Monday, January 31, 2011

Adventures in Steamboat

Ok, now I'm totally spoiled.

I've just returned from a most excellent long weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  I had two great days skiing pow at Steamboat.  The snow was everything I'd always heard about, and more!

Look out - the Oregon girls have arrived in Steamboat!

Two years ago, when I first visited Steamboat, the snow was really hard and icy - just like what we have here in the Cascades. I was really disappointed. But on this trip, Steamboat redeemed itself big time! We got snow every day - the light, fluffy powdery type. And, after skiing in it, I now know why everyone makes such a big deal about the snow in the Rockies. It is absolutely wonderful!

Everyone is all smiles before our first day of skiing

My adventure began when I boarded a plane with five friends bound for Steamboat Springs. My friend Kim's sister, April, and her boyfriend, Howard, own a vacation home in Steamboat. Howard and April generously invited all of us to stay at their home for a long weekend. They didn't have to ask me twice - I never turn down a chance for a ski vacation!

Theresa is in powder heaven

The first day was spent getting settled, buying groceries, renting skis (we found it was much cheaper to rent demo skis in Steamboat instead of paying the airline's baggage fees) and, most important of all, buying wine! We stayed in a huge, beautiful vacation home right across the valley from the Steamboat ski area. This house had a awesome front-row view of Steamboat mountain from the living room window.  We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, and after dark watched the lights of the grooming machines on the mountain, prepping the slopes for the following day.

Can Kim's smile be any bigger?

The next morning, we all suited up and headed for the slopes! It was a really cold day, and we had to dress differently than our normal Oregon skiwear (which is Gore-tex and more Gore-tex).  Instead of dressing for a warm(er), wet day, I had to prepare for cold and dry weather.  I put on all the layers I had and wore my warmest mittens. 

My assessment of the snow

We bought our lift tickets ($98 for a day ticket! Eeeek!!) and boarded Steamboat's gondola for a trip up to the slopes. Kim and I decided to take our group over to the Sunshine Express lift. We had mixed skiing abilities in our party, and remembered from our last trip that this area was a good place for skiers of all levels.

Love the Western themed signs

The slopes were graced with 7 inches of fluffy, new snow.  Us girls spent the morning, swooshing through some of the finest powder I've ever skied. It was pure heaven!  I felt like I was floating. The snow was so light, it flew up into our faces giving us all powder mustaches. Many whoops, woo-hoos, and shouts of glee could be heard in the vicinity of our gang.

Kim goin' for the face shot

Kim and I were planning to get the girls settled, and then go seek some black diamond runs. But were were having so much fun skiing with our friends that we ended up spending all morning making laps off the Sunshine Express lift.

Tamie and Theresa take a break from the action

But it was a really cold day, and soon our feet and faces were freezing. Our tummies were grumbling. It was time for a break to warm up and eat lunch. After consulting our trail map many times, we finally figured out the correct combination of ski trails and chairlifts that would get us back to the top of the gondola to meet up with April. Steamboat is a huge ski area, and unlike many places I've skied, there is no one run that will take you everywhere on the mountain. Finding your way is an exercise in navigation!

The girls head down a beautiful forested trail

After dropping some more cash in the cafeteria, it was time to head out again.  Vicky and April decided they'd had enough skiing and took the gondola back down to the base area.  Theresa and Tamie still wanted to ski, but not anything difficult, so they decided to buddy up.  This left Kim and I free to explore the steeps of Steamboat.  I really wanted to ski in Morningside Park, so I convinced Kim to head over there.

Kim and Vicky on the chairlift

Morningside Park is the "back side" of Steamboat.  There is lots of tree skiing and one lift to haul you out of there.  The visibility was a little tough at the top, but once we got down off the summit, and into the trees, things improved greatly.  The snow was really deep and not too chopped up.  I had fun ducking into the trees, but Kim being the saner of our duo, opted for the security of the trails.

Tamie and Theresa on the lift
After a few runs in Morningside Park, it was time for more exploration.  Kim and I tried a couple of runs off of the Storm Peak Express chair.  Kim wanted to head over to the Pony Express lift, but it was getting late, and Kim's legs were telling her she'd had enough, so we headed back to the top of the gondola to look for Tamie and Theresa. 

Lunchtime in the lodge

About the time we reached the gondola I got a message on my phone. The other two girls had decided to call it a day, and were on their way back to the base area.  Kim and I made one more run, and then Kim decided to join them.  I wasn't ready to quit, so I made a couple of laps on the Thunderhead Express chair.  About this time the sun came out, and I was treated to a wonderful view of the valley below.

Group photo at the top of the gondola

After a couple of runs, it was nearing 3:30 and the snow was getting really bumped up.  My legs didn't have it in them to keep mogul-hopping (and I wanted to save something for tomorrow) so I decided it was time to call it a day.

"Woo-hoo, I'm in Steamboat!"

But I wasn't going to ride the gondola down.  No way!  (Death before download, I say!)  So I consulted my trusty trail map (well worn by that time) and took the Valley View run from the top of the gondola all the way down to the base village.  The views were wonderful.  Of course, I just had to take a couple of "Kodak moment" breaks during my descent.

