by: Bryon Dorr
The Gems & Brews Tour was a 2-week (2/11-25/2013) ski pilgrimage devoted to sampling some of the best small mountain resorts, fine craft beers, spirits and food across Colorado. Over those 2-weeks I visited 5 Colorado Gem mountain resorts, 13 breweries, 3 distilleries, 1 hot spring, 5 bars, 4 hotels, spent 3 nights with friends, Sportsmobile camped 4 nights, went cat skiing and had my first proper snowmobile adventure. A very packed schedule full of awesome! The tour was a collaboration between CO Ski Country USA and Exploring Elements. The idea is to give you a small taste of what you can expect when you explore these spectacular Colorado locations. Don’t overlook the Gems!
MOUNTAIN: 960 acres of skiable terrain with 2,270’ of vertical (10,780’-13,050’) consisting of 10% Green/30% Blue/60% Black trails getting 350” of average annual snowfall accessed by 8 lifts (1 detachable quad, 1 fixed quad, 1 fixed triple, 3 fixed doubles, 2 surface) with the longest run being 1.5 miles long and operations from mid October through June+.
Adult Full Day Regular Season Lift Ticket: $79
The “Legend” goes by many names, A-Basin, The Basin or its official title Arapahoe Basin. In the end, all you need to know is that this little mountain resort high above Denver, on the backside of Loveland Pass, is the place to find snow, amazing terrain and fun people for 9+ months a year! With a season that goes from October to June, and beyond, A-Basin has one of the longest ski seasons in the US and hosts one of the most rockin’ parking lot ski parties in the nation, “The Beach.” It is such a big scene that 10 of the spots are reserved and sold through a reservation system. It’s a great place to celebrate special occasions or just kick it with friends throughout the ski season, and especially in the spring when the costumes, debauchery and BBQ really get going.
The first thing you’ll notice when arriving at A-Basin is the steep amazing terrain that towers over the resort. With 60% of the mountain covered in expert terrain you can be sure that you’ll find a line that will push your personal boundaries. The all-mountain freestyle terrain at A-Basin is second to none. The amazing wind lips off Cornice Run and rocky knolls near West Gully are the places to huck till your hearts content. In 2007 the resort expanded its expert terrain 80% with the addition of Montezuma Bowl, 400 acres of diverse backside terrain that offers up steep open bowls and technical trees. A wide variety of lifts gain you access to the goods for all ability levels, with a central high-speed quad getting you up the mountain quickly, allowing you to put in the laps. A-Basin has not forgotten about the families that love it’s snow and local vibe, as they recently added a number of kids programs, a kid’s terrain park and the super beginner friendly Pica learning area.
Probably the best place to meet friends and family, of all snow riding ability, and take a moment to soak in the mountain views, is the mid mountain Black Mountain Lodge. It can be found at the top of the Black Mountain Express high-speed quad and offers; free wifi, a cafeteria and bar. Be sure to enjoy a cold one on the large outdoor deck on a sunny A-Basin day and soak in the surrounding towering peaks. Another way to enjoy the Black Mountain Lodge is to take advantage of one of the moonlight gourmet dinner events throughout the year. Depending on the event, you have options to take the lift, snowshoe or ski to and from the Lodge, a unique, fun and delicious way to enjoy A-Basin.
A-Basin embraces uphill skiing throughout the season, as it is free to earn your turns at the resort. All they ask is that you get yourself a FREE uphill pass so that they can go over the rules and keep everyone safe. This is a great way to work on your backcountry skills in a controlled environment. The resort even offers a free inbounds beacon search practice area. Having the Black Mountain Lodge at the top of the climb is a nice little bonus!
In the end, A-Basin offers up some of the steepest terrain, best open bowls, amazing natural freestyle features, a ton of annual natural snowfall and one of the longest seasons in the country. Combine all that with a great local vibe, close proximity to Denver and the ongoing party scene that is “The Beach” and you have a winner all the way around.
