Arapahoe Basin vs Vail: On the Character of a Place

A-basin ski area whiteout

Spent the morning at Arapahoe Basin today.

(Feeling about 70 percent back from that concussion. It was a conservative day.)

A-basin is a small ski area tucked away on the backside of Loveland Pass. It’s well-known here in Colorado for its unusually long ski season— A-basin is often the first ski area in Colorado to open for the season and the last to close. “The snow sucks but the people watching’s great,” is usually the way locals will choose to describe late-season skiing to you as you make small talk on a chairlift. It’s not unusual to see people grilling and skiing in t-shirts at the A-basin base as summer slowly melts away the previous year’s ski season.

Arapahoe Basin is more of a local’s place

You don’t see much international tourism to A-basin; really, they don’t even want it. There’s no lodging at the base, and parking is free. There are only a few chairlifts. They don’t have the fancy RFID scanners that Vail does— here, a man in a parka needs to scan the barcode on your season pass. A day-pass lift ticket costs $60, not $160 like it does at Vail. It’s archaic.

There’s something purer about A-Basin

Vail Resorts (MTN) understands how to run a business— just look at their stock curve:

10 year MTN stock quote

Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz has been described to me as “Kind of a dick.” Not surprising his company’s doing so well then. I just bought some stock.

With that said, there’s a reason Vail Resorts let go of Arapahoe Basin in 1997, after previously owning the ski area. A-Basin is out of character for the Vail experience.

The people who ski Arapahoe Basin are relaxed in a different way than you find in a resort town. The people you find at A-basin are everyday folks who enjoy skiing and the outdoor lifestyle on their days off, not the forced veneer of cheer and polished service that you find in a resort town like Vail.

Although A-basin has a reputation as a difficult mountain which actively discourages beginners, I spent the day snowboarding with an old friend who had only been twice prior, and he looked like he was having the time of his life. No long lift lines, no expensive restaurants; nothing fancy. We had a great time.

A-basin base area black mountain express

A low-key guy who doesn’t use social media much, he asked me to take a picture of him at the base.

It was a purer day than any I’ve had at Vail.

A Local’s Guide to Recreational Marijuana in Vail, Colorado

Native Roots Eagle Vail

“You’re from Colorado huh? How are those new weed laws treating you?”

Colorado Flag Pot Leaf

This is the first thing anyone ever asks me when I leave the state. No one wants to know about anything in Colorado except the recreational marijuana. Prior to the passage of Amendment 64 that question was “oh you’re from Colorado, do you guys like ski and snowboard every day?” (only the really lucky among us).

Since most of my readers are from outside of Colorado, allow me to answer the above question for you.

Marijuana has been a part of life in Colorado as far back as I was aware.

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, it was more uncommon to find someone who didn’t smoke than to find someone who did. Now Boulder is “nine square miles surrounded by reality,” as the saying goes, but I’ve lived up and down the front range and now in the mountains, and this attitude isn’t limited to Boulder. When someone in Colorado asks you if you smoke, they’re usually not talking about cigarettes.

Recreational Marijuana has changed little in Colorado. It’s unobtrusive and it’s convenient. It’s expensive. It matters more to the tourists than it does to the locals.

Marijuana tourism is a huge industry here in Colorado, and the shops have only been open for a year. Tourists are allowed to purchase marijuana products, but are restricted to a quarter of an ounce. Let me reassure you: if you are the type of person who is traveling to Colorado to buy your weed, a quarter of an ounce will be plenty.

A guide to marijuana tourism in Vail

  1. Marijuana is technically illegal to use on Vail Mountain and in the town of Vail
  2. There are no recreational marijuana shops in Vail
  3. Neither of these things present a significant challenge if you want to check out Colorado’s pot shops while you are on vacation in Vail.

Can international travelers buy marijuana in Colorado?

Yes. You must be over 21 with valid ID.

How do I purchase marijuana in Colorado?

It’s honestly nothing intimidating— about the same as purchasing beer at a liquor store. Upon entering the store, you will be required to show a valid driver’s license to prove you are over the age of 21. Recreational marijuana sales are limited to those above the age of 21. Those underage cannot even enter the stores.

Most stores won’t take down your information or put you into any sort of database, so you don’t have to worry about being tracked or entrapped or whatever else your paranoid mind will can come up with after you’ve indulged in a joint or two. I have not heard of any stores in the Vail Valley which take permanent customer records.

After your ID is verified, you may be asked to wait in a lobby if the store is busy, or you may be shown into the bud room. If you have to wait, the dispensary will usually have menus and educational material available for your perusal. I would suggest reading the edible education card, lest you end up like hapless NYT columnist Maureen Dowd.

