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East Wall season at Arapahoe Basin has arrived

The Legendary zone has great history, fun facts and...opening soon

By Abhishek Published 2 months ago 3 min read
East Wall season at Arapahoe Basin has arrived
Photo by Glade Optics on Unsplash

The East Wall at Arapahoe Basin has gnarly terrain, a deep history and an awe about it all expert skiers and riders need to experience.

From the Tree Chutes to the Humbugs to the 1984 Camel International Speed Skiing competition to the upcoming IFSA 3-star Big Mountain competition, the East Wall is exactly as A-Basin is — legendary.

But what goes into opening the East Wall?

For one, a lot of bombs, but also a lot of planning, hard work, and proper snow conditions.

"The more we can disrupt the snow and step on every snowflake, the better off the skiing is going to get," three-year veteran Arapahoe Basin Ski Area Patrol Director and 25-year ski patrol veteran Ryan Evanczyk said of prepping the famous terrain.

We don't really boot pack a lot. A lot of our work on the East Wall is really done through a lot of heavy explosives work, a lot of heavy ski cutting work and a lot of continuing to disrupt the snow with just some skiing."

Yet even with terrain expansions like Montezuma Bowl, The Beavers and Steep Gullies, Evanczyk still believes the East Wall is truly "something special" and that's why he and his ski patrol team go through the effort each season to ensure the zone's terrain is good to go for guests.

One hurdle the East Wall needs to overcome initially is a base. Without enough snow, especially working with Colorado's dry, cold and shallow-accumulation-levels snow, the zone cannot open safely.

The lower section in the zone, known as Land of Giants, is a large boulder field. Evanczyk said this zone, along with the steeper terrain above on the East Wall, needs between 40-50 inches base before ski patrol teams will start working in earnest to get the terrain rideable.

Bombs away and slicing the slope
Once the snow starts filling in, however, ski patrol starts shooting the zone with one of the ski area's avalaunchers from an area Evanczyk calls "the shooting gallery" before ever stepping into the terrain.

Next up is work called "hand routes" where patrollers work from the top of the terrain down on trails mostly facing north. Patrollers will carry out small hand charges in order to mitigate avalanches the best they can. They will also ski cut the slopes in order to disrupt the natural snowpack, disrupting the natural avalanche cycles by "churning up and mucking up the snow and different layers" which minimizes slab size.

"We actually try and get avalanches by ski cutting because some times the force required to create an avalanche is more easily triggered by ski patrollers ski cutting than shots or explosives," Evanczyk said.

To put into perspective the difference an explosive's effect on a slope is versus a ski cut, a 2-pound hand charge will explode an area of snow approximately 300 square-feet (30x30 feet) disrupting the snow in a small area, where as a ski cut can cut hundreds of square feet across a slope, having a greater affect in mitigating the slope for avalanches.

From the ski area adding new terrain to managing Montezuma Bowl for winter 2007-08 to losing his mentor and good friend Leif Eric Borgeson in February 2011 to becoming patrol director in 2020, Evanczyk laughed when I asked him about some stories he'd be willing to share of oddities and challenges.

One of the things I've learned throughout my entire career is you learn to expect the unexpected, and complacency will put you in a bad spot," he said. Evanczyk has spent his entire patrol career at Arapahoe Basin.

"My biggest focus throughout my entire career as far as dealing with avalanches on the East Wall goes is Mother Nature always wins and we do the absolute best we can to keep our patrollers and employees safe, and in turn if we do that the right way, we will keep our guests and public safe."


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