Arapahoe Basin’s new steeps are the kind of radical terrain I could ski every day of the year.–
The 371 acres of trails opening up on A-Basin’s west side this season are, simply put, the real deal. This place is an expert skier’s dream: so steep you can just lean into the mountain to rest (and with more than a 1,000 feet of vertical drop, you’re going to need a rest), so isolated that the only sound in its glades are birdsong and squirrel chatter and so unforgiving that even the most skilled skier will be challenged.
When it’s completed for the 2018-19 season, the total expansion will add 468 acres to an 960-acre resort already known for its rowdy terrain. Opening this season are 129 acres aptly named The Steep Gullies 1-7 and 240 acres in a bowl known as the Beavers.–For this season, the Beavers and the Steep Gullies will require a 15 to 30 minute hike back to the Pallavicini Lift. Depending on snowfall, the new terrain is expected to open in January or February 2018.
Next year the expansion will be complete with the opening of a quad chairlift and two intermediate trails in the Beavers. But this season the new terrain is a gift for experts only.
I like to head into the woods because being out in nature makes me feel, even during the most troubled times, that things are going to be all right.’–I’ll admit I prefer being alone in these places, but I know for safety reasons I shouldn’t be. So I’ll wait for a group going through the gate and I’ll join them — at a distance.
But on Mother’s Day 2016 when I passed the “Ski at Your Own Risk” sign onto what is now Steep Gulley 1, I was alone. There weren’t many people on the hill that late in the season. And while my daughters were with me at the resort (it was Mother’s Day, after all), they were nowhere near ready to ski such steep terrain. So my husband and I switched off skiing out of the ski area boundary and cruising the mellower terrain mid-mountain.’–
My husband, who is rarely daunted by a ski run, went first and declared the area “right on the edge” of his comfort level. So I was a little nervous to begin with. And while I was familiar with the pitch on Gauthier, the inbound run just east of the Steep Gullies, seeing that much steep on an unknown slope didn’t sooth my nerves.
These seven gullies, which get shorter in length as you move from east to west, are straight-down, what-was-I-thinking steep. There’s a reason A-basin has declared them the most challenging terrain at a resort known for having the bulk of its terrain on the edge of reason.–
At lunch that day my daughters had quizzed me about the difference between a single and a double black diamond run. After some thought I answered, “A lack of options.”–While the widths of the Gullies vary, they are all pretty tight. Add in trees, boulders and all the other obstacles Mother Nature can throw at you and it definitely deserves its double-diamond rating.
It also has all the benefits of backcountry terrain, now within the supervision of the ski area boundaries. On that spring day last year, I emerged from the trees onto a fairly wide stretch of the first gulley covered with snow that was January light. The wind had piled it up into a sweet ditch just wide enough to link together turns in and I laughed with joy as I dropped smoothly from one turn into another.