Trip Report: Steamboat Springs 3
By Joe M., Guest Author

Steamboat Springs is world-renowned for Champagne Powder® snow. It’s a light, sparkly snow that is like a soft cotton blanket. In late November 2001, I found a terrific price ($210) for a flight from Dulles to Denver. As of today, the price is only $178! After reserving a room using my associate discount only a mile away from the slopes, I was set. I went to Steamboat Springs from January 6th, 2002 to January 11th, 2002. This trip report rather than being presented chronologically is formatted categorically: logistics, skiing, around town and helpful hints.

Logistics:

I flew into Denver. It’s a 3 - 4 hour drive through the mountains to Steamboat. I looked into a connection from Denver to Steamboat (Hayden) and it would have cost an additional $200. In retrospect, Continental flies directly from Newark to Hayden. This may be a better option to skip the mountain drive. It’s an awesome (albeit tedious and desolate at times) drive though the mountains. Don’t plan on arriving or leaving Steamboat after dark. Rabbits Ears Pass (elevation 10,000ft.) can be treacherous. Some mornings it is closed until properly cleared. Therefore, don’t make plans on catching an early morning flight from Denver.

From my observations, I wouldn’t plan on leaving Denver via I-70 on Friday nights or Saturdays and I wouldn’t plan on returning to Denver on Sundays. The traffic is very congested.

Although Steamboat boasts about their superior public transportation system, I recommend renting a car for the flexibility. In the morning, there is a free parking lot across from the ski resort. Get there early, it fills up quickly. If not, you have to park at a satellite parking lot and take a shuttle bus. Supposedly, it runs continuously, I never parked there so I can’t attest positively or negatively. There is a pay lot (across from the free lot), but it’s a rip-off. It costs $10 from 9-3 and $10 for the evening. On my anniversary (that’s another story!), I decided to park there in the am and left the car until 10pm without paying for the evening without a problem, but caveat emptor (buyer beware)!

Here’s a web-site for viewing road conditions, www.cotrip.org.

Skiing:

You have a few options on equipment:

  1. Rent at the mountain.

  • Pros. Convenient and they store your skis for free.
  • Cons. More Expensive; Don’t store your boots!

    1. Rent in town.

  • Pros. Value. Possibly better equipment.
  • Cons. Need to pick up. One place will deliver to your hotel. How do your boots get fitted? Transport to slopes. Problems with equipment could end your day.

    1. Rent in Denver.

  • Pros. Value. Choice.
  • Cons. Time in Denver. Cost of ski rack on rental car. Problems with equipment could end your VACATION!

    1. Bring your own equipment

  • Pros. Expense. Familiarity. Comfort. Performance. Etc.
  • Cons. Transporting hassles.

    The mountain rental shops state that they’ll store your rental skis overnight. This doesn’t mean your boots. If you want to store your boots, they’ll rent you a locker. Now, that means you need to pay for the day you put them in and the day that you take them out. This is kind of a rip-off!

    By the way, Kids Ski Free (U-12)! Oh, Kids Rent Free (U-12)! Good deals.

    Steamboat is a complete mountain range: Mt. Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Christie Peak and Pioneer Ridge accounting for 2,939 acres of permitted terrain. Base elevation is 6,900 feet. The summit of Mt. Werner is 10,568 feet. The vertical drop is 3,668 feet. The trails are wide and extremely long.

    I’m not an expert skier. Before this trip, I’d rate my skills at advanced beginner/low intermediate. So my perspective may be different from someone is more advanced. At Liberty, it was challenging for me to ski Heavenly and Whitney’s Way. I have made it down Blue Streak twice (turning about 500 times!) I’ve always skied in the Mid-Atlantic (7-Springs (learned there), Elk (2nd time), Montage (3rd time), Round-top (still a beginner), Whitetail (still a beginner), Wisp (last year) and Liberty (whole bunch of times).

    Monday

    Just doing the boot fitting is exhausting. The altitude is a killer. By the time, I had my equipment, I was ready for a break. My foot is 8_ triple E. I need boots that are very wide. Normally, I wear a size 9 boot. None of their boots were wide enough. So, I went up to 9_ with it as loose as possible.

    My first impression of the mountain was WOW! How am I going to get down the bunny-slope? Wow. The trail map just doesn’t show the enormity of the mountain.

    Started doing the Southface lift (bunny slope) a couple of times. I missed the familiar scratching (screeching) sound of ice. What is this soft stuff? Could it be? Yes, I think it is. Snow. Wow. I was fine. Without the ice, the increased elevation was fine. Took the Christie III lift up. Down Main Drag across Beeline to Short Cut down to the gondola. Took the gondola up. Lunch was awful. A chicken salad sandwich and apple pie. It was yucky.

