Old-school snow-school charm at Arapahoe Basin
Jan 21, 2021

The last time I skied at Arapahoe Basin, I wore blue jeans which I’d attempted to waterproof by spraying with Scotchgard.

That was 1985, and the spray didn’t work so well. Also, I didn’t even know how to ski at the time. But last January––35 years after that first visit––I finally made it back to the mountain known for having the longest ski season in Colorado.

A-Basin, as they call it, just feels different than the big guys. The resort opened in 1946. We pulled in to the “Early Risers” lot, just 100 yards or so from the base area. No fancy restaurant. No ritzy hotels. Just spinning lifts, moving chairs and a mountain to explore.

Patrick O’Sullivan, director of safety and risk for the mountain, showed me and my husband Chris around. It snowed hard, big fat flakes sifting out of the sky. And the wind blew so hard some of the lifts were shut down.

O’Sullivan says he knew when he was a rookie ski patroller in Keystone 31 years ago that he wanted to work at A Basin, mainly because he likes the natural setting of the ski area.

Instead of cutting wide swathes of trees to cut uniform trails, operators of A-Basin left most of the design work to nature.

“Almost 100 percent of A-Basin is native or organic,” O’Sullivan says. “You can’t fake nature like that.”

Another thing he loves about the mountain? A range of terrain, from gullies and chutes to rolling cruisers, nicely spaced glades and open bowls.

“It’s like an English muffin,” O’Sullivan says. “It’s got really nice nooks and crannies.”

Operators pride themselves on the ski area’s old-school charm.

“We’re not a resort––we don’t have snow coasters and trampolines,” says Katherine Fuller, Arapahoe Basin’s communications manager. “Seventy five percent of our terrain is black and double black. That tends to scare some people off, but it’s a skier’s mountain.”

Here are some things I like about A-Basin:

  1. The Beavers and the Steep Gullies. A new lift, opened last season, now whisks skiers to a huge section of expert terrain, including some of the best glade skiing in Colorado. (Before the lift opened, anyone who skied The Beavers faced a 20-minute walk to get out).
  2. You can park for free, walk to a lift, and in a single ride, reach some of the steepest in-bounds terrain in Colorado.
  3. The Pallavicini Lift (which is getting replaced next year), is legendary among locals for carrying skiers to “The Center of the Universe.” To think it was so close all along!
  4. The old-school charm. It isn’t fancy. That’s a good thing.
  5. The il Rifugio, the highest lift-served restaurant in Colorado, which serves an amazing antipasto with olives, thin-shaved meats and roasted veggies.
  6. The resort’s emphasis on minimizing impact. “We didn’t cut runs, we shaped them,” O’Sullivan says. “We trimmed limbs, took out deadfall, and were very conscious about wildlife habitat.”
  7. Even on a powder day (a Friday, no less) with only two lifts operating due to the storm, the wait was less than 5 minutes.
  8. The Beach. People tailgate––even during blizzards!––in the parking lot. We’re talking grills, coolers full of beer, shot skis and table clothes.

 PHOTO CUTLINES:

Patrick O’Sullivan skis a gladed run in the Beavers section of Arapahoe Basin on Feb. 6, 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

We stopped at Il Rifugio for antipasti. Pam LeBlanc photo

Tail gators enjoy a “shot ski” in the parking lot at Arapahoe Basin. Pam LeBlanc photo

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