Just as this past ski season kicked off, my wife quit her job at the behemoth ski company she was employed with and away went my free season pass.
Immediately, with that change in her career path, I was cast into the mind numbing abyss of deciding which pass to get. If you’re not from Colorado, it may be hard to understand the full gravity of this situation, but deciding where to direct your ski alliances is a huge deal. People can actually lose friends over this kind of stuff.
Among the considerations a person must ponder when choosing a pass are things like quality of terrain, length of typical season, typical lift queue waits, price of pass, availability of free parking, snow fall averages, drive time to and from, cost of après activities and most importantly for me, choosing the clientele who I’ll be sharing the piste with. With this abrupt change in Donna’s career, I was faced with having to do this in a matter of hours, not the typical months of intense contemplation, meditation, divine intervention and rigourous vetting amongst peers and spiritual advisors.
Caught off guard and needing to make a quick decision, I used my default position and ended up with the “general ski area coverage” pass where I could ski the resorts in Summit and Eagle Counties I was already familiar with. This “general” pass was priced at a vastly reduced rate from the rack rate of the “full ski area coverage” pass — the one I’d had for free for several years. The only real difference was the full pass would’ve given me a few more days at the most popular resorts (read:crowded) and access to places like Verbier and one or two in Austria where I’d honestly never go to in a typical year.
I’d never really paid much attention to the cost for all those “extras” since it had been free. Now I can kinda see that buying that “full” pass is tantamount to buying all those sexy bells and whistles on a fancy car, you know, the ones you never use. Like insisting on the uber off-road package on that monster SUV when it’ll never be driven off the tarmac.
In hindsight, I now realize making that un-researched, snap pass decision may not have resulted in the best choice for me in terms of maximizing the skiing experience for the price of the pass. What can I say, the snow was already falling and I buckled under the pressure of the moment.
For the fist time in several years, without the decision being made for me where to ski, I started viewing my desired skiing experience in an entirely different way. I also began to realize I’d had a somewhat subconscious pressure to go to certain resorts and sadly, in some way feel that I needed to “fit in”. The fact of the matter is I most oftentimes felt completely out of place.
However, throughout this season, I found myself migrating most weekends to the places I felt most comfortable — A-Basin and the backcountry. This despite having access to some ridiculously posh resorts. In changing the way I viewed my ski days, I no longer felt the need to rally at 04:00 on a Saturday morning to beat the I-70 traffic and secure one of the three available free parking spaces. I no longer felt compelled to ski early and hard so I could get back in the car early enough in the day to beat the traffic home. I realized everything associated with my ski experiences for the past several years had become frantic from start to finish and more times than not, a day with my friends which was meant to be fun and enjoyable was anything but.
So, when the time came this spring to buy my pass for next season, the choice was pretty clear. As clear as the decision was on the surface though, I still needed to look at the tangibles from the previous season(s) and see what fell out. Don’t judge, this is what we do in Colorado.
According to my detailed collection of datum, I spent more than 83% of my inbound skiing days at A-Basin. There are no luxury hotels adorning the Basin (no hotels period), no swanky overpriced restaurants, no valet parking and consequently they don’t have lift queues so long they’re visible from outer space like many of the other mega resorts.
Best of all, I found I could leave my house later in the morning, pick up my people, drive at a VW Vanagon-esque pace in my Tacoma, arrive unstressed, still park for free (it’s all free at the Basin) and still get in more quality skiing in a given day than I ever did at the places promising me an experience of a lifetime.
On the intrinsic side of my analysis, the thing standing out most in my mind is I truly feel at home at the Basin. You can always find a host of incredible skiers ripping up some impossibly terrifying terrain, always find good music by local artists and always find a fairly priced craft beer along with some tasty food. Best of all, you’ll always find people smiling and laughing. It’s all about the vibe at the Basin.
It’s impossible to stroll through the parking lot or along The Beach and not strike up a fun conversation with a stranger. You’ll likely be offered a beer or brat from the grill or cooler located behind someone’s awesome VW bus, Tacoma, Subaru Outback or some other backcountry worthy rig. Simply enjoying the vibe of the Basin is almost as fun as the skiing itself! This in exact contrast of the mega resorts because grilling and tailgating is generally frowned upon or simply not allowed. And let’s be honest, most of the clientele at those mega resorts aren’t into tailgating.
With all these multi-resort passes being offered, the whole experience is starting to feel a little too much like Facebook. Collecting more and more “friend resorts” that I don’t really like or would never hang out with in real life (Verbier, etc) really doesn’t juice me up all that much so why in the world would I want to pay for it? For me, I want quality, not quantity.
As you’ve probably guessed, next season my allegiance will be solely with the Basin. I love the terrain, love the people who also call A-Basin home and love that I can slow it down and savour every aspect of the experience without sacrificing one shred of the quality. Some people call the Basin a cult. If so, so be it, but I love parking next to a old VW Vanagon loaded with boats, mountain bikes, skis and people who will talk to me and won’t look down their nose at me because I have duct tape on my kit.
Oh, and with the cost of the season pass at about half of what I’d pay for those multi-resort passes, I can still feel good about dropping a little cash love at places like Loveland, Taos, Crested Butte, Whitewater (BC), Monarch or any of the other local areas who are dedicated to keeping it real.
Find your passion. Find your place. Find your people and live your life the way you want, not someone else’s version of it.
It’s okay to be different.