    In the afternoon, I stayed on the green slopes. The longest trail is Why Not (over 3 miles). It’s a long meandering trail. If you wanted to work on your X-Crossing skiing this trail is for you. It’s so long I wound up taking a break at a picnic table.

    My feet were freezing. I thought it was related to the powder over the boots.

    Up Christie III to Boulevard to the Thunderhead Express lift took a break at the Gondola lodge. Don’t forget the altitude. It was exhausting.

    Decided to try a Blue. How bad could it be? Wow, that’s a long way down! OK. OK. Standing at the top of Vagabond. Wow. That’s a long way down. ZOOOOOOOOOM!!!! Down the first part. Down the 2nd part of Vagabond. Break at the picnic table. Sweating like an over-worked stallion (my wife’s editorial comment inserted here. He wishes, more like a broken-down nag!), I proceeded down Betwixt to Between to Giggle Gulch to Short Cut (Boy, my feet are freezing!) Time to take a break on the side of the trail! Sit. Breath. Gasp. Gasp. Back to Gondola Square.

    End of my ski day. Thoroughly exhausted. Barely able to walk back to the car.

    Tuesday

    Woke up very sore. But game to hit the slopes hard. Started by riding the Gondola up. Goal: ski all of Vagabond. Stopped several times to catch my breath. Right before Vagabond merged with Lower Concentration, I got out of control and sat back on my skis and took a bad fall. Skis didn’t come off. Who was that moron who said this Champagne Powder® was like a soft cotton blanket? As I started skiing, my right ankle was telling me, uh-oh something isn’t right. Got back to the Thunderhead Express lift up to the gondola lodge. I sat down for 30 minutes. Whenever, I put any weight on my right foot my ankle just said, “No!” I took the Gondola back down and called it a day after only one run. Spent the rest of my day at my hotel icing my elevated ankle.

    Wednesday

    Snowmobiling (see below)

    Thursday

    Slept in. Back sore (see Snowmobiling below). Determined to conquer Vagabond. Did it twice. Then, Rudi’s Run to Lightning. Up Burgess Creek lift. Took a break. Altitude is better. But I’m still getting tired just taking one run. The thighs are burning. Down Heavenly Daze to Main Drag to Giggle Gluch to Short Cut back to the lodge.

    Friday

    Stopped at the info center to get a grooming map and suggestion on a good run from Mt. Werner. An ambassador suggested that Tomahawk is a nice cruising slope to Southpeak lift. Take Broadway to the Elkhead lift down Tower to the gondola. Got a lesson at 11am. I wanted to be fresh for my lesson. So I took it easy, Southface and Headwall working on my technique.

    Took a break before my 11am lesson. The head ski instructor ensured that everyone in our group had similar skill. There were five people in my group. All of us did the same (wrong) thing. We would put on the brakes while turning. This is one of the reasons that I got so tired. At each turn, I’d muscle through each turn. The instructor taught us about extension and flexion which simplicity stated is lifting and dropping weight at different points in the turn. We tried this down Main Drag to Giggle Gulch to the Bashor Lift. Then, the instructor (if you haven’t figured out, I can’t remember her name) taught the technique of facing down the mountain (belly-button turns). I didn’t get this, maybe down the road. We skated over to Yoo Hoo to Thunderhead Express lift. Down Rudi’s Run to Lightning to Burgess Express lift. I needed to cut my lesson off 1 run short because my feet were just freezing. Down Tower to the gondola for Lunch at Grubstake (just a burger and fries).

    After lunch, took the gondola to Spur Run to Sundown Express. I’m at the top of the mountain. Wow. What a view. The Sundown express lift closes at 315, I made it by 5 minutes. I took a look down, Wow it’s a long way down. Should I tell the ski patrol that I need a ride down on the snowmobile (hmmmmm) I had the mountain to myself. Everyone else had already proceeded down the mountain. I slowly traversed down Tomahawk. It was wide and smooth with terrific cruising. No problems. Took the South peak lift. Again, the mountain is empty. Per the ambassador’s recommendation, I took Broadway, a little thinner trail but not too steep. Had a short break on a picnic table. Took some pictures of the valley and town below. Down to Elkhead lift to Tower and the Gondola down. Exhausted.

    Turned in my equipment.

    Lessons learned. Needed to be in better shape to handle the altitude and the terrain. I needed to be a stronger skier to handle the length of the runs. I should have brought the boots back after the first day. The freezing feet were due to improperly sized boots.