Tips on edible dosage

Once you are allowed into the bud room, you will wait in line and eventually talk to a budtender at the counter. This person can educate you on the wide variety of marijuana products available. This selection can be a little overwhelming for some people. As a tourist, stay away from some of the more gimmicky products, such as lotions and bath soaks, as these can be both gimmicky and expensive. Pre-rolled joints and vaporizer pens are safe, simple choices.

Make sure to factor a 30 percent tax onto any prices which are told to you— this hefty tax rate is used to support Colorado schools and other public works. It is a huge part of how Amendment 64 got passed and is a necessary evil at this point.

Where can I buy legal weed in Vail?

The town of Vail has no recreational marijuana shops as of January 2015. However, there are several only five minutes down the road in nearby Eagle-Vail. Many tourists charter taxis over to the shops. Some shops, such as Native Roots in Eagle-Vail, have partnered directly with taxi companies to make things even easier.

The Eagle-Vail dispensaries are the closest to Vail Mountain, but there are many other options throughout the Vail Valley, including in Eagle and Edwards. There are also a few recreational pot shops in Glenwood Springs, if you fancy a soak in the world’s largest hot springs pool after a few days skiing on the mountain has worn out your legs.

steamy hot springs winter night Glenwood Springs Colorado

The Glenwood Hot Springs is only a one hour drive from Vail, and an excellent way to close out your trip provides an interactive, searchable map and database of the shops in the Vail Valley area, as well as elsewhere around CO.

How do I pay for recreational marijuana?

Cash, credit or debit are accepted at most shops. If a shop is cash-only they will always provide an ATM. You should not need to worry about this aspect.

Can I make a late-night run for pot?

No. Colorado law requires all transactions at these recreational marijuana shops to be closed before 7:00 p.m. This means that you should arrive no later than 6:30— the shop cannot legally sell you anything after 7:00 p.m., even if you are waiting in line.

What is the price of recreational marijuana in Colorado?

You can expect to pay 10-15 dollars for a joint of good quality bud, with occasional discounts or specials available.

Edibles will generally run between 10 and 35 dollars, depending on the concentration of THC. For a casual user, a 10mg dose of THC is usually more than enough to get quite stoned. The strongest edible legally allowed in Colorado is a 100 mg package. Be sure to examine the packaging or ask the budtender about the strength of the edible you are purchasing.

Marijuana by weight tends to cost around $20 a gram and $50-70 for an eighth of an ounce. The price you may have paid in high school, if you were buying illegally. Marijuana in the Vail Valley is extra pricey, like almost everything else in the area. Side effect of so many affluent tourists coming through. Prices are somewhat lower in other areas of the state.

If you are from Colorado many places will offer a local’s discount or an exemption on sales tax, so be sure to ask about that.

You can peruse the menu of the Eagle Vail Native Roots dispensary online to get a more thorough picture of product pricing.

Can I fire up a joint on the chairlift?

Legally: no. Practically: yes. While marijuana consumption is technically illegal on ski resort property, no one is going to bother you about it unless you are being a jackass. Be considerate of other people and the fact that a ski resort is a family destination, and you should be fine.

Where can I smoke weed in Vail?

Technically, if you are a tourist staying in a hotel, nowhere. Smoking marijuana in public is still illegal under Colorado law, and there are no cafes or bars which allow the activity yet. (One cafe in Nederland does allow indoor smoking but Nederland is a town full of old hippies and I’m pretty sure local authorities are kind of just looking the other way on it). But, as I said in the previous section: if you are reasonably discreet and not causing a public nuisance, you generally will not be bothered. Vail wants your money too much to make harassing you a priority.

In 2014 Vail police handed out only 19 citations for public consumption of marijuana, roughly one point five a month. So again, let me emphasize: be considerate and discreet, and you should be fine. If you know a local, you can smoke in their place of residence.

Marijuana is part of the ski town culture in a lot of ways, so although Vail does not like to emphasize it, it is there and it is accessible.

(As are many other substances rich people often indulge in, but that’s a post for another day).

Can I take recreational marijuana home with me?

If you are flying back home, then no. If you try, you will get caught. Period.

If you drove to Colorado and plan on driving back to your home state, then you could try and risk it. Bringing recreational pot outside of Colorado is illegal, but as you can imagine it does happen. Cops and state patrol in neighboring states are quite aware of marijuana bleeding out of Colorado, so be extra careful to properly seal your products and follow all rules of the road. It’s not the smartest idea, but if you think it’s worth the risk you’re welcome to try. Just don’t say I told you to.

If you have any other questions you’d like answered, leave them in the comments. I’ll respond.


2014 Vail Opening Day Conditions Report

Vail Opening Day conditions

I don’t think I can adequately express what an incredible day it is when the ski mountain in your town opens.

