There are no glitzy bars, no condos, no hot tubs at Colorado's Arapahoe Basin resort. There's not even a town. But, because A-Basin is just 68 miles west of Denver and holds snow into June, it hosts the biggest spring ski party in the state. Not an official party, mind you, but a do-it-yourself, tailgate-style bash at 10,780 feet, where diehard skiers indulge in a marathon of booze, drugs, and sex in the resort's parking lot, lovingly known as the Beach. They used to camp there too, but the hedonism, made manifest in trash and human waste, did a number on the north fork of the Snake River, which runs between the Beach and the lifts. In 2004, A-Basin pulled the plug on camping at the Beach. Still, the party rages. Here's a glimpse of whom you might meet at the Beach come spring-the skiers and boozers who are sure to be spacin' at the Basin.
["Dean Gentile and His Crew"]
DEAN GENTILE AND HIS CREW
"The rules of Helipalooza are simple," says Dean Gentile, a 37-year-old beachcomber dressed in a floppy canvas hat and a vintage pink, blue, and yellow Hawaiian shirt. "The first one to land a 360 wins. The problem is, we're all aerial-impaired." Dean and his friends hold Helipalooza every year, always with a different theme, and always with top-grade rum, tequila, whiskey, and steaks. The competition won't start until the sun softens the snow. Until then they're passing the time by tossing back piña coladas mixed in a hand-cranked blender by Meagan Londy, a tan blonde in a skintight Capilene top that's partially unzipped, revealing a hint of cleavage and a shell necklace. At 29, she's one of the younger participants. Her boyfriend, 41-year-old Joe Joyce, runs the grill while a few others build the kicker. "The boys like to pretend they're young, but they just throw helis and get hurt," she says, handing out umbrella-bedecked drinks. "You're the trophy," Dean says with a grin. "The trophy girlfriend."
Meagan pouts. "I'm not a trophy girlfriend. I will be arm candy, though. That's fun. I am definitely going to ski in my bikini."
["Joseph and Boo-Boo"]
JOSEPH AND BOO-BOO
"If you can't screw it or piss on it, then kill it," says 53-year-old Joseph Legg. "That's Boo-Boo's philosophy, and if you ask me, it's a good one." Boo-Boo is a male chow stud swaggering at Legg's leg. This is Legg's second decade of Beach partying, and he has the wild blond hair and perma-tanned raccoon face to prove it. He and Boo-Boo live in a red van jacked up on monster tires with a roaring 2005 Cummins turbo-diesel engine. Boo-Boo is all piss and vinegar, but Legg, clad in a pair of Reagan-era Raichle Flexons, professes a more loving approach toward others. "I've got guns, and when you got them, you usually don't have to use them," he explains as he unloads his K2 Mach Gs, dons a straw cowboy hat, and strips down to a tank top and painted-on jeans. Bacon frying on his camp stove attracts a pack of playful dogs, owned by unarmed skiers, that jockey for a sniff of the swine. "Damn, it's good here," he drawls. "The only thing that would make it better is a girlfriend."
["Dede the Diehard"]
DEDE THE DIEHARD
"I don't care if it's icy out. I don't like it when the snow is soft," says Dede Axinn, a 49-year-old school psychologist from Leadville, as she waits in what would be a line (there are no skiers behind or in front of her) for the Pallavicini Lift. Her dark eyes glance toward the party unfolding at the Beach, and then shoot back to the lifties shoveling snow and prepping the chairs. "Call me a stupid farm animal," she says in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice. "If I wasn't so stupid, I'd head back to the barn." Dede wears a purple one-piece, and aims to ski 85 days this year (today is day 77). She skis with the kind of dedication usually seen only in Deadheads and Broncos fans. She speeds down groomers, typically alone, and likes it that way. "Skiing's not like tennis, where you can't do it ale. But if you don't get first chair, the view is always the same."
["The RV Triumvirate"]
THE RV TRIUMVIRATE
"I get into dirtbagging," says Ken. "I like getting dirty." Three marginally dirty men (including Ken) sit in a run-down mustard-yellow 1974 Dodge Mobile Scout RV, waiting for the sun to warm the day. The previous night, in Boulder, Doug Roberts, a 34-year-old computer specialist, drank to excess at a local brewery and invited everyone present to join him the next morning at the Beach. He and Ken, 34 years old and a real-estate agent in Boulder, own the decrepit RV.
Ken and Doug like the laid-back ambience at A-Basin. But Jim Donahue, a Denver housepainter who makes his money off a steady stream of young urban professionals pouring into Colorado's Front Range, is none too pleased to see his clientele crashing the Beach. "I come here to smoke buds and stuff and get fucked up and get a buzz on," he snarls. "It's all just yuppies here who don't know how to have a good time." He glances around the Mobile Scout, with its cramped bathroom, stacks of empty beer cans, and a bumper sticker on the particleboard cabinet that reads, "Babes, Beer and the Basin," and sighs. Jim met Doug and Ken this morning, when he saved them a prime spot on the Beach in exchange for beer. "It used to be you could show up at the beach with no money, no food, and hell if you wouldn't find something to eat, drink, and smoke," he says. "If you were lucky, you'd get laid." With that, he snags a beer off the counter and staggers through the screen door, letting it slam behind him.
It's noon, the snow has turned to slush, and a gallery of slurring beachgoers terrorizes the few skiers bombing down the slopes. UV rays scald pasty hides. Frisbees take flight. Someone launches a pink Barbie kite-and the Beach bums soak up the substances. Forrest Benson leads the charge. "Are you going to cooperate?" he demands of a stranger, shoving a glass pipe into her hands. When she asks his name, Forrest doubles over laughing, spilling a bottle of Jà¤germeister into the mud. "You could say my name's Forrest, because it is," he cackles. "But the main question is, are you going to cooperate?" She asks his age. Again he shakes with laughter. "You could say I'm 22, if you cooperate." He lisps and moves with rubber-boned ease, his eyes hidden behind a pair of goggles. "I cooperated. I have too many brain cells, so I had to kill some. Are you going to cooperate?"
Forrest's friends catch him before he cracks his head open on the cold, hard ground, but not before he spills more liquor on his T-shirt, which features a cartoonish Asian man and reads, "Mai Wang." Forrest pushes his goggles to the top of his head and continues the manic laughter. When the girl refuses to cooperate, he shoves his pipe into the pocket of his dirty red ski pants, climbs to the top of the bunny slope, and slides down on his ass.
It's 4:00 P.M., the lifts have closed, and a Denver garage band pounds out some chew-and-whiskey rock tunes for a bouncing crowd. And then the sun slips behind the mountains. A chill descends, and suddenly people can see their breath in the rapidly cooling air. The parking lot clears out as if someone just fired a gun. The band heads to Dillon for a hot dinner. Jim, the housepainter, snakes four domestic beers from his cooler and quietly invites this reporter to join him at the Last Chance parking lot, just up the road, where camping is still legal. Joseph Legg fires up his monster van to get warm. The Helipalooza crew is gone, its tiki torches, leis, and bamboo tables en route to various points in the Front Range and beyond.
The Beach is now an ocean of empty beer cans, plastic cups, cigarette butts, and food wrappers. The gray sky casts a gloomy tint. But something pink and playful hovers in the air. It's Barbie, her face imprinted on that plastic kite, smiling, her tail caught on a power line, plastic pink streamers flapping in the wind-snagged at the Beach, hanging on.
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imprinted on that plastic kite, smiling, her tail caught on a power line, plastic pink streamers flapping in the wind-snagged at the Beach, hanging on.