On-snowtest of fam­ily-fa­vorite ski re­sort Steam­boat

The Denver Post - - TRAVEL - By John Bri­ley

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.

Pro­vided by Steam­boat ski re­sort

A young girl snow­boards down the hill at Steam­boat ski area.

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