Feb 24, 2011
Beta: A-Basin is a small area with a big-mountain feel, set on the jagged western slope of the Continental Divide, half above tree line, and high enough to hold snow into June. Here local devotees rack up 150 days a year on seven chairs, including a new-this-year high speed quad, the Black Mountain Express. Historically, the hard core stick one chair: Pallavicini, an old double that's strung up 1,300 vertical feet of 40-degree bumps, spines, trees, and rocky dropoffs. In spring, when most areas close up shop, the soul of skiing comes to play here. The patch of ground on the skiing side of the parking lot is dubbed The Beach. The scene—kegs, Frisbees, Hawaiian shirts, no shirts—grows as the season dwindles and the temps rise.
Scream down the wide-open Spine, where the wind blows the snow into a powdery cream. Work your way skier's left through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Alleys—narrow tree shots farther down the ridge. Next hit 46-degree Gauthier. After lunch, launch the lip into West Wall off the Lenawee lift, an open, mellow slope that's often forgotten on big days.
3 Days Later
Head for the East Wall on the face of Lenawee Peak. Because patrol sometimes takes days to open its wide flanks, it could be a whole new powder day. Start with a 30-minute hike up the ridge to the North Pole. Then ride patrol's coattails along the East Wall Traverse, boot-packing up to make big GS turns in Willie's Wide or jump-turns in Corner Chute.
Because A-Basin is so high, spring feels like winter and summer feels like spring; sometimes close to 10 feet of snow falls in March and April. Hit the East Wall for powder in the a.m., anything off Pali for slush bumps at midday, and North Glade for afternoon corn.
A-Basin is a vertical place—there are few, if any flat spots here. Avoid traversing too far along the Pali ridge or you'll end up on the whoop-de-doos of the Pali Wog runout. The East Wall Traverse can also be a bear.
Marquee route: It's more like marquee chair. Pallavicini.
Off-Broadway: Head to the west side of Montezuma Bowl and drop the cornice into Max or Groswold. Or, go east and hit the 14-ers trees: Grays, Torreys and Bierstadt.
There are three backcountry gates—one off of the Cornice Run, one just west of the North Pole gate, and the third at the bottom of Montezuma bowl. For a minimal hike back, ski The Beavers, north-facing chutes that drop into low-angle glades and finish with a half-hour walk back to the highway. Stick out a thumb to get back to the base. Before you go, stop in to the patrol shack at the top of the Norway lift, or call the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (970-668-0600) for conditions—the terrain can be killer, literally.
Drinking & Dancing
Chug cheap beer and bacon bloody marys on the 6th Alley's huge deck. Later, head five minutes down the road for live rock at the Snake River Saloon (970-468-2788), where fire-breathing bartenders—the fire department certifies them in pyrotechnics—blow flaming 151 shots at the ceiling. Then it's Pabst-fueled Foosball at The Goat (970-513-9344).
At the base, chow a Skier's Breakfast (potatoes, eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon) and kick-start with java from the Coffee Corner (also in the lodge). Mid-mountain, the Black Mountain Lodge serves barbecue and a tasty portobello burger.
Sleeping in your van in the parking lot is ill advised, so your best option is down the road at Keystone. Key to the Rockies has deals on local lodging.
For true A-Basin hard core status enter the Grind, a ten-hour race to see who can ski the most laps off of the Pali chair. The record is 71 laps. The lift is not fast. You do the math. We hear past winners have worn diapers.
If you can't afford a tow-along hot tub (some can) for the Beach, make do with a lawn chair and portable grill (try weber.com). Get the meat marinating, take a few laps, call it a day.
Elevation: 13,050 feet Vertical: 2,270 feet acres: 900 snowfall: 350 inches (at 10,820') Getting There: Take I-70 west from Denver to Silverthorne, to Highway 6 east (68 miles). Info: 970-468-0718, arapahoebasin.com