Beachin’ at the Basin
It doesn’t have the crystal white sand of Crescent Beach in Siesta Key, Fla., or the smooth, black sand of Wainapanapa Beach in Maui, Hawaii. But it’s the most popular beach in the Rockies.
The Beach, as A-Basin lovers affectionately call it, has sand that is, well, black and white ” slushy snow mixed with parking lot dirt. But The Legend lovers wouldn’t have it any other way.
Every spring, cars, trucks, vans and RVs line the edge of Arapahoe Basin’s Early Riser Lot. The most coveted spots, and those truly considered the beach, face the mountain as drivers pull into the parking spots. But in recent years, the parking-lot party has sprawled throughout the Early Riser Lot and even jumped to lots on the other side of the highway.
Skiers wearing fleece jackets and cowboy hats crank country music from their trucks, while snowboarders in baggy pants blast rap music. People have been known to cart a hot tub up there, where bikini-clad women soak. Dogs run through the mud sniffing what dog’s sniff ” including people’s barbecued burgers and brats.
You might think competing music and loose dogs would cause conflict, but A-Basin’s 10,780-foot base elevation draws the friendliest people.
“People tend to interact better up here than places like Vail or Beaver Creek,” said Denver resident David Brantigan.
“It’s a family environment. Everyone’s just here to hang out with everybody,” said Mindy Morton, a Longmont resident who spent an afternoon in May on the beach.
In 2005, Morton trained her 12-week-old chocolate lab, Buddy, to be a part of the Basin family. He had already hung out with her in the 6th Alley Bar, but she wanted to teach him to stick around the truck.
Roray Cowie, a Telluride resident, used to be one of the die-hard beach bums who set up tents and camped out the night before to ensure a weekend spot on the coveted beach.
In April 2005, A-Basin banned overnight stays in the Early Riser Lot for a few reasons: People left trash on the beach, public rest rooms in the A-Frame closed at night, the lot lies in the slide path of the Professor, vehicles interfered with plowing and staff had safety concerns, said spokesperson Peggy Hiller.
But there still are plenty of ways to score a front-row spot. People can camp out in the Last Chance Lot above the Early Riser, show up very early (usually 7 a.m. on a weekend ” though that doesn’t guarantee a spot) or shell out $100 to reserve two parking spaces and a picnic table. This year, the Basin is encouraging barbecuers to use propane rather than charcoal ” for a more environmentally-friendly approach to grilling.
Mother Nature has blessed the Basin with ample snow in recent years. This season, the ski area beat all others in the race to open first. It cranked its first lifts Oct. 13. (Granted, snowmaking played an important part.)
Early opening or not, skiers have been partying on the beach since the 1970s. A decade later, many moved the party to the mid-mountain picnic area. But in the 1990s, the beach continued to be the most popular location to fire up the grill and drink a few beers. This season, the Basin opened a new mid-mountain area, but we suspect the beach will continue to be a favorite hang-out. It’s the perfect base to amble to and from the main lodge, where bands perform every Saturday in May, and the annual Memorial Day Festival of the Brew Pubs draws more people than parking can accommodate.
The Basin’s reputation has spread through word-of-mouth ” often between generations. New Jersey resident Mike Hartel partied at the Basin when he was younger, and he started telling his daughter, Michelle Hartel, about it when she was 10. Now she’s a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the two drive up, take some runs and eat sandwiches on the beach.
“People are more polite now. People have more respect,” he said, comparing the 1980s Basin scene with today’s.
And so the counter-culture continues, naturally, without a marketing department pushing people to participate. In fact, most beach bums don’t go through elaborate plans to coordinate a party.
“You just find people here ” no need to plan it out,” said Angelique Madrid, a former Silverthorne resident.
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