Superlatives dominate the world of skiing, and Arapahoe Basin is no exception. It sits at a lofty 13,050 feet on the Continental Divide and ranks as one of the highest resorts in the Rocky Mountains. This fortuitous geographical position affords a massive 2,530 vertical drop, panoramic views of the surrounding peaks – including several of Colorado’s other Front Range resorts – and a season that typically stretches from October to June. But all those boastful stats shouldn’t overshadow the simple truth about A-Basin: skiing and snowboarding here is a singular experience.
The resort even looks extreme. The mountain practically looms over the parking lot, a patchwork of piney glades, narrow chutes, sharp cliff bands and steep runs blanketed in dry white snow. And on those slopes, you can see snowboarders and skiers, appearing to defy gravity as they take on such famed runs as Pallavicini, A Basin’s world-class double-black, which sets the bar as one of the most challenging expert runs in North America. And that’s just one run – 93 percent of the resort’s terrain is rated at intermediate or expert.
Nine lifts traverse the resort, making it easy to get into the deep stuff quickly. Experts tend to gravitate toward the aforementioned Pallavicini Lift or head to the East Wall where steep, above-tree-line terrain lies in wait. Or you can make a beeline to leap-and-pray routes off the Upper East Wall near the resort’s high summit.
But Arapahoe Basin proffers more than just gut-wrenching, stomach-dropping terrain. Intermediates can experience big, above-the-tree skiing and riding off the Norway and Lenawee lifts and then cruise all the way to the mountain base via leg-burners like High Noon and Ramrod.
Or take a chair to the saddle at the top of the Lenawee Lift, and drop into Montezuma Bowl. This section of A-Basin opened in 2008, and added a hearty 400 acres to the resort’s arsenal, including 36 blue, black, and double-black runs carefully carved into the landscape in a way that preserved much of the terrain’s wild, wonderful personality. Serviced by the fast Zuma Quad, this region also provides easy access to tantalizing pockets of ski-in, hike-out backcountry spots like Lightning Trees and Lower Elephant’s Turn.
The 2017-18 season also marks the start of the resort’s next expansion, a 468-acre area dubbed The Beavers and The Steep Gullies. The former section will deliver new intermediate and expert runs, including an open bowl and flowy glades on the lower two-thirds of the landscape. The Steep Gullies, meanwhile, will live up to their imposing name, offering seven narrow chutes that will become the most challenging skiing at the resort (which is saying something).
Snowboarders can make pretty much any part of this mountain their own terrain park, but for more traditional features, head to High Divide and Treeline terrain parks. Or delve into the many lift-accessible backcountry routes – but please be sure your skills are honed.
As for first-timers, you shouldn’t feel intimidated. Arapahoe Basin understands their reputation, and in addition to being surrounded by all that inspiring terrain, you can also take advantage of low-cost lift tickets – $25 for adults, $15 for kids – that give you instant access to the green runs at the Molly Hogan Learning Area. The resort also hosts a wide variety of kid and adult ski clinic classes, season-long ski programs and their 4 Lessons 4 U program, which offers four lessons at a set price for children and adults that can be used by anyone at any ski level, any time between early November and late April.
Better still, under their Kids Free 2 Ski Pass, young chargers from 6 to 12 get two free passes, and first-timers also get a 50% discount off a morning/half-day first-timer lesson. A-Basin knows it’s vital to groom young skiers into lifelong enthusiasts of the sport.
Despite the white-knuckle realities of the slopes themselves – many of them visible the moment you first gaze up at the peak – A-Basin evokes a truly warm and welcoming, ski-bum vibe. From the loyal locals, who sleep in their cars in order to catch the first chair, to the easygoing staff members, it’s a resort that you develop a relationship with, and one that rewards with repeat visits.
On cold, mid-season evenings, après is typically staged at the 6th Alley Bar and Grill at the mountain base, which proclaims to welcome both "duct tape and diamonds." This local fave still serves the same epic bacon Bloody Marys that have fostered decades-long reverence.
And, when warmer conditions bless the region, the playful and raucous parking lot tailgate scene transforms into a scene dubbed "The Beach." Expect lots of BBQ, canned beer, competing car stereos, costumes, spontaneous concerts and a convivial, welcoming atmosphere. The friendly scene is reinforced with loads of outdoor concerts as the mountain edges closer to summer.
The one thing Arapahoe Basin doesn’t have, however, is on-mountain lodging. Thankfully, the resort is a short drive from the relative megalopolis of Keystone Resort, which hosts every type of accommodation imaginable.
In addition to the must-visit après ski spot, 6th Alley Bar and Grill, the mid-mountain Black Mountain Lodge takes full advantage of Arapahoe Basin’s high elevation, with amazing views of the Continental Divide. And on select evenings, the restaurant hosts seven different nighttime dinner events which include a four-course meal, live entertainment and a snowshoe trek back to the base after dining.
To keep things as low-key and traditional as the resort itself, consider bedding down at the Ski Tip Lodge, a B&B close to Keystone Resort and a short drive from Arapahoe Basin. What once stood as a stagecoach stop is now a charming, upscale spot with rustic flair, offering a choice of private, shared and two-person bedrooms.