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Inside Line: A-Basin, CO

A look at the highest mountain on the Continental Divide
posted: 09/23/2002

A-Basin is a small area with a big-mountain feel, set on the jagged western slope of the Continental Divide, high enough to hold snow until July.

Elevation: 13,050 feet Vertical: 2,270 feet acres: 490 snowfall: 324 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

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 until July. Here local devotees rack up 150 days a year on five chairs. Most stick to just 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 between the parking lot and the A-frame lodge is dubbed The Beach. The scene-kegs, Hawaiian shirts, loose dogs, Frisbees-grows as the season dwindles and the temps rise.

Powder Day
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.

Spring day
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.

The Riding
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.

Proving Grounds
Marquee route: It's more like marquee chair. Pallavicini.
Off-Broadway: Catch mandatory air in the craggy entrance to West Turbo, an hourglass chute that veers skier's left off Turbo and pinches to a six-foot tree-lined slot.

Back-country Access
There's one gate here, near the Lenawee patrol shack. Call the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (970-668-0600) for conditions-the terrain can be killer, literally. If it's a green light, play in the 800-acre expanse of above-tree line Montezuma Bowl. Or ski The Beavers, north-facing chutes that drop into low-angle glades and finish with a half-hour hike back to the highway. Stick out a thumb to get back to the base.

Drinking & Dancing
Chug cheap beer at the base on the 6th Alley's huge deck. Later head five minutes down the road to Keystone 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).

Fuel
At the base, chow a Skier's Breakfast (potatoes, eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon) and kick-start with java from the Psychic Bean (also in the lodge). For burgers, nachos, and steaks, try Keystone's Kickapoo Tavern (970-468-4601).

 

Digs
The closest crash pad is the Super 8-style Guesthouse International Arapahoe in Keystone ($109-$129; guesthousearapahoe.com). There's also the Ski Tip Lodge, a one-time stage coach stop, complete with hot tubs, apple strudel, and American quilts ($120 and up; skitiplodge.coom).

Must-know
On March 1, enter A-Basin's notorious Cardboard Box Derby. A-Team vans, cereal bowls, Noah's arks, churches with eight-foot steeples-as long as you and your vessel cross the finish line intact, you get a prize.

Essential Gear
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.

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