Arapahoe Basin

Arapahoe Basin, Colorado

Written by Karl Sander • Photos by Greg and Heather Burke • Last updated Oct 21, 2017

Meet “the Legend.”

If a ski resort is going to have a nickname like that, it’s got a lot to live up to - but believe me, Arapahoe Basin delivers! It’s been offering up some of the gnarliest big-mountain terrain in a part of the country known for white-knuckle skiing since 1946, after the site retired from its career as a defense contractor test site. Perched near the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass, its elevation helps give it a yearly average of 350 inches of snow and some of the longest ski seasons anywhere in North America, often lasting into late spring and early summer (and, at least once, into August!). It maintains a small “locals’ mountain” vibe, complete with quirky staff, less stringent policies (at least compared to Vail resorts) and a more laissez faire atmosphere. Its “Beach” parking area, right at the base of the slopes, is what happens when tailgating meets skiing. For some folks, it’s ski partying at its best.

Being introduced to A-Basin on Black Mountain Express

Of course, that small locals’ mountain atmosphere means an absence of commercial amenities so it isn’t always convenient. There’s limited dining and après, and no lodging or resort amenities (which in turn means limited ground transportation options to get there). The party aura in the culture can sometimes be off-putting for some families. The same elevation that contributes to its snow coverage and long seasons also means there are days of blustery wind chill. It’s smaller than many of the other Summit County ski areas, so there’s not a wide selection of slopes and bowls. All of that advanced, experts-only, and downright extreme terrain is balanced by a relatively limited amount of beginner and intermediate trails, and a smaller ski school than you’ll find at other nearby resort areas.

Tree skiing in Pallavicini area
View from the peak

A-Basin’s devotees, however, see many of these shortcomings as virtues. They appreciate the bare-bones “all-about-the-skiing” culture, the general lack of crowds, and the more laid back attitude compared to more corporate resort properties. Where some might complain that A-Basin is “stuck in the past,” the true believers revere the vintage atmosphere. Instead of complaining that there’s only one high-speed detachable chair, they enjoy the throw-back to a simpler time when the trip up a fixed double gave you the chance to make new friends while cheering (or heckling?) skiers trying to shred a world-class steep below you. They’re happy to trade some greens and blue cruisers for some of most extreme terrain and biggest bumps around. If you’re happy seeing more duct tape-patched bibs than thousand dollar ski suits, and are just as content chasing your turns with parking-lot-grilled burgers as you are with high-end cuisine, then Arapahoe Basin is the place for you!

Going down East Gully

The Mountain

Looking down the front side of A-Basin from Lenawee Lift

While technically Breckenridge does have the highest chairlift in North America, A-Basin and its 13,050 foot summit has the highest skiable terrain. A base area elevation of 10,779 feet gives the resort a respectable 2,270 foot vertical drop. With snowmaking covering 125 acres to give things a jumpstart early in the season, it’s often in the race to be the first resort to open, kicking off in October. It’s almost always the very last ski area in Colorado to close, shutting down most years in June – but sometimes as late as July. In fact, during the 1993-94 season, it stayed open until August! That translates to being open for two-thirds of the year - in an area that sees 300 days of sunshine a year, so your odds are good for great snow under clear skies.

Summit of A-Basin

There are three main sections of Arapahoe Basin: the front side, backside, and East Wall. Officially, A-Basin claims 960 acres of skiable terrain, but that doesn’t include the East Wall area which offers an additional 90-110 acres! While that acreage may not sound huge, the runs – most of them relatively steep – are decently long, with the longest run on the mountain being 1.5 miles. There’s a lot of advanced and aggressive “steep and deep” fun packed into those acres and trails, with 60% of the mountain designated either “most difficult” or “expert.” Its moguls and chutes attract some of Colorado’s most hard-core skiers.

Looking at a mix of blues and blacks running below Norway Lift

When to Go

With its long season, it might seem like you could go to A-Basin almost any time. The snow is usually deep with good coverage for the majority of winter, from mid-December through April. Of course, that timeframe also includes some of the coldest months of the year in the highest of high country, so you’ll want to pack and layer accordingly if you visit from December through February.

Arapahoe Basin doesn’t usually get too crowded, though like any resort it has times that are busier than others. These are typically over the Christmas / New Year’s holiday, the US federal holiday weekends in mid-January and mid-February, and spring break in March. During those times, you might see some crowding on the beginner and intermediate runs due to the simple fact there just aren’t many of them to begin with. That said, with its reputation for extreme terrain, it doesn’t really draw a lot of beginners and intermediates to begin with.

Lift Tickets

Arapahoe Basin’s loyal fans also love the lift ticket prices, which are relatively cheap compared to other destination resorts! The walk-up rate for an adult (19-59) is $76 for a full day and $64 for a half day. Youths (15-18) can get a ticket for $64 and children’s tickets (ages 6-14) are $38, while little ones age five and below ski or ride free! For older beginners, a ticket to access just the magic carpets and beginner Molly Hogan chair costs $15 for children age 6-14 and $25 for ages 15 and up. If you’ve got kids between 6 and 12, and are doing your planning early, you can sign up to get them two free days, with no blackout dates! The deadline for this sweet deal is December 18th, 2017, and you can get a 50% discount on a half day first-time lesson to go with it. There are two levels of senior discount, $71 for ages 60-69 and $30 for ages 70 and up. There are also steep discounts (up to 49% on a single day ticket!) for buying earlier online.

If your ski holiday includes at least four days at A-Basin, you’ll save a bit of money with the 4-Day Pass. An adult pass (age 15 and up) sells for $159 and one for ages 6-14 goes for $99. There are no blackouts, and you can add extra days at a discount.