I have been thinking about Vail mountain almost nonstop ever since I moved to the town of Vail in August. When off-season hit in October, the mountain loomed larger. When we got our first tiny little snows, I started dreaming about skiing. I drove 40 miles to Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin on two separate days last week just to try and scratch the itch. The skiing was OK. It was nothing like today.

 Today, November 21, 2014, was opening day for Vail Resort.

I woke up at 8 a.m. and jumped on my girlfriend while yelling “OPENING DAY!” Somehow I didn’t get kicked. We leisurely made breakfast and got dressed for the day. We walked a few hundred feet to the nearby free bus stop, and rode a bus full of excited skiers and riders to the mountain. We arrived around 10 a.m. to an almost non-existent line at the base. The lift attendant pointed a RFID reader in our vicinity, and we were headed up. I can’t even explain THE FUCKING CONVENIENCE.

Vail Opening Day Conditions Report

The conditions for Vail’s opening day 2014 were all that you could ask for. Multiple skiers and boarders stopped us on the mountain to incredulously ask “Can you believe it’s this good on opening day?!” There was powder aplenty on the higher sections of the mountain, which is a real rarity on opening day at a ski resort.

Seven lifts were open:

Vail Gondola One

Napping between runs in heated Gondola One.

  • Gondola One out of Vail Village
  • Eagle Bahn Gondola out of Lionshead Village
  • Avanti Express
  • Born Free Express
  • Little Eagle
  • Wildwood Express
  • Lionshead Carpet beginner surface lift
Vail Ski Map

Vail Mountain Trail Map

VAIL CONDITIONS UPDATE DECEMBER 1, 2014: The Vail back bowls have begun to open for the 2014 ski season. The Sun Up Bowl and Sun Down Bowl are both open, with word coming from Vail Resorts that the China Bowl will be open soon! Get out there and make some trails in the Legendary Vail Back Bowls!

The full list of what ski runs are open on Vail can be found here.

The lower runs were fairly trafficked and icy. The trails down to the Vail Village Gondola One (which has wifi and heated leather seats, jesus) and the Eagle Bahn Gondola were all-bad, not-good, practically no fun. Transitioning out of some edge-of-run powder onto these groomers made me wince involuntarily, more than once.

All said though, conditions on the mountain were great. If you are considering paying a visit to Vail for opening weekend, I would aim to come on Sunday, as there’s a big storm which is supposed to start dumping on the Vail Ski Area around the end of the ski day on Saturday. Sunday should be a powder day, if there is any luck with us here on Vail opening weekend.

Luckily, I don’t have to make those sorts of decisions. If you don’t know already, let me tell you: commuting to ski is the absolute worst thing you will find yourself unable to stop doing. Short of cocaine.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive I-70

I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder’s a great town, and relatively close to the mountains. When you live in Boulder and want to go skiing, here’s what you do:

  1. Pack all of your gear into the car on Friday night, and go to bed as early as physiology will allow.
  2. Wake incredibly early on Saturday morning— up way before physiology will allow.
  3. Brew three thermoses of coffee to try and overcome your unavoidable grogginess.
  4. Get in the car and start driving before the coffee’s even cool enough to drink
  5. Spend three hours in traffic up, because apparently even though you hit the road at 5:45 a.m., everyone else got an earlier start than you. Also none of them know how to drive in snow. Interstate-70’s 70 mph speed limit becomes a cruel joke.
  6. You really need a bathroom because you drank all that coffee but there’s no fucking way you’re getting off the highway.
  7. You finally arrive at your resort, where hopefully you don’t have to pay for parking.
  8. You pay $70-$120 for a life ticket, depending on where you’re going.
  9. You rush to the slopes, ski until last chair to make the interminable drive worth it
  10. Get in your car at 4, absolutely exhausted.
  11. Sit in traffic for four hours getting home (assuming there are no road closures or accidents)
  12. Hate your life/ wish you were still skiing

It’s horrid. People from out of state tend to ask “Oh, you’re from Colorado? Do you guys like ski and snowboard every day?” No. No we don’t because I-70 is where souls go to die.

Living in a ski town

None of that is an issue when you’re living in a ski town. I cannot overstate how much of a difference this makes.

We took a bus into town, got to the mountain late, left early, and were out only $5 for a coffee break. Not that this is normal for Vail (as I’ve discussed before, Vail is very good at making you spend money), but it’s also totally possible.

Living in a ski town is awesome. Period. Full stop.

Early Season Skiing — Opening Day at Breck 2014

Arapahoe Basin vista

Things were looking a little scary there for Colorado’s ski season. A week into November, we had yet to receive any serious snow in the high country. Breckenridge Ski Resort pushed back their opening day indefinitely; skiers slipped and slid over artificial ice at Arapahoe Basin and Keystone, but no one looked like they were having much fun.

