the pursuit of skiing as many of the state’s ski areas as possible, somehow in my rather short time on this earth I have never made it to Arapahoe Basin. Most of my ski friends judge me harshly for this fact, and I deserve that judgment.
A-Basin for some strange reason has always been my white whale. Throughout my youth I always heard stories of Montezuma Bowl and the East Wall, usually explained via the enticing phrasing of being: “steep and deep.” However, something always kept me from “The Legend” and so it was with great excitement that I ascended up Loveland Pass on a Friday in late April to ski at one of Colorado Ski Country’s true gems.
One reason why I had finally come to Arapahoe Basin was the area’s well earned and enticing reputation for being the premier spring skiing destination (and only one of four resorts open at the time). I had come to write an article about how great it is to ski the mountain in the warmth of late April, when the hill is showered in warm sunshine and the snow is soft and surfy.
As those who have inhabited Colorado for any sort of time know, spring is the season of mood swings in our state, and as such, my imagined warm, sunny spring day had turned into a wet and grey experience.
Now usually a non-accumulative storm day as such might damper the mood of a resort, but on this Friday I found the well-known carefree, celebratory vibe of A-Basin not at all diminished, maybe in fact heightened by the conditions.
The “Beach,” the Basin’s famed base area, was already in full vivacious swing by the time I arrived in the morning, even as clouds loomed to the west. I passed the early-morning revelers and headed straight for the Black Mountain Express, A-Basin’s workhorse high-speed quad, which whips skiers up to the Black Mountain Lodge and midway up the mountain.
I took a couple runs off of the Black Mountain Express, and seeking guidance, texted a good friend asking advice on where to go next. He took no time responding, and soon I was on the back side of the mountain, in the famed Montezuma Bowl.
I learned two things in Zuma. First, A-Basin skiers are some of the nicest, most likely to strike up an interesting chairlift conversation, most stoked, and most hardcore skiers I’ve met in Colorado Ski Country. I rode the lift with multiple AARP-eligible retired folks who sprinted down the hill—linking perfect turns of course—faster than I could ever hope too. I can count on one hand the amount of times somebody has offered me snacks on a chairlift—it's only been once—and it was on Zuma.
Secondly, A-Basin takes no prisoners. I knew this hardcore reputation long before finally venturing up to A-Basin. Feeling good after a couple gentler runs, I decided to try my luck off of the Zuma Cornice. From the top of the hill, one gets a wide-angle view of Summit County and its respective ski resorts, and during my time there, a fascinating view of a storm system sweeping up across the landscape and heading straight towards the Continental Divide and A-Basin. However, the beautiful view couldn't help my pride when coming off the cornice, I had an off-balance landing.
I headed down to the Zuma lift, bruised ego and butt in tow, and decided the cornice wasn't for me at the moment. I decided to try the glades skier’s left of the lift, aptly named after the region’s fourteeners. Torreys and Grays offered up the only fresh snow of the day, and zipping through the dense trees were the perfect antidote for my earlier humiliation.
I continued to follow my friend’s recommendations and found myself in the Beavers, A-Basin’s new terrain. This season, A-Basin expanded their offerings with the opening of the Beavers and the Steep Gullies on the west side of the mountain. Served by a brand new quad lift, the new portion of the area offers a wide range of terrain, such as playful rolling groomers, open bowls and some of the best glades statewide.
I stopped by the Beavers in the afternoon, as the clouds and light snow finally took hold of the resort. Not deterred, I dove head first into the Beaver’s open bowl and glade goodness. The Beaver bowl was a blast, but the real fun was in the wonderful glades that open up under and to skier’s left of the bowl. The new groomer, Loafer, was also a fantastic time. The intermediate run is a roller coaster of a run, offering more than few chances for some glorious airtime.
Legs shot and butt bruised, I spent the remainder of my afternoon, as the fat flakes fell, at the most natural spot—the Beach. Watching some guys play spikeball, one dressed in a giraffe onesie, in wet and cold temperatures, after an entire day of skiing steep terrain and tight trees, seemed to exemplify everything “the Legend” is about. While I didn’t get my sunny spring day I had hoped for, I definitely got a taste of why so many love Arapahoe Basin with such fervor. Luckily for all of us, the Basin is currently slated to close on June 2nd, meaning that we all have the chance to get a little bit more time on the hill, and I look forward to exploring it more, and maybe redeeming myself off of Montezuma.