By Kathryn Whiteman
Skiing at Vail and Beaver Creek last week just whetted my appetite for spring skiing, so Saturday of Easter weekend, I headed to Arapahoe Basin. Since this was my first time at A-Basin, I was surprised to find the parking lot full of campers, dogs, kids, grills -- we're talking full-on tailgate parties. I've never seen this at a ski resort before, but it was a beautiful day and they looked like they were having a blast. I liked this place even before I set foot on the slopes. The parking lot is right next to the lodge and lifts; there are no condos, stores, or town to get between you, the skiing and the amazing scenery. This has to have some of the most incredible views of anywhere I've ever skied.
I was at the top of the mountain by 10:30 a.m. and was disappointed that the Montezuma Bowl was closed, having heard many good things about it. But no matter, there was plenty of good skiing on the front side. I heard a few folks describing conditions as "crunchy" and "hard" and reassuring each other that it would soften up later in the day. Having grown up skiing in the East however, I found that most of the mountain was just how I like it: steep, flat (i.e. no moguls) hard snow and fast skiing. I loved being able to ski top to bottom without getting slowed down by slush. Most of the green and blue trails were open, but some of the expert terrain was closed, like the "hike-up, ski-down" East Wall and the area to the right of the Pallavicini lift (as you look up the mountain). I did, however, make the short trek over to Pallavicini because I was planning to meet a friend later and the only cell phone hot spot at the resort is at the top of that chair. If you're planning to meet up with someone at A-Basin, make sure to pick a specific time and place ahead of time because you won't be able to rely on calls and texts. From there I took the blue Grizzly Road back to the bottom of the Norway Chair (yes, I did follow the large sign that said, "Easiest Way Down"), but there was also some black diamond terrain open I could have taken instead.
I stopped for lunch at the mid-hill Black Mountain Lodge, where they had excellent barbecue, some amazing looking burgers and both indoor and outdoor bars. I sat at the outdoor patio picnic tables admiring the view and my tasty lunch. The woman next to me (coincidentally from the Buffalo area, as I am) was raving about the scenery, the perfect, cloudless weather, the skiing and the bison chili she had for lunch. Afterwards, I headed to the bottom to meet up with one of my ski buddies from high school who now lives in Evergreen. She was skiing on powder skis and preferred the bottom of the mountain, where it was getting softer, so she could turn better. I was still having more fun skiing the top where it was still pretty solid, so we compromised, doing some of both. After a few runs, she pointed out that on every run where there were trees, I was skiing on the shady side on the hard snow and she was staying on the sunny side, where it was getting a little slushy by late afternoon.
We skied almost to close (the Black Mountain Express lift is open until 4 p.m.) and then headed to the 6th Alley Bar at the bottom for an afternoon cocktail. We saw some crazy looking Bloody Mary's with garnishes like a skewer of bacon, among other things, and next to the bar was a small cafe area where a couple walked by us with coffee and an unusually large sticky bun that looked delicious. We took our drinks up to the rooftop patio and watched the last few skiers come down the hill followed by the groomers. They didn't waste any time getting the grooming underway. Though it may not seem like it from the 70-degree weather in Denver, there is still some fun spring skiing to be had nearby and resorts are offering spring deals (like A-Basin's $158 pass for any three days of spring skiing). Just remember to bring your sunblock; my nose is still peeling.