Basin gives new meaning to "packed powder’ |

Basin gives new meaning to "packed powder’

ARAPAHOE BASIN – It was a day that separated most skiers from riders – and diehards from slackers.

Arapahoe Basin added a new definition to the term “packed powder” with its crowds Friday. The Early Riser lot filled by 8:30 a.m., and the line of cars slowed to a stop-and-go crawl a mile and a half west of the ski area, creating a 25-minute drive from Keystone to A-Basin at 8:30 a.m. By 9:30 a.m., the trek took more than an hour. By 10 a.m., all of the lots were full, and employees directed cars back to Keystone’s lot, where they boarded buses to the ski area, said Leigh Hierholzer, A-Basin spokeswoman.

Drivers who ignored the directive and parked on Highway 6 had their cars towed by early afternoon.

After the parking lots separated the early-risers from the late-comers, the terrain divided riders on single planks from those on double-boards.

On the north-facing end of the mountain, snowboarders successfully plunged down the high-angle runs off Pallavicini chair while skiers leaned ridiculously far back and tried to avoid getting one ski stuck in the heavy snow while the other kept running. Tele-skiers just augured in.

On the East Wall, skiers sidestepped and polled along the traverse, sometimes cursing snowboarders who sank knee deep with random steps and temporarily halted progression. As more snowriders tracked the wall, the line of signature-seekers ventured farther and farther to drop into the next fresh line.

But one thing didn’t separate the riders from the skiers, and that was the diggers they took when they hit a patch of set-up, wet-cement snow. The cartwheels, somersaults, flips and face plants were enough to make even Barnum and Bailey proud.

One trio somersaulted in unison below Lenawee lift. Another skier jumped off a cornice, stuck and fell face forward like a woodpecker. Countless people dug through the 43 inches of snow that fell in the past three days, looking for lost skis or just trying to uncover the boards attached to their feet.

As people waited in lift lines that extended to the end of the corral lanes, they described the snow as “bread dough,” “whipped cream with chunks of peanut butter,” “heavy cotton” and the usual, “crud.”

The wait was nothing, though, compared to Thursday’s. The Colorado Department of Transportation closed Highway 6 between Keystone and Interstate 70 (Loveland Pass) at 8 a.m. Thursday because of an avalanche at Black Widow and the high threat of other slides west of A-Basin. CDOT shot loose snow down between A-Basin and Keystone throughout the day and opened the highway to A-Basin at 7:41 p.m. Thursday.

Some very early-risers made it up to the ski area before the road closed – about 25-30 people joined about 30 employees (who were allowed to drive up the highway after showing their employee passes) when they opened Exhibition lift at 2 p.m.

“First we had to open,” said ski school director Marty Gotantas. “We had a lot of digging to do – the lifts, stairs, the base area, the parking lots. We only opened Exhibition, and it was straight down, no turns. It wasn’t too heavy, (but) it was chest deep.”

While A-Basin employees dug the ski area out, a line of cars extended through the heart of Keystone. Some people waited an hour or two before returning home, but others, like Frisco resident Brian Cataldo, held out until 4 p.m. – when all chances of making the last chairlift had faded.

Cataldo was the 10th car in line just after 8 a.m. Thursday morning. Around lunchtime, he called for pizza delivery. By 2 p.m., he knew his chances to ski were slim, but by then, he was immersed in a full-fledged snowball fight with 100-200 people.

“It was basically a big party of angry, bitter skiers,” Cataldo said.

Other skiers and riders coming from Vail didn’t even reach Keystone before getting stuck on the highway. Vail residents Anneliese Schoellkopf and Bryan Rooney were stranded for four hours on I-70 near Copper Mountain because a tanker rolled over three times, spilling gasoline and forcing officials to close the road. Schoellkopf and Rooney built a snowman, while snowboarders built kickers on the side of the road. Friday, their commute to A-Basin was successful, but it took them almost two hours to get from Keystone to A-Basin’s lift lines because of the heavy morning traffic.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at

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