By Hank Bedingfield
Arapahoe Basin, notably absent from this year’s Epic Pass, provides hope that the corporate swine of Vail Resorts cannot extend their price-gouging, soul-crushing tentacles to every mountain in Colorado.
The early season at A-Basin proves their continued commitment to a skiing culture which is being hunted to extinction by a morbidly obese ski corporation. The mountain — affectionately labeled The Legend — now boasts a $20 deal every Friday through late November for two hours of skiing, from 2-4 p.m. This pass also includes $5 appetizers and beers.
Coming off the first legitimate snowstorm of the year last week, that deal was plenty to justify the drive to Summit County.
Wheeling around the last turn on Highway Six, the A-Basin parking lot is a desert mirage, until you pull up close enough to see that the blinding collection of reflective windshields are indeed real, and that mirage is an oasis.
“The Beach,” A-Basin’s iconic parking lot, epitomizes the culture that the mountain is fighting so hard to preserve. The general atmosphere is eerily similar to that of a parking lot outside of a Grateful Dead show or some college football tailgate. It starts with the superficial similarities of loud baggy outfits and a loose booze and drug culture in surprisingly no conflict with the families also sprawled throughout the lot.
There’s always at least one set of unbothered parents, sitting in lawn chairs and sipping IPAs while their children chase the family dog up and down the parking lot. (There are a striking number of dogs for a ski mountain. Even they can’t miss out on a ski day, and the vibrations of the lot justify a little time in the trunk while the family skis). They coexist with the carloads of day tripping college students and ski bums with their cooped-up rowdiness and music blaring for anyone close enough to listen — which is almost everyone. An old man, assuming the role of grill master, with a lawn chair of his own, sits with his koozie and meats surveying the scene. This is the culture at stake.
Next comes the lift line. With only one lift open, this is the most challenging part of the day. However, the normal drudgery of a 20-minute lift line at mountains like Breckenridge or Killington is completely lost on the “A-Bay” crowd. There are no children facing a slow, but eventual mental collapse, no disgruntled skiers slouch-balancing with poles jammed into their armpits, and no passive aggressive social negotiations, with one side of the line inching their way in front of the other until the latter is definitively cut.
This scene is more of a how-many-beers-can-I-drink-before-the-liftie-in-front-hollers-me-toward-the-recycling-bin. There was no singles’ line either, just some understood social agreement paid off in smiles, compliments on gear, and an opportunistic understanding of friendship. Everyone found a way onto the lift.
The weirdest part of this whole Friday 2-4 p.m ski day is the condition of the snow. For October skiing, you would hardly be alone in expecting some East-Coast style ice shoot, abused by the relentless scraping of literally every single ticket-flapping mountaingoer, subjugated to the only open trail. These were certainly my expectations. It is all but shocking to report that while cruising down the slope that inaugural Friday, there was not a single time that I heard that menacing scrape reverberate up from the snow below me. There is plenty of snow to be skied, even in October.
The defiant spirit of Arapahoe Basin is alive and well. Go and get it.