Arapahoe Basin, CO

Old School

There's something wonderfully oxymoronic about A-Basin. It's an easy drive from Colorado's major population centers, but you feel like you're at the end of the earth. It boasts some of the most challenging steeps in Colorado, but it's barely a blip on the national ski radar. It's one of the highest and most forbidding ski areas in the nation, but you're likely to find the parking lot packed with barbecuing - even swimsuit-clad - revelers at the "beach, as the lot's front row is called.

It's a ski area that exists out of time and beyond logic. While the neighboring Vail-owned resorts compete to attract skiers with the fastest lifts and the swankest shops, A-Basin prides itself on its no-frills approach - few amenities, no high-speed lifts, no slopeside lodging. And more important, no crowds and no attitude.

What the mountain does offer is abundant steeps, plunging from an elevation of 13,050 feet - the highest summit elevation in North America. Its lofty perch and resulting cold temperatures conspire to create what many consider to be the best spring skiing in the country and the best expert skiing in the region. Not surprisingly, the area has a cultivated a loyal following. Experts flock to the Pallavicini lift for its steep bowl and treelines; in the spring, the hike-to terrain off the East Wall offers tough-as-you-dare turns.

It's not all for the ultra-rugged, however: This season, new terrain in Montezuma Bowl will add 400 acres of mostly intermediate slopes to the mix. And management has also been working on providing shelter from the notoriously chilly conditions: The area recently converted the old patrol building at the summit into a warming hut, and a new midmountain lodge opened last spring as well.

Since there's no lodging at the resort, your best bet is to stay in nearby Keystone, which offers condos for every taste. Or treat yourself at Keystone's Ski Tip Lodge, an old stagecoach-stop-turned-10-room inn that offers neither phones nor TV in the rooms but features a charmingly European vibe, friendly service and, best of all, a cookie jar in the cabinet next to Room Five. The Ski Tip's restaurant is a ski-town favorite. In Keystone, try Paisano's for a good pasta dinner or the high-end Alpenglow Stube, at the top of the Keystone gondola, for an unforgettable evening.