Given the relatively small size, many visitors will choose to spend time at other resorts in addition to Arapahoe Basin during their trip. Keystone is the closest, and since both are covered by the Epic Pass, you can buy a pass to both for $349 for age 12 and up, and $259 for ages 5-12. There are holiday blackout dates (though you can get a discount on passes for those dates), but aside from that, the pass allows for unlimited visits to both resorts! You also get discounts to Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, and Vail.

Epic also offers discounted season-long passes, good at both A-Basin and Keystone, to active duty military, retirees, and their families. The Liberty Pass, for active duty members and their families offers unlimited access for $259 for adults and $189 for kids ages 5-12. The Liberty Honor pass, with limited holiday blackout dates, is for retirees and their families, with an adult pass going for $309 and kids ages 5-12 for $229.

Elevation

Base
10779 feet
Base
Summit
13050 feet
Summit
Vertical Drop
2271 feet
Vertical Drop

Lifts

High Speed Quad
1
High Speed Quad
Quad Chair
1
Quad Chair
Triple Chair
1
Triple Chair
Double Chairs
3
Double Chairs
Surface Lifts
2
Surface Lifts

Terrain

Beginner Runs
10 %
Beginner Runs
Intermediate Runs
30 %
Intermediate Runs
Advanced Runs
37 %
Advanced Runs
Expert Runs
23 %
Expert Runs
Total Runs
109
Total Runs
Terrain Parks
3
Terrain Parks
Longest Run
2 miles
Longest Run
Skiable Terrain
960 acres
Skiable Terrain
Snowmaking Area
125 acres
Snowmaking Area

Opening and closing dates

Season Open Date Close Date
2017/2018 10/13/2017 06/13/2018 (estimated)
2016/2017 10/21/2016 06/11/2017
2015/2016 10/29/2015 06/12/2016
2014/2015 10/17/2014 06/14/2015

Lift ticket and season pass prices

Category Age restrictions Price (USD unless otherwise stated)
Adult 19 - 59 $95
Child 5 & under Free
Child 6 - 14 $47
Child 15 - 18 $79
Senior 60 - 69 $85
Senior 70 & over $35
Season Pass
(A-Basin Full Season Pass)
$329

Overall Rating

4.3 / 5 based on 62 reviews
Sean Cooney

Fantastic smaller resort with something for everyone. Amazing vertical, and slopes for every style of skiier. Usually uncrowded on weekdays and the slopes don't fill up too much. Lodge at mid mountain has great food at very reasonable prices. Overall, good bang for your buck but go during the week to avoid the crowds.

Posted on Nov 13, 2017
Karl Freiburghaus

I call A-Basin the Switzerland of skiing because of its neutrality! Though it is getting more popular compared to the old days which is making parking more difficult by the year, it is still my favorite for its local, everyone knows your name feel versus that corporate takeover like its neighbor Keystone and Breckenridge. Whatever you do A-Basin, keep that independence while remaining partners with the other Epic Resorts! =)~

Posted on Nov 12, 2017
Devante liberatore

My friends and I completely enjoy the experience. Have not figured out if any buses go out there. Totaly love snowboarding! Hope to make this season better, of course by getting better and how that will be is by going more times this season.

Posted on Nov 11, 2017
Jason Leverton

Great family resort with enough lifts / runs to keep the whole fam happy. Not crazy expensive and easier to get to than some of the larger resorts... plus party on the beach!

Posted on Nov 09, 2017
Jason Briggs

I've been coming to Abay ever since I could drive myself there when I turned 16. I average at least 20 days there per season. This season I moved to Crested Butte so I couldn't justify buying two season passes this year. I'd love to win one though because I'm already missing THE LEGEND. It would be really great to get to ride with my front range buddies this season also and go to Whistler again with them like last year.

Posted on Nov 09, 2017
John Yasenko

A-basin is called the legend for a reason. There are beginner runs and facilities, but they are small. At Abasin you can get buck wild with the bad boys on opening day, and the mountain forces you to be a better skiier. There are no lodging facilities, but keystone is just down the road with tons of facilities. For me as a newly intermediate skiier (skied for the first time last year, went about 5 times) A Basin was a great place to get oriented to more difficult blues and see how the big dogs ride. I thought that people were more friendly at abasin vs keystone. I mean its early season so every one is stoked, but I had way more conversations on the lifts and in line at Abasin. People at Keystone were a little more standoffish. If I were a parent with a kid 4-18 or a family, I would go to keystone. An intermediate skier or above I'd go kill it at Abasin. The runs off of the pavlechinni lift will make hair grow on your chest. I'm honestly not good enough at this point to even think about going on that lift. The east wall runs would make a classy lady from the 1800's pass out at the site of some one booming down a razorblade line up there.

Posted on Nov 13, 2017
Anthony peneschi

This resort checks all the boxes for intermediate to advanced level riders. With free parking minutes from the first ski lift, a-basin makes for one wonderful experience. Love this place.

Posted on Nov 12, 2017
Greg

Arapahoe basin has several benefits. Amazing runs off groomers, open early and late in the season. The mini parks I went through last season (end of 2017 winter) were fun. Would recommend for a day trip to anyone looking to get their fix early / late in the season when all other resorts are closed. Watch out for the effect of being at high elevations. One of my go to resorts, however, is still winter park.

Posted on Nov 10, 2017
Jayson Tartar

I love A-basin! Unfortunately after 38 years of having a season pass a divorce won't alow it. Of all the things she took from me this is the saddest. Just trying to win some sanity in the drawing. Think snow!

Posted on Nov 09, 2017
William poole

Great resort but has been over run with new skiers that crowd the trails and create dangerous situations. Still recommended as they have the longest season in the country and the best food on a mountain I have ever had.

Posted on Nov 08, 2017