    Around Town:

    Steamboat Chamber of Commerce (www.steamboat-chamber.com)

    Monday night. Riggio’s (Italian Cuisine) was mediocre. Had a ravioli appetizer and a veal entrée. Afterwards, stopped at the Cantina for a few beers. Met a local lady who gave me some suggestions on dining and activities.

    Tuesday. (just had a hoagie from Jerry’s at my hotel, resting my hurt ankle).

    Wednesday. Went snowmobiling on Rabbit Ears Pass. Need to make reservations. They’ll come and pick you up in town. They’ll say wear what you wear when you go skiing, bring boots. They don’t mean ski boots (oops!). Don’t worry they have boots if you need them. A short lesson on operating the snowmobile and we were off. There were 6 people in our group including the guide. We did trails and meadows. We went single file down the trails (kind of like a mommy duck with her off-spring waddling behind her). In the meadows, we were able to just freelance (within the boundaries set by guide). It was wild to blast through the meadows at top speed (45 MPH). My hand got tired holding the throttle after two hours.

    Important lesson: When going over bumps, don’t sit on the seat. Get on your feet. Otherwise, you get thrown up (you know what I mean) and then you come down. Boom. While this may be fine while you’re doing it. The next day, you’ll know what I mean.

    Get a $5 off coupon near the cash registers in the Gondola Square stores.

    Stopped in at the Tap House Sports Grill to taste a few of the 21 beers on tap, watch the Maryland game. They have a great happy hour (or 2).

    Old West Steak House was delicious. Started with a buffalo sausage appetizer and followed with an Elk steak paired with a glass of Ravenswood Zinfindel. Outstanding.

    Thursday. I think it was called Panda Garden. It’s in the same shopping center as Wal-Mart. Avoid. This restaurant is absolutely pathetic. I had the Kung Pao Chicken. Unedible. Yuck!

    Friday. As an aside, my loving wife didn’t object that I went skiing during our anniversary. Special kudo’s to her. I went to celebrate our anniversary at the Butcher Shop in Ski Time Square. It was delicious. Service was impeccable. I had a Bison Filet that was outstanding followed by a raspberry sorbet. Highly recommended.

    Before dinner, I had a massage in the Steamboat Grand Hotel. It was nice, but pricey ($95). There are less expensive options in town. But, I was able to park my car in the morning and walk from the slopes to the massage to dinner without moving it (see above).

    Helpful Hints:

  • Get in shape.
  • Check everything when flying out of Denver. If you don’t have any carry-on, you can skip the large queue (1-1.5 hr) and go through the express security check.
  • Get in shape.
  • Use the coin operated lockers at the top of the gondola to store your boots over-night. Then, start and end your day at the top of the gondola.
  • Get in shape.
  • Every morning, stop in the information center for a grooming map.
  • A lot of the locals ski at Howelsen’s. It’s cheaper and offers night skiing (like I needed more skiing!)

  • Related Links
    DCSki Sponsor: DCSki

    Reader Comments

    Roy
    March 4, 2002
    Good Job Joe! I just got back from Steamboat (Feb 25th). Here's some comments:

    For more advanced skiers, go to the backside of the mountain (Morningside lift). There is a huge bowl and lots of black and blue terrain. Like to do jumps? There are many jumps perched off the chairlift. I found a 15 foot rock with nothing but powder below it. Nothing like taking a jump and falling into a mattress of powder (what a thrill). If it's a powder day, go to the pony express lift. 2 blue and many black runs that store powder. Some of the runs are through spread out tress so you can really cruise through them.

    As far as eating, try the Old Town Pub. Great bar atmosphere and the food is excellent.
    Grundelman
    March 5, 2002
    Just got back from Steamboat myself...I was there from Feb 22- 27. It dumped about 18 - 20 inches in 2 days during my time there. I had heard that it always dumps at the boat, and I can voucher for that! This mountain is awesome...There wasn't a single inch of this mountian that I didn't enjoy. The runs accesible off of Storm Peak express are nice. The west side of the mountain provides a lot of tree skiing (by far the best tree boarding that I have ever done). Steamboat is very snowboard friendly, and you can clearly see that by the efforts that they have put into their terrain park and half pipe( the largest in the US). I have visited many resorts in Colorado, and I have to say Steamboat ranks as my favorite!!

    Keep supporting our Mid-Atlantic slopes!!!
    jj
    March 13, 2002
    did anybody get to ski with billy kidd? is he still alive and hanging with the steamboat crowd?

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