By Sam Collentine, Meteorologist Posted 4 years ago January 18, 2020
The following guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Arapahoe Basin.
Known as "The Legend", Arapahoe Basin is famous for the longest season in Colorado, steep high-alpine terrain, and views that rival any resort in the United States.
But what makes this resort truly shine is its close proximity to Denver and numerous Colorado mountain towns, affordable lift ticket packages, and the phenomenal snow quality thanks to a base elevation above 10,000 feet.
I've spent the last 20 years exploring A-Basin and I am excited to share a few secrets to help with your next visit to "The Legend".
Arapahoe Basin offers 1,428 acres of skiable terrain, accessed by 9 lifts and 147 trails. The mountain stretches from a base elevation of 10,520 feet to a summit elevation of 13,050 feet.
Our friends at ZRankings list Arapahoe Basin's True Annual Snowfall at 314 inches. 13% of the mountain is considered easy terrain, 39% intermediate terrain, and 48% difficult terrain. 5% of the mountain features a south-facing aspect, 15% west-facing, 25% east-facing, and 55% north-facing.
The lift operating hours run from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm (weather and lift depending) Monday through Friday and from 8:30 am - 4:00 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and select holidays.
GETTING TO ARAPAHOE BASIN
A-Basin is only 88 miles and just under a 2-hour drive from Denver International Airport. This gives you the opportunity to fly into DIA in the morning and be skiing high-alpine bliss in the afternoon.
A-Basin also couldn't be easier for a quick trip up from the Denver-Metro area and the Front Range. I grew up in the small Front Range town of Windsor, Colorado, and attended the University of Colorado Boulder. This provided me the opportunity to take dozens of day trips up the I-70 mountain corridor and easily be back home by the late afternoon or early evening.
Driving Directions: Arapahoe Basin
Do your best to carpool with friends or hop on the Snowstang Bus from Denver. This bus runs on Saturdays and Sundays from Union Station and the Federal Center, costs just $25 for a roundtrip, and includes WiFI, power outlets, and restrooms.
And last but not least, remember to always check for the latest update on the I-70 Daily Snow. This is a forecast that I update every morning from November through April to keep you up-to-date on the latest snow outlook and travel information.
ARAPAHOE BASIN LODGING
The resort is surrounded by the mountain towns of Keystone, Dillon, Silverthorne, Frisco, and Breckenridge, all within a 30-minute drive. This provides a plethora of options, including hotels, condos, and home rentals.
A-Basin has no on-site lodging but has an official partner in The Pad Silverthorne.
The Pad is a high-amenity "boutique" hotel and hostel that is centrally located in Summit County, less than 30 minutes from A-Basin, and easily accessible from I-70. The Pad is independently owned and operated by longtime locals and offers everything from budget-friendly hostel beds to luxury private suites.
ARAPAHOE BASIN LIFT TICKETS
The resort offers single-day tickets, multi-day packs, the option of visiting with two of the multi-resort passes, and a very affordable unlimited season pass.
A-Basin now limits the sale of unrestricted season passes and multi-day packs, as well as daily lift ticket sales, to preserve a quality ski and ride experience with fewer crowds. The best advice is to plan and buy in advance: most pass products sell out prior to midseason, and lift tickets must be purchased online as they are no longer sold on-site. Unrestricted multi-day packs and midweek products offer some of the best deals.
Lift Tickets: Arapahoe Basin
The mountain made big news during the 2018-2019 season when they decided to end their long-time partnership with Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass. After much anticipation, they decided to join Alterra Mountain Company and the Ikon Pass, along with the Mountain Collective. Ikon Pass holders receive 5 or 7 days at Arapahoe Basin, while Mountain Collective pass holders receive 2 days and 50% off all additional days.
The only way to get unlimited, unrestricted access to A-Basin is with a full-season Arapahoe Basin pass. That pass (which offers discounts for active and retired military, seniors 70 and over, and ages 18 and under), includes on-site discounts and free or discount days at multiple other ski areas, including Monarch Mountain, Taos Ski Valley, Bluebird Backcountry, and Silverton, with some blackout dates.
ARAPAHOE BASIN SNOW & WEATHER
There's one ingredient that makes Arapahoe Basin special compared to nearly every resort in Colorado and the United States – elevation. Nearly every resort in Colorado can pump their fists when it comes to elevation but A-Basin sets the standard with a base elevation at 10,520 feet.
As OpenSnow Founding Meteorologist Joel Gratz mentions in this article, "high elevation means colder temperatures. With colder temperatures, mountains can make snow early in the season to ensure terrain is open, and snow can stick around longer into the spring."
Thanks to its high elevation and colder temperatures, A-Basin often opens in mid-October and can typically sustain daily operations through early June. Click here to read more about snowmaking, including a Q&A with the Snowmaking Manager at Arapahoe Basin, Bill LeClair.
Another advantage of having a higher elevation is fluffy snow. In general, colder temperatures help the atmosphere to create fluffier, lighter snowfall. The average of all winter storms in Colorado drops snow at a ratio of 15 inches of snow to 1 inch of liquid (15:1). Add 1-2,000 feet in elevation compared to other resorts in Colorado and you have a recipe for gold at "The Legend".
