Let’s start with getting to the mountain. The parking area at A-Basin is a bouncy barren gravel lot with a stream running through it in spring. It’s also free. At Aspen skiers get dropped off in spotless environmentally-friendly buses or pay big bucks at the boom gate for a heated concrete space that doesn’t need shovelling at the end of a powder day.
The parking lot experience says everything about the two resort. Aspen is all class where everything is polished to within an inch of its life. There’s free coffee at the start of the day and cool or hot apple cider available after the last run. Hosts can take you on a tour of the mountain and there’s spas and kid’s club available to help relieve the stress of executive life.
Skiers can check their equipment and have their skis or boards transferred to the base of any of Aspen’s four mountains. If there is heavy lifting to do, visitors to Aspen can just pay someone else to do it.
On the other hand, A – Basin skiers have to fend for themselves. There’s no valet parking. Carry your own skies you lazy bums.
Aspen doesn’t do things by half measures, it’s very easy to find FIS standard half pipes and perfect terrain parks. A-Basins terrain parks are very… meh.
Aspen ski patrol mark every hazard on the mountain, and the grooming is perfect. Break out the brand new planks and make sure they match your trendy brand new retro ski suit.
Meanwhile at A-Basin, there’s no need for expensive retro gear when you’’re still using that bright 35 year old one piece from the 80s. Better take a set of rock skis in spring too. A-Basin is famous for opening as late as possible. In good snow years you can ski at A-Basin well into June. At this time, the lear jets are just delivering the moneyed set for the summer.
Both resorts have a great variety of steep terrain, but at A-Basin, it’s very raw. The hike to the top brings skiers out at the Nook chutes. These are pretty intimidating compared to anything Aspen has to offer.
So after the skiing is done, it’s time for a little Apres. At Aspen the drinking starts early with skiers getting on the expensive booze over lunch at Bonnies and downloading on the gondola at the end of the day. The scene at the base of the mountain is a circus. Peacocks parading around with their system filled with Nose Candy is not unusual.
There’s virtually nowhere left in Aspen to find a cheap beer. Little Annies, an old ski bum’s favourite, has a sign up saying “closed forever”. Cooper St Pier, a place where all the ski bums gathered is now a boutique handbag shop. Even the notorious Tippler has been replaced by seriously expensive ski in – ski out condos. Oh the humanity. The Red Onion is the last of the old school hangouts still offering a reasonably priced drink with a non-pretentious atmosphere.
The Apres skiing at A Basin is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Basically it involves pulling out the camp chairs, BBQs, and ice boxes filled with beer and settling in on the grey-coloured snow at the base of the mountain. There’s no airs or graces at A Basin. Beer and Colorado’s newest tourism attraction is passed around by shirtless men and bikini clad women in the grime.
I’m pretty sure A-Basin skiers sit around the carpark celebrating the cheap lift tickets. Advanced purchase discounted 4 packs are available from the resort, and towards the end of the season, these lift tickets can be picked up for about $30 per person on Craigslist. Skiers in Aspen remember the absolute charm of the place long after they forget the small fortune they pay at the ticket window.
If Aspen and A-Basin were plane journeys, the former can be compared to a first class ticket on Emirates, while the latter is on a no reserved seats low cost carrier. How you fly, and where you ski, is up to you.
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