The Ultimate Guide to Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
Written by Karl Sander • Last updated Oct 10, 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photos by Greg and Heather Burke
Fantastic mountain with a local flair! Big enough to get out and rip, especially on snow days, but doesn't feel as commercial as some of the other mountains on the I-70 corridor.
This a great little resort nestling in the rockies of Colorado. It has a family feel, everyone is so friendly and incredibly enthusiastic about the snow. It provides a great cross section of runs, from easy to challenging with access to some awesome backcountry.