Thanks to another year of early openings, the ski and ride season is officially here. If you've been dreaming about floating in powder or trying out telemark skis, now's the time to get in line. The trend all over Colorado is steep and deep, with sky-scraping backcountry and extremes. Resorts are opening new bowls and formerly out-of-bounds areas to hikers, while making all that hike-to terrain they opened in recent years more accessible with snowcats, higher lifts and even helicopter drops. This insider's guide to the state's winter playgrounds will reveal all the new stashes while reviving some of the old history that's led many a ski bum to fall in love with Colorado's slopes and ski towns.
hey u gonna be sneaky again? remember me, i am the man who got the last lift ride of the day october 13 2006. u know me, I broke my first board on palavacini back in the 80s. ya know the days of sorrel boots. I hope to see ya soon.
— A post from matthew on the MySpace page of his friend Arapahoe Basin
Arapahoe Basin is a single, sixty-year-old male looking to network. His body type is "More to Love!" And this year, he's gotten a lot bigger — try 80 percent bigger. The Montezuma Bowl was the largest expansion of his life, adding 400 acres and 36 blue, black and double-black runs to his frame, accessed by the new, fixed-grip quad Zuma Lift. This fall, as friends like Matthew Womack waited for A-Basin to announce its opening day — which turned out to be a record-breaking October 10 — they grew more and more anxious to meet the new mountain.
"This will be my 21 year of not missing an opening or closing day at the basin :)"
If A-Basin's 542 closest friends are anything like Womack, this enthusiasm isn't specific to the opening of Montezuma. They get this excited for the start of A-Basin's season every year because they simply love the place — the beach, the barbecue, the people, the history, the scenery. All of it.
Womack first discovered Arapahoe in 1988. The skateboarder started off skiing and then got a snowboard before there were snowboarding boots. He got to know the history of A-Basin while hanging out with older guys: "Like really old, like my grandfather's age, and they were still skiing, and they were good." Some of those older guys had been around since the resort's 1946 inception and knew the work and vision it took to make A-Basin a reality. "I dig the whole idea of these old-timers starting the ski industry," Womack says of people like Larry Jump, a 10th Mountain Division veteran who helped found the resort.
But what Womack loved most about A-Basin was the scene on the beach, that bank of snow that meets the parking lot at the base, and the wild camping parties and barbecues at night with dogs running wild and everybody having a good time. "People would take couches and put skis on the bottom, hike up in the middle of the night, and you'd hear this screaming up on the ski slope. People were going down the hill, and of course they couldn't steer," he remembers.
Campers have since been relegated to the upper lot, dogs aren't supposed to run wild, and the parties have mellowed slightly. But the skiing has not. A-Basin is still the highest skiable terrain in North America, and some of the steepest. The mountain also has one of the longest seasons, so that diehards keep coming until June. "Another thing that's a blast is at the end of the year, a little lake forms and people ski across it," Womack says. "It's fun watching people get wet and fall over. My friend Tim went across the lake and went swimming, and it was a cold day. We had to ride the lift to get back down the second half. He was soaking wet. Can you imagine? He wasn't happy, but it's something we look back and laugh about."
With Montezuma opening, Womack's feeling more nostalgic than usual. "It's not going to be the small ski resort maybe anymore," he says. While he's looking forward to the new terrain and excited to see his favorite resort getting bigger and better, he also hopes that things won't change too much.
General Information: www.arapahoebasin.com; 1-888-ARAPAHOE.
Location: 68 miles west of Denver via I-70, exit 205, then 12 miles east on U.S. Hwy. 6.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends.
Snow Report: 1-888-ARAPAHOE.
Lift Rates: Early-season adult day pass: $45; early-season youth (15-19) day pass: $39; early-season child (6-14) day pass: $22; early-season senior (60-69) day pass: $42; early-season seniors over 70 day pass: $10; kids under 5 day pass: free. Peak and late-season day passes: TBA.
Terrain: 900 acres, with 105 trails; 10 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 37 percent advanced, 23 percent expert. The base is 10,780', with a 2,257' vertical rise; summit: 13,050'.
It's known as the locals' mountain. Marcus Scarth, an instructor at Aspen Highlands, says that's because it's by far the steepest. The Highland Bowl has a 48-degree pitch and some of the steepest, longest runs in North America, he points out.