New Idea - - New Travel -

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!

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