There are those skiers who take a special moment each April to pack away their gear for the summer. While they put a layer of storage wax on their ski bases, dry their boot bladders and check their parkas for forgotten $5 bills, they reminisce about the season that was. These people will smile as they close the door on their ski season¿and have no idea what they're missing.
Meanwhile, those of us who don't compartmentalize life so rigidly will be congregating in the Early Bird parking lot of Colorado's Arapahoe Basin, setting up our barbecues and portable hot tubs, and buckling up for some of the best late-season skiing in the world. With A-Basin's Norway lift clearing 12,470 feet, the snow here doesn't just survive the spring, it flourishes. So much so, in fact, that just because you're showing up in early May doesn't mean you'll be skiing in shorts; in these parts it's been known to dump up to 3 feet of fluff well after the vernal equinox.
There are two central points of local pride during A-Basin's late season: the fact that the area occasionally stays open through the Fourth of July, and the continuing party that takes place every afternoon in the ski area's parking lot. (Skiing on the Fourth of July here is just like your typical backyard Independence Day bash¿only with the constant risk of a blazing snowball to the head.)
Most of the late-season skiing at A-Basin is above treeline. As such, you should expect classic Colorado corn snow, which improves over the course of a sunny day. Don't let the possibility of uploading the Exhibition lift deter you; there's an entire high-alpine bowl of hero snow waiting atop both the Norway and Lenawee lifts. Those looking for air should check the cornice rimming the West Wall, and bump fiends should traverse past the cornice to the remainder of the famous Slalom slope. You won't be disappointed.
In the tradition of classic late-season ski meccas such as New Hampshire's Tuckerman Ravine, the Basin in spring is awash with dogs, Frisbees, burgers, bikini tops and beer. A-Basin is located in one of the country's most densely packed ski regions, with locals from Aspen to Breckenridge congregating here every weekend in celebration of the sport. It's an experience not to be missed by anyone who considers the summer simply as that time when lift tickets get cheaper.
1998 Closing: Date June 21
Summer Terrain: 250 acres (nearly 50 percent of the mountain)
Lift Ticket: About $25, starting April 12
Don't Miss: The 2nd Annual Summer Solstice Splash on June 19, which features the Lake Reveal Crossing, where contestants attempt to ski 50 yards across the glacier lake located in A-Basin's Dercum's Gulch. Entry is free.
Contact: (888) 272-7246; www.arapahoebasin.com