On-snowtest of family-favorite ski resort Steamboat
steamboat springs » Watching a pounding snowstorm from a chairlift at Steamboat ski resort, I feel the symptoms rising — shortening breath, furrowing brow, sulking self-pity. It’s a classic case of Parental Powder Anxiety Syndrome.
I amsandwiched betweenmy son, Kai, 6, and daughter, Christina, 3, the three of us readying for another back and forth descent of a nearly flat green-dot run. Somewhere far above us, no doubt near the top of Steamboat’s 3,668-foot vertical rise, my wife, Cathleen, who drewthe long strawtoday, is carving turns through the freshfalling quilt ofwhite. It’s the first big snowSteamboat has seen in weeks. Evenworse, it’s the last day of our vacation.
Then, like a shape-shifting character in amovie, a graybeard sharing our chair turns to me: “Hanging with the grommets on a powder day, huh? Enjoy every minute of it. These years go byway too quickly.”
Nice call, Gandalf. My symp- toms recede.
We are here, in late January, to slope-test Steamboat’s claim that it is exceedingly family-friendly. So far, the resort, along with the adjacent 115-year-old town of Steamboat Springs, is firing on all cylinders.
OK, I know: No single placewill suit every clan. For example, when I askedmy social media community for favorite family resorts, I got a different answer from almost every respondent.
“Park City, Utah!” said one, citing the chairlift that departs from the center of town.
Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, N.Y. said another. “Quaint Western N.Y. snowbelt town and a fun mountain!”
Votes rolled in for resorts big— Vail, Aspen, Deer Valley— and small— like BlackMountain, N.H.
“Dude,” wrote a college friend, “Hands down, Monarch, Colorado — old-school inexpensive, 1970s lodge, killer steeps forDad (and, presumably, Mom), tons of snow.”
For thosewho are newto the family ski game, here are some factors that raise a resort’s appeal: variety of terrain, with beginner slopes that are close to restaurants and bathrooms; short, easy passage from lodging to lifts; at least one enclosed lift, such as a gondola, that accesses gentle terrain; pleasant, well-trained ski school staff; and ample off-slope diversions.
In the 1970s, my parents found most of that at Seven Springs, Pa., towhich half our neighborhood would decamp for three days ev- ery February. Vacationing with a herd of friends assured fun for us kids and only occasional drawbacks formy parents— for example, when I threwan on-slope, Category 5 tantrum, cursingwell beyondmy grade levelwhile hurling skis, boots and socks into a snowbank and stomping barefoot to the lodge.
My children have exhibited no such petulance and in fact are delighted with Steamboat’s variety of novice terrain. Kai’s favorite isWhyNot, which meanders 3 miles from the top of the gondola to the base; Christina, unaware that gravity ismore reliable than her father, is happiestwhen I scoop her up and carry her through wide, arcing turns.
On our second day at Steamboat, Cathleen and I drop the kids at ski school, where dulcet-toned staff efficiently check in the childrenwhile counseling all of us through the separation anxiety.
We then join Gable Richardella, an affable, animated instructor, for a tour around the mountain. I’ve met 100 guys with his story— came to a fun-focused town for one season 20 years ago and never left— but Richardella seems more content than most. This he assigns to the Steamboat vibe.
“We’re a grounded community here,” he says after leading us through one of the mountain’s many rolling glades. “Sure, we get excited on powder days, but no one is knocking you over to beat you to first tracks.”
One probable reason is Steam-
boat’s lack of hospital-grade chutes, cornices and cliffs, which discourages maniacally aggro skiers fromsettling, or even vacationing, here. In our six days, I don’t feel any of the macho one-upmanship that prevails at more radical mountains.
For advanced skiers, the main drawhere is the trees, with nearly two-thirds of the mountain featuring some arboreal cover. This is a boon during storm cycles, when deep powder can help skiers check their speed in the tighter stands of forest.
But with much of thewoods rendered perilous by an uncommonly dry January, we find our fun on corduroy groomers, sun-softened bump runs and the thinner glades. With less urgency to ski from opening to closing, we also explore our hotel, the 328-room Steamboat Grand, which looms across the street from the base area.
The Grand lacks in character— fewer heirlooms formy children to destroy— but compensates withwell-appointed rooms, a pool and two massive outdoor hot tubs, and an adjacent fitness center where, hilariously, the front desk doubles as a bar. Whenwe arrive, bathrobe-clad guests are ordering après-ski drinks, which are then delivered poolside.
We’re tempted to get comfortable, but there are other hot tubs to explore. On a Sunday afternoon, we drive 3miles to the Old TownHot Springs. TheUte Indians, who once summered in these parts, called the gurgling baths medicine springs.
My kids call them awesome, in part due to post-Ute features, including a 250-foot water slide and aquatic climbingwall, which allowswhite-knuckled youngsters to fall intowater. A single spring pumps 220 gallons per minute of 102-degreewater into a stone-lined pool, which in turn feeds seven others. There’s also an eightlane lap pool.
Another daywe pop into F.M. Light& Sons, an everything-Western store that originated as amen’s clothier in 1905.
The Laundry, a gastropub with an exposed brick interior, wooden tables and arsenal of artisanal spirits, is among the newer of Steamboat Springs’ dozens of restaurants and bars. Ourwaitress looks on with some amazement as Kai and Christina abolish a large plate of beef short ribs.
We carry that theme into dinner the next night, boarding the gondola at 7 p.m. (woolen blankets provided) for a ride up to the Thunderhead Lodge. There, on weekends, the resort offers aWestern barbecue buffet and live band.
We ride the gondola down, shifting our gaze between the twinkling lights of town and the dark Yampa Valley beyond.
I envision the daywhen Kai and Christina are our ski partners, not dependents, and I amadvising some conflicted dad to enjoy his kids. But you can’t get too ahead of yourself. So I shift the daydream to a near-future powder day on a family ski vacationwhenmywonderful wife draws the short straw.
A young girl snowboards down the hill at Steamboat ski area.