STEAM POW­DER

Snow that lures Olympians to this cor­ner of Colorado can be just as much fun for you

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION | UNITED STATES - KIRK O’DWYER

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.

SEND­ING IT

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.

APRES SKI

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.

ON ANY GIVEN DAY … THE SNOW HERE WILL PROB­A­BLY BE SOME OF THE BEST IN THE COUN­TRY

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

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK, SUP­PLIED

En­joy the western charm of Steam­boat Springs with some world-class cham­pagne pow­der ski runs.

RAY HEID TRAIL RIDES

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