Arapahoe Basin: The Coolest Ski Area You Haven’t Been to Yet

Tips on how to ski it from a former volunteer patroller
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OK, it’s not really a secret. You can basically spit on Denver from the top of Arapahoe Basin’s East Wall, and the mountain is typically one of the country’s first resorts to open, thanks to a lofty base elevation of 10,780 feet, which makes for good early-season snowmaking. 

But despite that and the buzz surrounding its new 468-acre expansion, the mountain still feels off the radar. It’s full of sneak lines, steep chutes and hidden powder pockets. You can suss out stashes of soft snow right in front of your goggle-clad face.

I’m biased. I used to be part of the volunteer ski patrol at A-Bay, as the locals call it. That meant that 20 days a winter, I put on a red coat, ate free breakfast in the Legends Café, ran tweaked-knee taxis and moved a lot of snow fences. Winters are long at A-Basin’s peak elevation above 13,000 feet, and the lifts often turn from early October to well into July.

In between patrolling the slopes, I got to explore the spiny steeps of Summit County, Colorado’s most interesting ski hill. Like I said, I’m biased, but the 1,428 acres that fall sharply off the Continental Divide hold some of the most challenging, fun ski terrain you can imagine. 

This winter, a whole new user group will get a chance to ski A-Basin: Last month, the resort, which was formerly part of Vail’s Epic Pass, became a destination on the Ikon Pass and the Mountain Collective. Here’s how to ride it right, no matter what level of skier or snowboarder you are.

Start on the Pallavicini Chair

Pali is my platonic ideal of a chairlift. It’s an old-school double, slow enough for your legs to get some rest, which they’ll need. The chair accesses a spiderweb of steep, expert-only runs, including the chalky openness of Main Street and the super-tight technical trees of the Alleys. Last year, the Basin opened the Steep Gullies, a series of committing chutes accessed from the Pallavicini Chair with a hike-out egress. The 20-minute walk back to the chair is well worth the protected, north-facing turns. 

Welcome to A-Basin, where lifts start cranking in October and powder can last well into spring. (Photo Credit: Dave Camera)

Cruise Black Mountain 

Beginners and intermediates will want to steer clear of the Pallavicini Chair. Instead, head to Black Mountain Express, which leaves from the base area and heads to a mid-mountain lodge that makes for a good coffee or hot chocolate pitstop. Beginner-friendly runs like Wrangler are suitable for the whole family, or tackle High Noon for GS turns on perfect, welcoming corduroy. 

Head Back to Montezuma Bowl

If you want terrain that’s wide open and geared for intermediates to experts, try the backside Montezuma Bowl, with short, nearly vertical shots like Max, Groswold and Durrance, named after the ski area’s founders, and more gentle, rolling groomers like Columbine and Larkspur. From the top of Montezuma Bowl, slide back toward the frontside to reach the resort’s latest terrain expansion, a freshly gladed bowl called the Beavers, with a new four-person chairlift that delivers you back to the top of the mountain.

A snowboarder heads into the trees.

The Beavers is the latest terrain expansion at A-Basin. (Photo Courtesy of Arapahoe Basin)

Hit the East Wall (If It’s Open)

Arapahoe Basin’s marquee, double-black-diamond terrain is the East Wall, the billboard of chutes off Lenawee Mountain, the main peak towering over the ski area. It doesn’t usually open until later in the season because it takes a lot of snow and avalanche control to get it in shape. But when it’s cleared, chutes like North Pole and Willy’s Wide are some of the spiciest in-bounds runs in America. The mellower runs lower down on the wall often hold untouched snow, too, and can be less intimidating.

Eat, Drink, Stay

The Basin has always had a down-home vibe, but it’s recently revamped its well-loved 6th Alley Bar in the base lodge, where they serve local microbrews and bacon bloody Marys, and added food options, like a taco truck and a new après-ski menu in the lodge. Midday, stop for lunch at Black Mountain Lodge, the on-mountain BBQ joint. A-Basin doesn’t have its own slopeside lodging, so your best bet is 5 miles down the hill in the Keystone resort village.

With an old-school vibe and some modern updates, the base lodge is the place to be at the end of the day. (Photo Courtesy of Arapahoe Basin)

Get There

Arapahoe Basin is a two-hour drive from Denver International Airport via Interstate 70. Rent a four-wheel-drive car for the often-rugged Loveland Pass, the final stretch of roadway to the ski area. Better yet, skip driving yourself and hop a shuttle from the airport (from $35) to the slopes on the Epic Mountain Express. If you’re staying in Summit County, there’s a free Summit Stage bus seven days a week. 

When to Go

The Basin cranks early season, and lifts often start spinning in October, depending on temperatures and snowmaking. The place shines on sunny spring days, too, when the East Wall is open and the parking lot turns into a lively, tailgating, après-ski party called the Beach.

Score a Ticket

If you buy in advance online, lift tickets start at just $39 a day. (Day-of ticket window prices costs over $100.) If you bought an Ikon Pass for this season, which are on sale starting at $749, you’ll gain access to A-Basin, as of this winter. 

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