More Than Meets the A - the Steep Gullies and the Beavers at Arapahoe Basin

Submitted by Helen Olsson on Fri, 03/06/2020 - 13:57

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Tree Skiing at The Beavers and Steep Gullies at Arapahoe Basin - Helen Olsson 

The Saturday before last, I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. I mean lights out, sawing wood at 8:30. In fact, I’d crawled under the covers at 7:30 p.m., half an hour before prime time. This is something I don’t believe I’ve done since I was like 10. Here’s why:

I’d spent the day skiing Arapahoe Basin with my husband, Jeff. We skied nothing but steeps all day in The Beavers and capped our day with what my friend Jilly would later call “zesty vert” in the Steep Gullies. I’m telling you, this terrain is The Real Deal. Heart in your throat; butterflies in your belly; fingers white-knuckled around your ski pole grips.

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Warning Signs Before Entering The Beavers and Steep Gullies at Arapahoe Basin - Helen Olsson

Before you pass through the gate to enter the Steep Gullies terrain, signs warn the routes are 40 degrees and end with the promise of a 30-minute hike out. If hike-to-ski is earning your turns, with The Steep Gullies, you took out a loan—and you’ll need to pay up at the end. But the payoff is you get to ski chutes filled with powder, lined with rockbands, and speckled with trees. It sounded like heaven to me.

We’d left our sleeping teenagers at home and set out on a date that day. A rare escape (I’ve heard some couples go to the Caribbean.) I’d been wanting to ski Arapahoe Basin’s new(ish) terrain: The Beavers and The Steep Gullies, 468 acres of formerly hike-to backcountry terrain were added to A-Basin’s trail map in 2017-18, with lift service added 2018-19. This season, the resort cut two new trails in The Beavers, Tinker Toy and Todd’s Ridge. The addition brings A-Basin’s total acreage to 1,428.

We took the Black Mountain Express lift to Lenawee, which deposited us to the top of the mountain. On the backside is Montezuma Bowl, 400 acres of south-facing bowl skiing added in January 2008. We peeled off to the west down a wide boulevard named Loafer. The upper reaches of The Beavers feature north-facing, above-treeline terrain across a wide cirque that funnels down into steep glades.  

On our first run, we took Ptarmigan to a wide-open run named Davis, one of two blue routes in The Beavers. It means intermediates can access this big bold swathe of new terrain, though the sign at the top does warn these are the steepest blues you’ll encounter at A-Basin. They’d be black diamonds at a lesser resort.

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More Warning Signs on the Way to The Beavers and Steep Gullies at Arapahoe Basin - Helen Olsson

Want to see a tour of the Beavers and Steep Gullies? Click Here. 

On our next runs, we dropped into the trees on Bailey Brothers, Thick and Thin, and Face Shot Gulley. They were all super steep trees, with bumps and gullies. We had to stop multiple times each run to let our heart rates drop out of the red zone. On another run, we ventured farther west, to Dreamcatcher, a long pitch through well-spaced trees. A-Basin took care in its timber work to thin out only 5% of the trees, but it also took a “limbing” approach—cleaning up the dead branches from the lower parts of the trees. The result is the glades feel plenty roomy.

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Looking through the trees while skiing the Beavers and Steep Gullies at A Basin - Helen Olsson

As I poured over the trail map, I realized even in six runs, we hadn’t scratched the surface of The Beavers. These days, cutting even a few new trails is a pretty big deal at ski areas. The addition of the Beavers and Steep Gullies grew A-Basin’s terrain by 50%. Including the 2007 Montezuma expansion, the resort has tripled its acreage in a dozen years. The Beavers and the Steep Gullies aren’t just a few new runs. They’re entirely new zones.

Jeff was eager to hit the Gullies, so we skied to the base, catching the bottom pitches of Pallavicini. More bumps, more steeps. At the top of Pali, I cornered a ski patroller and told her we were heading for The Steep Gullies and asked if she have any advice for us. She recommended Gully 4, which has a few big rocks to navigate at the entrance but then it’s a narrow, steep couloir. Gullies 5 to 8 have more trees and the going would get tighter. Gullies 1 to 3, she said, would be a little tougher to get into. “You’d have to really commit to your line,” she said. 

From the top of Gully 4, it was easy to get a little case of vertigo. Route 6 was a tiny black ribbon a thousand or more vertical feet below our ski tips. The chute was long and steep and lined in parts with rock spires. The snow was soft and there was enough space to make short swing turns down the gully’s belly. This is my absolute favorite kind of skiing: super steep, soft edgeable snow, barely anyone around (husband excepted). At the bottom, I attached my skis to my pack, and we walked out. The 30-minute walk took us more like 20, including a few selfies and a little gawking uphill at the other gullies.

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Helen Olsson Smiles as she finishes the daunting task of skiing the Steeps at Arapahoe Basin 

Those would be for another day. Another date. Instead, we headed to the 6th Alley Bar & Grill in A-Basin’s iconic A-frame lodge for IPAs. Twenty ounces for our 20 minutes of hiking. That math sounds about right.

Helen Olsson is the author of The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids. She blogs about outdoor adventures with kids at maddogmom.com

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