As the chair rose, thousands of sparkles briefly caught the sun in front of me. Tiny snowflakes materialized in the cloudless sky over Steamboat, gilding the lily, then adding imperceptibly to the snow cover.
It was halfway through a week-long vacation in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and I was having the expected good time.
Steamboat is situated in the Routt National Forest, next to the town of Steamboat Springs, a few hours drive northwest of Denver. It rises 3,668 feet over its base at 6,900 feet. 25 lifts serve a good assortment of beginner, intermediate, advanced, and experts-only terrain.
Over the week, I had an opportunity to sample much of the mountain’s surface (with the exception of the double-black terrain, which I’ll leave to others). We had about 3 inches of powder one day, and an inch two more times. The snow was adequate, except on the more popular groomed runs, which got pretty scraped. Indeed, it seemed that an inordinate proportion of the skiers spent their time on the groomed trails, often making the central ones overcrowded and scraped. (But leaving the other trails nicely unpopulated.)
I found a good distribution of groomed and bump territory. But where this mountain really excels is in the tree skiing: the combination of design and nature have provided opportunities aplenty. I had great fun in the trees between runs served by the Sunshine lift (intermediate terrain), and near Triangle 3 of Storm Peak (advanced), on The Ridge and Crowtrack (advanced), all around the area served by Pony Express (advanced), and elsewhere. But the best was to be found in the little back area of Morningside Park. Here, intermediate and advanced skiers can go crazy in glades following roller coasters or making new trails through the perfectly-spaced trees. Here, the quiet of the trees is often interrupted by laughter as everyone has a blast popping from path to path on a slope that is just right.
My favorite runs were two small drop-ins to Morningside, called Jump Start and Hot Cakes. Both are advanced areas through the trees, going from Sunshine Peak over to the back.
Intermediate skiers will find the Sunshine area a delight. It offers many runs, all blue, and most regularly groomed, with opportunities to test out the trees while staying close to open terrain. The traffic there was OK, and I saw no scraped surfaces.
I never waited more than about 5 minutes at a lift (with the possible exception of the gondola first thing in the morning). Usually, the mazes were nearly empty.
I ate on the mountain every day. There are three places for dining on the slopes, all about two thirds of the way up. As one would expect, food on the mountain is pricey (expect to spend $9 to $13 or so for a coke, entree item, and cookie). I favor the taco salad offered upstairs at Rendezvous Saddle; it’s spicy and contains lots of chicken and other good stuff, not merely a pile of lettuce. Their chocolate chip cookies are good.
I stayed in The Lodge, a condo complex located just a block or two away from the Gondola. The Lodge was peopled with an aggressively helpful staff and had buses constantly running between the The Lodge and the gondola base, so that I never waited more than a few minutes for ride between them.
Channel 10 is the local TV station that gives the mountain report (rarely) but is otherwise a torture to watch.
The ski area base has restaurants, equipment and t-shirt shops, and other stores, including a small but well-stocked grocery. The ski area is connected to the town of Steamboat Springs by a 15 minute bus ride (including stops). Downtown offers many more shops and restaurants. Of the ones that we sampled, my favorite restaurant was La Montaña, located a block from the gondola. It was a little pricey, but the Mexican offerings were great. For some good inexpensive food popular with the locals, look for Azteca downtown (on Lincoln, the main road through town, between 4th and 5th). And be sure to go to the wonderful book store, cafe, and bakery called Off the Beaten Path, located on 7th street, one half a block toward the river from Lincoln. Leave room for the baked goods and time to peruse the books.
For a change, we elected to spend one day snowshoeing on Howelsen. Howelsen ski area is adjacent to the town of Steamboat Springs. It claims to be the oldest ski area in continuous use in Colorado, has a huge natural ski jumping complex, and has served as the training ground for many Olympians and hall-of-fame skiers. In addition to ski slopes and jumps, Howelsen boasts many cross-country trails. Howelsen is separated from downtown by a river, which is crossed by a footbridge from Yampa, one block from Lincoln. We rented snowshoes for $8 per day at One Stop Ski Shop (729 Yampa, between 7th and 8th streets), just a half block from the bridge. At the lodge at Howelsen’s base, we got a trail map, and tromped off on the cross-country trails. This was a great way to get away from the crowds: the only people we met seemed to be locals.
This was my second winter trip to Steamboat. I had a good time, and will likely return in a few years.