Arapahoe Basin at 70: Top-5 skiable reasons to fall in love with Arapahoe Basin (360 video)

Phil Lindeman
The early-summer view of Lake Reveal at Arapahoe Basin, with views of rapidly melting snowpack on the Continental Divide. In late May and early June, the "lake" (more like a snowmelt pond) appears in the middle of Dercum's Gulch for free pond-skimming until the resort closes for the season.
David Gidley / Special to the Daily |

Best of Arapahoe Basin

Can’t get enough of the Legend? Click through for additional stories, videos and photo spreads from the past decade at A-Basin.

April 2017 — Summit skier goes 63 mph in straightjacket at A-Basin to raise cash for local nonprofit

February 2017 — Take a tour of The Beavers expansion with COO Alan Henceroth

January 2017 — Unconscious skier hanging from Lenawee Mountain Lift rescued by slackliner (video)

November 2016 — Pink elephants unite for Halloween on the Beach at the Basin (photos)

October 2016 — A-Basin first North American ski area to open for the season, again

August 2016 — The Colorado Escapist uncovers local’s-only rock climbing at A-Basin in summer

May 2016 — Hiking North Pole for late-season turns with On The Hill correspondent Z Griff (video)

April 2016 — Onesies, monoskis and neon come out to play for Gaper Day 2016 (photos)

February 2016 — Behind the scenes with A-Basin ski patrol for East Wall avalanche mitigation

October 2015 — A-Basin and Loveland share opening day for first time in decades

August 2015 — Brent Bookwalter wins first (and last) summit finish at A-Basin for 2015 USA Pro Challenge

April 2014 — Local couple records 120 consecutive days of pre-dawn skinning, skiing at A-Basin

January 2008 — Montezuma Bowl is open for business with 400 lift-served acres


What about The Beavers?

In less than five years, The Beavers and Steep Gullies — two popular slices of hike-to backcountry on the west edge of Arapahoe Basin — will get a major facelift and become part of the ski area. That means new runs, glades and a dedicated chairlift covering 468 acres of terrain.

Until then, remember that both areas are unpatrolled and out of bounds, meaning avalanche gear (shovel, probe, beacon at the least) and a buddy are required before leaving the access gate for the steep, socked-in goods. The terrain and conditions can be wildly variable back there — know before you go.

If you want a taste of A-Basin’s best terrain without the unpatrolled dangers, see our intro to the East Wall and Pali Face.


Splish, splash, taking a bath

Nothing beats a day or two of summer skiing at A-Basin, home to the longest season in North America year after year with upwards of 250 straight days from October to June. And when the weather warms up, there’s nowhere better to be than Lake Reveal.

Found in a high-alpine meadow in the middle of Dercum’s Gulch, Lake Reveal isn’t a true lake, but more of a seasonal pond created by snowmelt. Come late May and early June, the pond grows and grows, drawing hundreds of pond skimmers for afternoons filled with sopping-wet trips across the slush-slash-snow. This is pond-skimming at its finest, with no rules, judges or awards, and it’s open to anyone with a lift ticket.

Fun fact: Lake Reveal isn’t named for its out-of-nowhere arrival in early summer. It’s actually named for Jon Reveal, general manager at A-Basin in the late-70s and early-80s.

Nestled in the cleavage of the Continental Divide lies some of the best skiing in Colorado. It even comes with a beach at 10,000 vertical feet.

But that’s hardly a secret to anyone who’s spent a decade (or four) at Arapahoe Basin, Summit County’s oldest ski area and a true black diamond in the rough for anyone who loves steeps, glades, cliffs and June pond-skimming.

If you’re new to the area, though, A-Basin might seem underwhelming. It’s the smallest ski area in the county — it’s home to just 960 skiable acres, and that’s before an upcoming 400-acre expansion at The Beavers — and the base area is little more than an A-frame lodge (though recently upgraded) with a carpet lift, quad and two-chair. Most folks don’t even get cell phone service there. Why bother?

But, oh, A-Basin is much more than posting Facebook selfies and checking Epic Mix in 20-minute lift lines. Here’s a quick introduction to the top-five reasons skiers and snowboarders of any level should visit the Basin early, late and anytime in between.

Pali Face and The Spine

Rating: Double-black diamond

Access: Pallavicini Lift (two-chair)

In a nutshell: Two classic runs off the Palli chair, known for steep charging on powder days and plenty of bumps, boulders and cornice drops the rest of the season.