Lovely aspen trees

I met up with the girls at the base village, and we headed back to the house.  April and Howard's home has a nice hot tub on the deck.  April is such a good host, she shoveled all the snow off of the hot tub so it was ready for us when we arrived.  I had a good soak, a glass of wine, and watched the sunset cast a beautiful aplenglow on the mountain.  A perfect end to a great day!

My view as I head down towards Steamboat base area

And there was more to come.  A big storm was forecast to roll in overnight and this storm was supposed to drop a substantial amount of snow.  Winter storm warnings were being issued, and the Denver crowd was warned to drive up Friday night ahead of the storm.  Sitting in the hot tub that night, gazing at a clear, star-filled sky, it was hard to believe there would be a foot of snow by morning.

Steamboat's famous gondolas

But when we awoke the next morning, there was a thick white blanket on the ground.  The sky was overcast and the snow was coming down.  It looked like another good powder day.  But it was stormy and we knew it would be windy with poor visibility on the mountain.  But we had traveled here to ski, and ski we would!

Our view of the ski area from April and Howard's house

On this day, it was only Tamie, Kim and I that wanted to ski.  The other three girls opted to go snow shoeing (which sounded fun, but I love skiing too much and besides, it was a powder day).  When I went up to the ticket window to get my lift ticket, I was informed that three of the lifts weren't operating due to high winds.  I thought about it for a moment, and then gulped and gave the lady my credit card.  I hoped I was making the right decision and not wasting my money!

Day two found me in deep pow!

Tamie (wisely) decided to ski on her own, and not join Kim and I.  Kim wanted to try the runs off of the Pony Express lift, since we hadn't been there yet.  Luckily, that lift was not closed, so Kim and I consulted our trail map, planned our route, and pointed our skis towards the Pony Express.

Kim's hair turned white with frost

At the top of the lift, there was hardly any visibility.  The wind was blowing and snowing hard, and it was really foggy.  We chose a run, and let gravity take us downhill ("skiing by Braille" as I call it).  Once we got into the trees, the snow got really, really deep.  It was lots of fun to rip through!  Everyone around us was whooping and hollering.  We were all having a good time.  Kim and I had no idea where we were going, but we followed some of the other skiers, and ended up back at the lift.  Time for another trip up and more pow!

Beautiful frosted aspen branches

Kim and I had a most excellent morning, exploring the trails off the Pony Express.  The snow was fabulous and I skied my heart out.  The lift lines weren't too bad and we got used to the low visibility at the top.  But about 11:00, Tamie called to say she had stopped for lunch and if we wanted to meet her, she was at the top of the gondola.  Kim was getting tired, so we decided to head back that way.

April and Howard's wonderful house
Once again, Kim and I consulted the well-worn trail map to plan our route back.  But we got on the wrong lift, and it deposited us all the way on top of Storm Peak.  There was absolutely no visibility on the top of Storm Peak.  Again, we got out the map, and decided on a run that we thought would get us back to the lodge at the top of the gondola.  It was hard to see where we were going, but we headed off in the general direction of the run, and let gravity take us downhill.

Just chillin' after a hard day's skiing

The run we took was great!  It started out as a wide open bowl (as far as I could tell anyway) with wonderful pow.  It then led us into a nice glade.  Once we reached the trees, the visibility got better.  But we were in the middle of a forest, and didn't know which way to go.  I began to follow tracks from other skiers, thinking they had to lead somewhere.  We skied for quite awhile, and the forest didn't end.  By now Kim was getting tired and had to stop often. 

Spectacular sunset over Steamboat Springs

So there we were, lost in the trees of Steamboat!  Kim was really getting worried, and I must admit, I was a little concerned too.  I had no idea where we were, or where this treed glade led to.  But I decided to just keep skiing downhill.  We were in the middle of a ski resort, civilization couldn't be too far away!  Then we heard voices, and saw people skiing through the trees.  We followed the people, and lo and behold, they led us out of the forest and to the edge of a main run.  Yahoo!  Saved!  Kim and I skied down to a lift that we knew would take us to the lodge.  However, by the time we reached the lodge, over an hour had passed, and Tamie, probably tired of waiting for us, had headed down to the village.
Colorful evening sky

Poor Kim was totally shot after our little adventure, and decided her skiing was done for the day.  We had a bite to eat, and then Kim headed down to find Tamie.  I wanted to ski just a little bit longer, so I took a couple runs off of the Thunderhead lift.  But it didn't take long, and my legs let me know they were done.  So I found Valley View Run again, and had nice slow trip down to the bottom.

What a great couple days of skiing!  And Steamboat Springs is such a beautiful place.  I didn't want to leave.  April was staying in Steamboat for the month, and it was really tempting to extend my vacation a couple of days to keep her company.  But sadly, work and  home was calling, so I packed up on the fourth day, and bid the town goodbye. 

Thanks April and Howard, for inviting us to such a wonderful place.  I enjoyed skiing and hanging out with all you girls - Kim, Tamie, Vicky, Theresa, and April - it was lots of fun.  Let's do it again next year!


  1. hi! I've been looking for interesting posts and photos about trips to Steamboat to feature on our site. If you're interested, you can drop me a line at Brenda (at) Dwellable (.com).



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