When moving air hits a mountain and is forced to rise up and over the mountain, it is called orographic lift. Due to the topography of Colorado and where A-Basin is situated along the Continental Divide, we typically want air that is rising from the west and west-southwest as it funnels through the Intermountain West and into the Continental Divide. Every storm is different and has many essential ingredients but a west and west-southwest wind direction are key when dialing in the forecast for each storm at Arapahoe Basin.
SKIING ARAPAHOE BASIN
Now let's get into the good stuff, skiing and snowboarding!
Go ahead and jump on the Black Mountain Express directly out of the Base Area. This high-speed quad takes you up to mid-mountain and the Black Mountain Lodge.
From here, you can warm up your day with a cruiser down High Noon or Ramrod and eventually back up the Black Mountain Express, or you can get off the lift, head skier's left, and make your way down to the Lenawee Express Lift to get you up to the summit. I typically opt for Lenawee to give myself more options, depending on the snow report and weather.
From here, you can cruise down back under the Lenawee Express Lift via Lenawee Face or Powerline to access Dragon, West Gully, and Lenawee Parks. You'll notice fences in this area, which help to slow the wind and capture snow during drier periods and can help to pile up extra powder pockets during and after storm days.
Depending on the day and time of year, after a lap or two down Lenawee, I'll begin to work my up to the East Wall via the North Pole Hiking Gate or the East Wall Traverse. The East Wall typically does not open until the second half of the season. When it does, it's game on for steep, high-alpine glory.
Here's a photo nearing the summit of the North Pole along the East Wall, followed by another photo looking down into the belly of the beast. The East Wall is for experts only.
Another fun way to enjoy the East Wall is via the East Wall Traverse. Exit left off of Lenawee and go skiers right to access the entrance. Once you're on the traverse, you can make your way over to Willy's Wide, Snorkel Nose, and Corner Chute for short hikes up and steep runs down. Perfect for late winter or early spring powder conditions.
There are then three other main areas on the mountain: Pallavicini (Pali) Lift, Montezuma Bowl, and the recently added Beavers & Steep Gullies. We'll start with Montezuma Bowl before heading over to the Beavers, Steep Gully's, and the Pali Lift.
Montezuma Bowl is the main south-facing area at Arapahoe Basin and is highlighted by the Zuma Cornice and glade skiing on either side of the Zuma Lift. If the conditions are right, I opt for the traverse out to Schauffler, Jump, and End Zone via the Lenawee or Zuma Lifts.
This offers an incredible view of Summit County and delicious turns back down to the Zuma Lift. The photos below were taken from the top and bottom of End Zone. Much like the East Wall, the Zuma Cornice is for experts only.
Moving onto the Beavers & Steep Gullies, this area became lift-accessed for the first time during the 2018-2019 season. The Beavers Lift is a four-person chair that allows you to explore high-alpine powder fields and endless gully skiing. You could spend your entire day in this area and never touch the same track twice.
The final area that we'll hit is the Pallavicini (Pali) Lift. This lift rises directly out of the base area. For many long-time skiers of A-Basin, this is the best terrain on the mountain.
Dive into any one of the open runs, "alleys", or gladded gullies to quickly understand why so many Colorado skiers and riders love this lift. Here's a photo from Pallavicini, followed by another photo from an unnamed gully.
Once your legs are cooked and you're ready for an adult beverage, cruise down to the Base Area and head into the 6th Alley Bar & Grill for one of their Award-winning Bacon Bloody Marys.
"The 6th Alley is where you gather with your friends and family after a long day on the slopes. We welcome both duct tape and diamonds. This is where the day's yard sales become hero lines, and where fish tales of nose-deep powder become time-honored truths. Conquer the five alleys of Pallavicini then sit back, refuel and reminisce about your day on the mountain here in the 6th. Our bacon bloody Mary's are famous and so are you." -Arapahoe Basin (I couldn't say it better myself!)
ARAPAHOE BASIN UPHILL POLICY
The rise of uphill (also known as skinning or touring) has brought a new aspect to the ways that we can explore and have fun on the mountain. It is great exercise and in-resort uphill travel offers a safe environment on groomed terrain.
I've spent many hours enjoying the great uphill policy at Arapahoe Basin since I bought my first uphill setup during the 2014-2015 season, including countless bluebird mornings.
A current-season uphill access pass is required at A-Basin and can be purchased online. Always check the terrain status page of the website before visiting, as uphill can close at any time. If you like to go super-fast uphill, keep an eye out for A-Basin’s popular rando race series in the fall, usually November – January.
Arapahoe Basin may only be 1,400 acres but it would take weeks to fully grasp the scope of what's available to any skier or snowboard no matter your ability level.
Whether you're a powder-hound searching for steep glades and high-alpine turns, a family thinking about a mountain outside of the mega-resorts, or someone just getting into skiing or snowboarding, Arapahoe Basin is a great choice to make it all happen.
Visit ArapahoeBasin.com for all lodging, event, and other ski-related information.
Download: OpenSnow App
This guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Arapahoe Basin.