Snow that lures Olympians to this corner of Colorado can be just as much fun for you
Way out west in Colorado, one of skiing’s best kept secrets is closely guarded by an elite society that is devoted to its life and craft. They have been keeping this mecca of winter sports all to themselves, rejoicing in the wideopen runs free of the pretence and crowds of other winter resorts, the abundance of nature and the opportunity to do some world-class tree-skiing.
No less than 88 past and present winter Olympians call Steamboat Springs home. Why?
As one former elite skier says, “on any given day you choose, the snow here will probably be some of the best in the country”.
A GREAT PLACE TO SKI
On the day my Steamboat Springs experience begins it is minus 26C. Normally I would go packing for the lounge in those conditions, but Steamboat’s dry and light champagne powder is slowly falling and the intense chill is the reason.
The other reason I am venturing out is because I’m meeting a guide. Not just any guide. Linas Vaitkus is a former Olympic downhill skier. He did a PB at Nagano in ’98 and came 25th in the men’s downhill.
In no time I am cruising with Linas, crisscrossing the mountain and taking in the considerable wilderness views over this huge ski resort. Linas moved to Steamboat after retiring from competition. “The outdoor recreational opportunities seem to be endless,” he says.
Over lunch I enjoy hearing his stories of racing down a mountain at 145km/h in winter, and stalking elk with a bow and arrow in the back country in summer.
“When we finish lunch, I will get ahead of you so I can assess your skiing,” he says. I knew a cheeseburger and beer at lunch was going to be a mistake. The thought of having an Olympian assess me doing anything is alarming.
Nate, a 23-year-old powder-hound from Minnesota is giving me advice as we ride the chairlift to the top of Morningside Park.
“Sometimes you just gotta send it, you just gotta commit,” he tells me.
This is not advice for posting a letter. It is coded instruction to deliver me to the bottom of a mountain covered in fir and aspen trees and 7m of snow, minus a stamp and a fragile sticker.
As well as its reputation for the dry light white stuff, Steamboat prides itself on its trees, which are said to be perfectly spaced for skiing between and among the nicest in the world.
With Nate’s advice ringing in my ears, I resolve to tackle the moguls and oversized ruts of the creatively named 2.30 Trees, a patch of wilderness between Steamboat’s Two O’Clock and Three O’Clock runs.
Golden rule: if you look at the tree, you’ll ski at the tree. I hit one tree and the last thing I remember doing was looking at it. In my defence, they’re so pretty, it’s hard not to look.
ON ANY GIVEN DAY … THE SNOW HERE WILL PROBABLY BE SOME OF THE BEST IN THE COUNTRY
Steamboat is not short of apres locations to kick back. The Truffle Pig offers two great things – happy hour at the end of each day and truffle fries. This lively bar is a favourite with the locals and we all pack in at the end of a ski day to enjoy the local beers.
Alternatively, you could grab a couch and cosy up in front of a roaring fireplace at One Steamboat Place. With sun streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows you can enjoy a full bar and a selection of food from the buffet.
Beware of the ribs if you are planning dinner later. It is hard to limit yourself once you start.
HOT SPRINGS AT STRAWBERRY NATIONAL PARK
After a few tough days skiing, your banged-up muscles are going to need a bit of R&R, so grab a towel and swimmers (optional depending on time of day) and head to Strawberry National Park hot springs.
With outside temperatures below freezing you can defrost in one of the park’s hot pools. Each pool has a different temperature ranging from boil-a-lobster hot to relaxing bath warm. The real heart starter lies at the bottom where you can swim in water from the near frozen creek. Go for a roll in the snow and then jump straight back in to let the hot water melt away the frostbite.
If you time your arrival with sunset, the light gives this place a magical feel. Beware, after dark guests are allowed to ditch the swim suits if they are not getting enough of a nature hit.
I’M ON A HORSE
If you’re looking for a day off the slopes, go on a trail ride with Ray Heid. No, I didn’t make that up. He’s a character, all right. You can tell by the handmade elk-skin riding jacket he’s wearing. “Everybody calls me a cowboy, but I’ve never owned a cow in my life,” he says.
Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch is a 25minute drive out of Steamboat. Ray and his son Perk take trail rides around their snow-packed property.
As far as trail riding goes, this is