Breck Brewing is the 3rd oldest brewery in CO and just turned 23. It is also one of the largest, with about 61,000 barrels coming out of their Breckenridge and Denver facilities, with 33 state distribution. The original brewery and pub in Breckenridge is the “church of beer,” as all the brew tanks behind the bar look like a giant church organ. It is the perfect place for the after ski crowds from A-Basin, Keystone and Breckenridge. It has a great ski village, downtown walking vibe. While the Avalanche Amber is the best in-state seller, I really appreciate the smooth Vanilla Porter, which accounts for the most out of state sales. The oldest brew is the heavy and thick Oatmeal Stout, while the most refreshing is the Belgian Agave Wheat, a fruity and spicy brew that wakes up your taste buds. While Breck Brewing offers a full menu, the bison burger and tots is a hard combo to beat.
Dillon Dam offers a big wide-open bar/restaurant, that lets you bask in the majestic mountain views from Dillon while simultaneously showcasing the brewing process, as there is a huge patio on one side of the bar and a self guided brew tour balcony along the other. The food and beer menus are extensive at Dillon Dam, which has been serving up the goods for 16yrs. It offers 9-13 beers on tap including Sweet George’s Brown, a smooth creamy beer that goes down easy, and McLuhr’s Irish Stout, a very velvety thick beer with a malty sweet finish. The food is plentiful in options and portion. I highly recommend the mac & cheese with blackened chicken, a warm hearty comfort food to refuel with after a long day on the mountain. With great scenery, free wifi, a location just off the highway and the many amazing brews, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to Dillon Dam after hitting the slopes of A-Basin.
HOT TIP: Be sure to check out Dillon Dam Brewery when they offer ski movies and other film premiers on their huge projection screen.
Pug Ryan’s offers an old school mountain bar/restaurant atmosphere, complete with natural wood beams, stuffed bison heads, wooden toboggans, great beer and an extensive food menu. It is situated just off I-70 in Dillon, just up the hill by the lake. They’ve been brewing since 1996, offer 11 beers on tap and recently invested heavily in a large brewery expansion, including their own canning line. The Pallavicini Pilsner, named after the A-Basin ski run, is the brewery’s most popular brew, but don’t overlook their specialty beers like the Whiskey Aged Hellesbock, a tasty creation that is aged 3 months in Breckenridge Distilling whiskey barrels. Probably my favorite brew on the entire Gems & Brews tour was the Gorilla Vanilla Stout, a very complex and strong brew that contains Jim Beam, Frangelico, Meyer’s Rum and vanilla bean extract. I’m not sure how you can beat $2.50 micro brew pints 7 days a week, from 3-6pm. Ask about the story of Pug Ryan, it’s a doozy!
Backcountry is located in Frisco, a great little town nestled between I-70, Dillon Lake and the mountains. Just 3 months ago they greatly expanded their brewery. With the expansion they are now looking to increase distribution outside the local area and put out about 3,000 barrels of beer this year. The brewery was started in 1996 and offers 5 year-round beers on tap, and a few seasonals to keep things interesting. They are known for their strong IPA style Pale Ale and Breakfast Stout, with its strong locally sourced coffee flavor. If you’re looking for an effortless easy drinking beer after a long day on the slopes I highly recommend the Wheat. My pallet enjoyed the full-bodied Red and strong Porter, which has lots of chocolate flavor and a complex finish. The pub offers a basic menu that features really good freshly made pizza. I recommend the Lumberjack, a meat extravaganza that will satisfy your inner carnivore. Free wifi and a great happy hour, $2.50 pints and ½ price apps, 3-6 Mon-Fri and all day Sunday, are the icing on the cake of this great little mountain brewery.
Keystone is only a few miles down the road from Arapahoe Basin and offers the closest lodging to the resort. Key to the Rockies Lodging Company will sort you out with accommodations that will match your needs and budget. I stayed in the Slopeside Lodge at Keystone and loved the small apartment like setup. It felt cozy, had everything you could need, was located at the base of Keystone resort and had nice big properly hot hot tubs to relax in after a long day on the slopes.
A HUGE thanks goes out to Colorado Ski Country USA for putting this tour together and supporting these awesome Gem resorts. Thanks also to the quality staff at Arapahoe Basin Mountain Resort for sharing their incredible resort and local hospitality. Of course the Gems & Brews tour wouldn’t have been the same without the amazing local Colorado beers, spirits and food to enjoy and refuel with after a long day on the mountain. Colorado is full of fascinating people, places and businesses. Get out there and explore them!