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Postcard from Steamboat 1
By JC, Cub Reporter

“Snow.” That’s the best one-word description of my week at Steamboat, which ended on January 21, 2011. When I arrived, the snows had already been record breaking. Throughout the week another 2 feet or so fell, so that the mountain was reporting a total snowfall of 235 inches, with a 69-inch base. Not bad.

Steamboat, the ski area, is located about 3 miles from the town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It is reached by a 3 to 4 hour drive from the Denver airport. I was with a group, and traveled by charter bus. (If you are planning to drive, you might want to know that the bus took I-70 to highway 9, avoiding Berthoud pass.)

Steamboat offers 2,965 acres of trails and glades, served by 16 lifts. Its base is 6,900 feet and rises 3,484 feet to a peak of 10,384. The lifts are mostly high-speed quads; initial access is mainly through a gondola. Despite the fact that my stay spanned a three-day weekend, I never saw a significant lift line.

Steamboat is famous for its glades. I was in heaven as I floated through a foot or so of powder in the glades off of Tomahawk. That whole area is home to blue cruisers and many groves of nicely-spaced trees that kept me amused for a great period of time. My favorite run was a glade adjacent to Ramrod.

The 37th Annual Cowboy Downhill at Steamboat Springs. Photo provided by JC.

As it happens, I was there for the 37th annual Cowboy Downhill, an event that had spectators filling gondola square and lining the fences up the hill to watch top professional cowboys race down a course around gates and over a jump, ending with lassoing a person and saddling a horse, all on the clock. Some were accomplished skiers, while others were clearly beginners; many reached the finish line only after abandoning their skis and running the rest of the course. Finally, all of the contestants returned to the top for the final event: “the stampede,” in which they raced simultaneously to be the first at the bottom. While they weren’t all good on skis, it was clear that the contestants were all tough and fun-loving.

The ski area has many hotels and condos at its base. I stayed in the venerable Ptarmigan Inn. While the rooms show their age and are a bit small, the Ptarmigan is great place to stay, and I would go there again without hesitation. It is truly ski-in / ski-out, it has a good restaurant that is not outrageously priced, and it has a nice comfy lobby with a constantly-burning fireplace, soft chairs, and two computers for open use. It also has free wi-fi in the rooms and lobby (and wired internet in the rooms, too). But the best reason to stay at the Ptarmigan Inn is the staff. They are outrageously nice and helpful, often asking if I wanted things before I thought to ask. (For example, I am writing this now using an extension cord to charge my laptop since there is no outlet next to my favorite chair in the lobby; that cord was offered by the staff without me asking.) Their restaurant, which features a pleasing breakfast buffet, is also staffed with attentive people. The ski-in / ski-out access is complemented by a free ski check just inside, manned 24 hours a day.

The base around the gondola has the usual assortment of restaurants, bars, and sporting goods stores. A yurt at the top of the gondola houses New Stix Technology and Sales Center, a ski and board shop perfectly situated for renting demos.

Eating on the mountain is a pricey affair, which is hardly a surprise. My modest lunches always cost about $12. While I like things a bit spicy, I found the spicing in the chili and chicken curry to be excessive.

Despite the fact that it closes at 6:00, I enjoyed the Gondola Pub & Grill (in the gondola square) for dinner, eating from their lunch menu and taking in the daily live music that plays from 4:00 to 6:00. The meals in the Ptarmigan Inn’s “Snowbird” restaurant were good. I had one dinner at La Montaña, about a block from the base. While the Tex-Mex food there is OK, the high price does not seem justified. Below La Montaña is the convenient Market on the Mountain that offers groceries, baked goods, deli sandwiches, salads, liquor, and sundries. (For the budget conscious, stocking up here is a good alternative to buying food on the mountain.)

Frequent free buses will take you between the base and Steamboat Springs. Steamboat Springs is a real town with a satisfying collection of restaurants and shops, most arrayed along Lincoln Avenue, the main street. I ate at the Canton Chinese Restaurant (on Lincoln), which I found to be quite good. If you are interested in unusually fun women’s clothing and jewelry, check out the Moose Mountain Trading Company, also on Lincoln Ave.

The weather for my week at Steamboat was unusual for Colorado, in that it was cloudy most of the time. That often led to flat light and fog (since the mountain is high enough to be in the clouds). While that did slow me down, the snow that accompanied the clouds certainly made them worth it. Highs in town were upper twenties to low thirties; the mountain seemed to be spared any melting. The winds were mostly calm, but the top was blown out at least one afternoon. One lift ride had me pelted with sleet. The principal result was lots and lots of snow, which was hard to argue with. We had some powder every morning; one day began with at least half a foot of fresh snow, with more added throughout the day.

For all the unusual weather, the trip was wonderful, and I am smiling now in my tired, satisfied state.

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Reader Comments

The Colonel
January 23, 2011
I was there in Feb. 2009 during the Steamboat Winter Carnival (usually early Feb.), and well worth seeing. But I digress, the best way to avoid the 3-4 hour car or bus trip from Denver is to ski into the Hayden/Steamboat Springs jet airport. Many major airlines offer flights and the airport is a short 20-30 shuttle run from the slopes.
Quite a place.
The Colonel

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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