SNOWY MOUNTAIN HIGH
If Wasabi goes up the hill, lean forward!” yells our leader, Becky, three horses ahead. I’m seated on a large steed with attitude, ploughing through pristine snowfields on a winter trail ride in sunsplashed Colorado high country. What a surreal experience: no sound, but for nine horses snorting and the crunch of twigs in snow. It’s as if we’re in an enchanting winter scene from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. “The horses love the snow too,” assures Ray Heid, 80, the cowboy who owns this magical property, Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch. Over hot chocolate after the ride, Ray, a former Olympic skier, chirpily regales us with colourful stories about the bad old days in cowboy country. Welcome to Steamboat Springs. The town, population 12,000, is named after the gushing sound made by its thermal springs, a major tourist attraction in the region. But most winter visitors, are lured here for the skiing and snowboarding on Mount Werner, right beside the town. It’s one of seven peaks that make up the Steamboat Ski Resort. With 165 trails, it’s one of the largest ski resorts in Colorado, which has plenty of terrain for skiers of all levels. We’ve hired a car and driven here from Colorado’s capital, Denver, 200 kilometres away. It’s a gorgeous scenic drive, if you’re happy driving on the other side of the road! If not, there are regular coaches between here and Denver.
In contrast to the betterknown Colorado ski town of Aspen, Steamboat is less ‘show pony’, more down-to-earth and family-oriented. While celebs, including Jessica Biel, Tom Cruise and Goldie Hawn, have all visited this winter wonderland, they do so without fanfare. “Unlike Aspen, celebs here don’t want to be seen. They come to Steamboat to enjoy the snow and keep their privacy,” explains Steamboat PR, Loryn Kasten, over dinner at the popular restaurant, Cafe Diva (1855 Ski Time Square Drive). At her insistence, we sample Diva’s signature peanut butter and bacon sandwiches! “This was Elvis Presley’s favourite dish,” says our friendly waitress, as we tuck in. To our surprise, they’re delicious; no wonder the King filled out those jolly jumpsuits.
After taking the gondola up the mountain the next day, and drinking in spectacular views while debating gun control with feisty locals, we are thrilled to spot a moose relaxing on his belly in the snow. “If he moves, you’re in trouble. Don’t get too close,” our ski instructor warns. Fat chance! As we’re skiing down, we spot a porcupine up a tree, nibbling at leaves. The mountain is full of surprises. Our instructor later hands me some seeds – and a bird soon swoops down to eat out of my hand!
We reflect on our exciting brushes with nature that night, while tucking into elk burgers at our hotel, The Steamboat Grand (2300 Mt Werner Circuit). With stunning mountain views, the hotel is, handily, just across the road from the gondola. Our spacious suite sports its own kitchen; ideal when want a break from all the tipping required in the US. Just across the street from our hotel are free shuttle buses taking you the eateries and bars downtown, just five minutes away.
On the main drag, Lincoln Avenue, we check out the local shops. If you’re into your
cowboy gear, FM Light and Sons (830 Lincoln Ave) 110 years old, has more than 2000 pairs of boots to choose from. Unlike ritzy Aspen, you won’t see the likes of Gucci and Pucci. But you’ll find plenty of boots, Stetsons and hiking clobber. Bookworms will enjoy hanging out at Off The Beaten Path book-cafe, (68 9th Street) proffering tasty snacks and interesting books. And for tasty organic juices and soups you can’t go past hippy cafe, Rootz (737 Lincoln Ave). There’s also an enormous Walmart supermarket (1805 Central Park Drive) where I was able to buy an affordable new suitcase to fit one or two new acquisitions!
At Steamboat’s geothermal hot springs, you can bask for hours outdoors staring at snowy mountains under the stars, while luxuriating in bubbling warmth. “Clothes are not compulsory after dark!” a friendly local tells us with a wink. Sadly, we never made it to the famous Strawberry Park Hot Springs (right) – who knows who we could have bubbled away with in the velvet darkness? Sigh. Something to do on the next visit!