If you’ve never been on the Pallavicini Lift, make a point to ride it at least once this season. This slow-moving two-chair is the reason skiers and boarders return to A-Basin year after year, decade after decade, as it’s the fastest and most direct route to some of the ski area’s best terrain.

Pali Face and The Spine are perfect introductions to the local steeps. These two trails are next to each other on relatively open terrain, but don’t be fooled: the runs are steep, fast and littered with diversions, from surrounding tree runs to cliffs ranging from 5 to 20 feet.

Not convinced? It’s chief operating officer Alan Henceroth’s favorite terrain — “I could ride that 20 times a day,” he said of The Spine — and home to the legendary A-Basin Enduro, during which teams of two ski runs off Palli Chair to see who can finish the most. This April, top teams finished 60 to 65 runs apiece down black and double-black terrain.

‘Founder’s Ridge’ in Montezuma Bowl

Rating: Double-black diamond

Access: Zuma Lift (quad chair), Lenawee Mountain Lift (three-chair), Norway Lift (two-chair)

In a nutshell: Five wide-open bowl runs named for A-Basin’s founding fathers, featuring the kind of terrain they knew could make their mountain famous.

Located to rider’s right of the Zuma Lift, Founder’s Ridge is the unofficial name for the ridgeline leading along the northern edge of Montezuma Bowl, a 400-acre expansion from 2008. The bowl has it all — glades, steeps, rocks, chutes, even a few hike-out runs — but Founder’s Ridge is a gateway to the best bowl skiing this side of Breckenridge.

Of the five runs — Jump, Schauffler, Durrance, Groswold and Max — Max is the easiest and shortest, while Schauffler and Durrance are the longest and border the bowl’s most intimidating terrain. Thanks to wind load, the snow here is good for most of A-Basin’s nine-month season.

Willy’s Wide or North Pole (East Wall)

Rating: Double-black diamond

Access: Hike-to, Lenawee Mountain Lift (three-chair) to East Wall Traverse

In a nutshell: Serious terrain on a serious face for skiers who don’t take this whole “earn your turns” thing seriously.

No matter where you are at A-Basin, the East Wall looms high and enticing over everything. It’s home to some of the only true high-risk, high-reward chute riding in this area of the state, and it’s all just a lift ride and traverse away.

North Pole is one of the first destinations on the ridgeline hike from the top of Zuma Chair. It’s only 15 minutes and 300 vertical feet away from the lift, but it’s home to terrain most visitors only see and never touch. That means five or six luscious turns before reconnecting with the East Wall Traverse and Land of the Giants playground en route to Lenawee Mountain Lift.

Want more? Take the traverse to the pitch directly below the true summit of Lenawee Mountain, the sentinel of the East Wall. From here, it’s a 15 to 20-minute boot pack up pitches of 30 to nearly 45 degrees, with rocks on all sides and blown-in powder beneath. The hike also accesses the Upper East Wall and Corner Chute.

A-Basin at 70: Long Live the Legend

A-Basin at 70: Littlebird and a liftime spent with The Legend

Humbug to Dragon

Rating: Blue

Access: Lenawee Mountain Lift (three-chair) or Norway Lift (two-chair)

In a nutshell: A natural halfpipe leading to a high-alpine traverse or wide-open blues and blacks. Need we say more?

It can’t all be double-blacks and hike-to chutes at A-Basin, and that’s why runs like Humbug, Dragon and the remaining blues in the shadow of the East Wall exist. Humbug, located on far rider’s right after leaving Lenawee Mountain Lift, is a natural halfpipe with bowl-shaped walls on both sides. Snowboarder, skier, young, old — it’s a blast no matter who you are.

From the bottom of Humbug, runs like Dragon, West Gully and the mellow black Half-Moon Gully are favorites for quick laps on Lenawee away from the craziness on Powerline, Gentry and Dercum’s Gulch. Best part: Come May, there are plenty of dirt patches to jump — and plenty of ways to impress cuties riding the three-chair overhead.


Rating: Green

Access: Black Mountain Express (quad) or Pallavicini Lift (two-chair)

In a nutshell: A-Basin’s idea of a green run would be a blue at any other resort, and that’s just fine.

Dubbed the “darkest green” in Summit County by A-Basin’s Adrienne Saia Isaac, Sundance has all the makings of a green — groomed snow, mellow pitches, wide-open terrain — built smack in the middle of an expert skier’s paradise. And you’d better believe that means this green is more like a blue, with rolling flats and valleys before the final looping pitch into the base area. There’s a reason the kids who grow up skiing and riding here are so good — this is where they learn.

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