Officially, the name is Arapahoe Basin. But its friends simply call it ďA - Basin.Ē Itís the kind of place you brag about skiing, not, of course, in loud and vulgar tones, but softly, so those who know it instantly understand where you had the courage, and the skill, to enjoy high-altitude snow.

High altitude? A-Basin begins higher than where almost every other soaring western ski resort leaves off. The base elevation is 10,780 feet. Once youíre acclimated to this altitude be grateful that the vertical is only 1,670 feet. Which, of course, means that when you edge off the Lenawee lift youíre at the 12,450-foot level, the highest point served by a ski lift in North America. Having caught your breath, look up, and you may see a few hearty souls climbing to the 13,050-foot summit of A-Basin on the spine of the Continental Divide to hurtle down never-groomed double - black-diamond cliffs to where trails begin.

Not to fret. There are enough double-black chutes, bowls, powder fields, and glades reachable by lifts to challenge the expert you think you are. Donít lose your nerve. Itís embarrassing to take off your skis and hike down to the few easier trails. There are some. In fact, a generous 10 percent of A-Basinís terrain is for beginners. Only a modest 40 percent of the marked trails is for the dedicated demons of the dazzling descent. The rest of the areaís 490 acres can actually be handled by competent intermediates.

We found it helpful when, on our first visit to this spectacular area - only a five-minute shuttle ride from Keystone, a destination resort where

we were enjoying a ski holiday - new skiers were invited on a guided tour of the mountain. Before we began, however, the tour organizer didnít ask how good we were.

He pointed to one guide waving to us at the bottom of a black-dia - mond chute, and a second waiting on an intermediate trail.

ďSki to one of them for your tour,Ē he called out. ďThatís the kind of terrain youíll ski. Go for it.Ē

When you want to give your legs and lungs a rest, while frolicking on the slopes of A-Basin, relax and enjoy the fantastic view. The soaring, rugged peaks are riveting.

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