To get a real locals’ feel for the Summit County skiing and riding scene, check out Arapahoe Basin, which most people fondly refer to as “the Basin.”
The Basin has a laid-back vibe, especially on warm spring days, when the front row of the parking lot, which abuts packed snow at the base of the mountain, teems with barbecues, beer, dogs, outdoor games and friendly folks, often dressed in retro gear or zany costumes. It’s known as Beachin’ at the Basin. Free live bands play every Saturday in May.
A-Basin has kept it real by not building up its base operations with condos, shops and Starbucks. (Since it’s located in national forest, developers can’t build retail centers. Yea!) And, the parking is not only close, but it’s also free. How’s that for refreshing?
The Basin garnered a lot of attention in 2008, when it expanded its terrain by 80% with Montezuma Bowl, located on the backside of the mountain. Truth be told, the expansion is both good and bad. It’s good for the bottom line, as more and more people now ski and ride at the Basin. The downside: You can’t roll out of bed at 11 a.m. on a Saturday and expect to easily get a space in the lower parking lot. (A free shuttle runs from the upper parking lot to the base, though.) Luckily, Montezuma’s big enough to spread people around, and A-Basin’s nooks and crannies on the front side mitigate any crowded feeling.
A-Basin offers the gnarliest terrain in Summit County. Sixty percent of the mountain is devoted to moguls and steep faces, whereas only 10% involves flatter beginner runs. Unfortunately, it takes a few months for areas like the East Wall and North Pole to accumulate enough snow to open, and once the ropes drop, you still have to watch for rocks. On the other hand, Pali, a long mogul run, remains open for most of the season.
Though the ski area only has seven lifts, the Basin feels larger than that, because it offers a variety of lines through trees, cut runs and bowls. Plus, it boasts the highest terrain park in the nation. For lunch, the mid-station, Black Mountain Lodge, offers an upscale alpine-bistro menu.
In regards to après ski, the limited base operations don’t leave many options. In fact, off the mountain, A-Basin really only offers the basics: two cafeterias, a bar, a small sports shop, ski rentals and lessons. The nearest town, with a variety of dining, nightlife and shops, is Keystone, about 8 miles down the road.
A-Basin cranks up its lifts in early October and keeps going until early June. It’s also the cheapest place to ski in the county!
*main resort image courtesy of Pete Grannis and Arapahoe Basin; all other images courtesy of Casey Day and Arapahoe Basin