Don’t be afraid of the legendary A-Basin - it won’t bite and is not that intimidating. In fact, it is a monumental mountain with plenty of terrific terrain for all, as we discovered on my trip there April 21, 2005. And, oh the season. A-Basin plans to stay open until June the 5th this year. It could go even longer, but the staff needs time to take a break, and upgrade equipment. Some years there is official skiing until the 4th of July, or longer. I am certain backcountry skiing goes on all summer in the West. It would not take much imagination for snowmobilers to take people up the mountains, if they do not have the strength or ambition to climb. But, pretend I didn’t suggest that.
As I am finally writing this article, it is the first of May. A-Basin says it received 10 inches of new snow in the past 48 hours. The depth is 67 inches, with 100% of the terrain open. The temperature is a balmly 27 degrees. How I would love to be swooping down those slopes now! Sure, it is beautiful to look at the flowers in the Washington area. But I am hungry for the slopes already.
My husband Charles and I only had one day to ski A-Basin and were lucky enough to be guided on the mountain by Garry Johnson, a ski host and retired teacher. He was gentle with us, as we requested. We had no intention of taking the famed Pallavicini double black run, but we did look at it. I think we can handle it in the future, if we spend a great deal of time at A-Basin. Regulars were skiing and snowboarding down it several times a day. But, we stuck to the groomed or semi-groomed trails with names such as Grizzly Road, Chisholm Trail, Sundance, and High Noon.
The statistics describing A-Basin are awesome. Pallavicini is considered one of Colorado’s steepest slopes. A-Basin is listed as “one of the most jagged and rugged sections of the Continental Divide.” The Summit is 13,050 feet. Chairlifts go up to 12,450 feet. Climbers can go up another 600 feet for the chutes of the East Wall. Skiable terrain is 490 acres. 15% of A-Basin is listed as easiest, and 20% expert. You fill in the blanks in the middle.
As with all the great Western mountains, many of the trails blend together in our minds, because there is so much open space. Conditions were terrific, and the views spectacular, especially from the top of the new Snow Plume Refuge. We were taken to the top floor, where we shared the panoramic view of the Ski Patrollers. From their wrap-around windows and powerful binoculars, we could see nearly the entire mountain and beyond. There were no accidents while we were there, and no avalanches. As is needed in the Western areas, the snow is carefully patrolled and blasted as required, to create an avalanche of lose snow, before the mountain is open. That is one important reason not to sneak off and ski on your own in backcountry, or when the areas officially close, despite the glossy auto ads which make it look so benign and tempting.
After great skiing for several hours, we broke for lunch in the cafeteria. We were happy to hear a welcome sound from the East - eight members of the Yale Whiffenpoofs were visiting, and serenading the snow lovers. A unique way to sing for their skiing - George Bush and John Kerry would have been so proud.
There are some interesting developments ahead for A-Basin. The ski area plans to expand its back bowl area in the next two or three years. That will make it even more profitable and interesting. In fact, from the little I saw of Colorado this trip, I would assess the region near A-Basin is the growth area - I certainly would go for a small condo in Dillon, which is not as developed as some of the other nearby towns and cities, but has all the right facilities. We stayed in an inexpensive motel, and shopped in the excellent supermarket. There are book stores, restaurants, a shopping center, and discount clothes and ski outlets. But Dillon does not yet have the huge condo and housing developments of Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, Cooper, or some of the other nearby areas.
By the way, many of the areas have thriving doggy day care centers, where your dogs can socialize and play while you hit the slopes. Some also boast training, grooming, and doggie communicators, who psychoanalyze the difficult pups. I’m not sure if I am sold on that service, but the rest sound pretty good for an animal lover like me.
A-Basin is about 68 miles from Denver. The closest areas to stay include Keystone, Dillon, Silverthorne, Frisco, and Breckenridge. There is a local free bus system which takes people to the brewpubs and restaurants in the town. There is also shuttle bus service within all the ski resorts in Summit County. Shop around and get the best deals on the transportation, lodging, and ski tickets.
I heartily recommend A-Basin, and am glad I tried it again, after ignoring it for years. I admit, the reputation did intimidate me. But, in the end, it is just another mountain, with a deliciously long season. I’m glad it exists - it is a lot closer than New Zealand or Chile.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.
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