And then last week, three storms hit in such close succession that they may as well have been one week-long snowstorm. The mountains got drenched in powder; my arms got tired from shoveling so much snow; and ski season was officially upon us.

You can’t ask for a much better opening day than Breckenridge got in 2014.

I took a half day to go hit up the festivities— the storm pounding on Vail Pass didn’t provide me with much more opportunity. Vail Pass is a fairly gradual and well-engineered mountain road through the Gore Range, but it can still be quite dicey during a storm. Best to avoid traveling it, even for skiing.

Note that I say best to avoid it, not required.

This picture will NEVER stop being funny

Best picture of the Moab trip, for sure.

I bravely soared over the pass in the quintessential Colorado car, my Subaru Outback. I don’t fully trust this car— I’m pretty sure I purchased it from a recovering heroin addict, and the last time I took it on a major trip, it died about 20 miles into Arches National Park. But this was OPENING DAY, and I’d been itching to get some turns in.

It was well worth the 40-minute trip, and the pass turned out to be pretty OK. The Subaru pulled through. Maybe I just shouldn’t take it out of CO; it’s very comfortable in its natural habitat.

Breck was surprisingly empty for opening day, with plenty of room on the one run which was open. The brand-new Colorado Superchair was the only lift operating on Friday. There were mixed reviews among my fellow liftees as to the new “magic carpet” at the base of the chair, a high-tech conveyor belt which moves skiiers a grand total of about five feet, before letting them come to a stop and get picked up by the lift. “Designed by some MIT grad,” said one older snowboarder. “Probably looked great as a blueprint, just gonna cause more trouble.”

Top of the Colorado Superchair lift at Breckenridge Ski Resort

I was too busy hitting the slopes to wait for this guy’s butt to get out of my picture

The Colorado Superchair itself worked wonderfully, providing high-speed access to the middle of Breck’s Peak 8. We got nailed in the face by several gun blowing snow on the ride up, but that’s the price you pay to ski opening day. The resort did open several more chairlifts as the weekend progressed, as mother nature decided to make the snowmakers unnecessary. In fact, the ski patrol even opened some new runs around 1:30 p.m., which allowed me to get off the ice-packed main run and carve up some powder, which certainly made the trip more worthwhile.

Overall conditions were good and the atmosphere was sunny. A storm rolled in just as I was leaving, which ended up dumping another foot of snow on the mountain, which would have been awesome to play in had I not needed to traverse a mountain pass to get home.


Not feeling quite satiated with three hours of shredding, I headed to Arapahoe Basin on Sunday with my girlfriend; a Vail Resorts employee who was blacked out at the other resorts. (Although working for a ski resort will earn you a free season pass, you can be subject to blackouts at the resort’s discretion, sometimes without any real notice. Bummer.)

This was a weekend of questionable decision-making for questionable quality of skiing. We again traversed Vail Pass early in the morning, fought icy roads and heavy traffic near Keystone Ski Resort, before heading up the backside of Loveland Pass to reach the A-Basin parking lot, where the skies were a fierce blue and the temperatures below zero.

It was magnificent.

Arapahoe Basin vista

It’s hard to beat A-Basin for views// Luckily the Subaru is functioning here

A-Basin has much more of a fun feel to it than a big ski resort like Vail or Breckenridge. A-Basin is

Pow was there, tempting but off-limits.

Pow was there, tempting but off-limits.

actually a ski area, not a resort. (The difference is that a ski resort has lodging at the bottom or on the mountain, a ski area just has a parking lot).

Tourists don’t come to A-Basin. Although a Vail Resorts Epic Pass will get you entrance to Arapahoe Basin, this fact isn’t advertised very well, and Vail’s EpicMix technology, which gamifies your time on the mountain (and is actually pretty cool), does not work here. Arapahoe Basin is usually the first mountain in CO to open, and the last to close. Skiing for skiing’s sake is very much alive here.

Selfie game was NOT on point. Probably something to do with the zero-degree temperature

Selfie game was NOT on point. Probably something to do with the zero-degree temperature

Unfortunately, the snow was not. We met an old friend of mine at the base, who informed us that he thought he needed to get his board waxed. Terrain was icy and very early-season on Sunday, despite the several feet of snow that had fallen over the weekend. Freezing temperatures and the high winds inherent with the mountain pass location combined to eliminate some of the great fortune which Mother Nature had blessed us with. However, we still had a great time, logging another solid half day before responsibilities came calling.

All in all it was a great way to get my legs under me before Vail opens this Friday. Look for a condition report on Friday afternoon or evening.