Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY HE­LEN HAYES

With six moun­tains, an authen­tic west­ern town and 150 hot springs, Steam­boat Springs is the place for a win­ter va­ca­tion.

My trusty steed picks his way through the snow, with no sound ex­cept for the squeak of his hooves. We head up the hill, through pock­ets of as­pens stand­ing naked against the el­e­ments, and at the top, are re­warded with a view over noth­ing but wilder­ness. No farms, no towns, no sign of civil­i­sa­tion.

Our guide, on this two-hour ride at Del’s Tri­an­gle 3 Ranch, waves her gloved hand to­ward a moun­tain range in the dis­tance and tells us that it is the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide. She drawls “if y’all went to the top and peed on the other side it would run into the Pa­cific, and if you did it on this side it would run to the At­lantic.” Who knew?

I do know that this ride, al­ways at a walk, is re­lax­ing and strangely ther­a­peu­tic, even when the wind picks up and it starts to snow. It is in­vig­o­rat­ing, and all too soon we are dis­mount­ing back in the yard, and warm­ing up with a hot choco­late.

As we see on the drive back into Steam­boat Springs, Del’s is one of many ranches in the area, which re­tains its west­ern roots and gives the vi­brant ski re­sort a hefty dose of au­then­tic­ity. Set in the Yampa Val­ley, his­tory goes fur­ther back than ranch­ing and min­ing, back to the days when the Ute In­di­ans hunted here and also vis­ited for its ‘medicine’ springs, hot springs which still lure peo­ple to­day.

Moun­tains of fun

With an ar­ray of peaks cov­ered in snow in the win­ter months, it wasn’t just the hot springs that at­tracted vis­i­tors. In 1915, a Nor­we­gian man, Carl How­elsen, es­tab­lished a ski jump on a hill very close to down­town, lay­ing the foun­da­tion for what would be­come a world­class ski town at­tract­ing many thou­sands of peo­ple from around the world ev­ery year.

Now called How­elsen Hill, Carl’s pride and joy is the old­est ski re­sort still op­er­at­ing in the USA. I mull over this fact while look­ing at the well-lit hill from the hot tub on the back deck of our gor­geous condo, a stone’s throw from the west­ern out­fit­ters, restau­rants and bou­tiques on Lin­coln Av­enue. Carl would be very happy.

In the 1960s, an­other moun­tain was de­vel­oped as a ski re­sort, and it is around here that Steam­boat re­ally picked up steam. These days, there are six peaks to ex­plore in 1200 ha of ter­rain, and we are champ­ing at the bit to get out there. We or­gan­ise a guide/ in­struc­tor through the Snows­ports School, and are in his hands all day. Joe Pen­land knows this place in­side and out, and we fol­low in his tracks as he points out places of in­ter­est and gives help­ful in­for­ma­tion on where we should ski and how to get around.

First cab off the rank is to tap Buddy’s Head. Huh? Joe skids to a halt at a sculpted

bust of a man by the name of Buddy Werner and said that it is a good omen to tap Buddy’s Head ev­ery time you come up here. Buddy is one of the 89 Olympians who have come out of Steam­boat, and his name pops up around the re­sort, along with his mum.

Joe also shows us a tree fort con­sist­ing of four pine trees that are 200 years old and have grown to­gether in a loved-up tan­gle, points out a tree on the Why Not run where ‘King Bob’ the por­cu­pine lives, and in­tro­duces us to camp rob­bers. That is the name given to gray jays, a small but ac­tive breed of bird that will come down and take food out of your hand. We don’t be­lieve him un­til he pulls a lit­tle bag with some bread crusts in it out of his ski jacket, crum­bles them up and puts some of the palm of his hand. In sec­onds, a bird sweeps in and grabs the tasty morsels. Note to self: bring bread to­mor­row.

After a great lunch at Hazie’s, named after Buddy Werner’s mum, Joe com­pletes our ed­u­ca­tion around all cor­ners of the re­sort, telling us which of the glades are best for tree ski­ing, where we might see moose and where the more ad­vanced skiers and rid­ers among us might want to go. With more snow than any­where else in Colorado, snow that is ac­tu­ally ‘trade­marked as cham­pagne pow­der’ and ter­rain for ev­ery­one from be­gin­ners to ad­vanced, it would be easy to stay a week, a month, a sea­son here.

Eat, stay, play

There is plenty to do off the slopes once your skis or snow­board are tucked away in the warm­ing rooms overnight. The Out­law Coaster will lure thrill-seek­ers for a blast down the tracks, or if some­thing more re­lax­ing is on your mind, head out to the gor­geous Straw­berry Park Hot Springs. One of 150 springs in the area, Straw­berry Park is sit­u­ated in a beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral set­ting, with a range of pools, carved out of nat­u­ral rock, which are dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures from very hot to freez­ing. There is a spa on site as well.

There are some ex­cel­lent places to dine both on and off the moun­tain. We love lunch at the Gon­dola Pub and Grill at the base, and slip into food co­mas after di­vine din­ners at both Café Diva and Cloverdale. We re­sist the temp­ta­tion to try the wine in a can – both white and red – at Four Points Lodge. Wine in a can – re­ally?

We stick to wine in a bot­tle to com­mis­er­ate our last night in this vi­brant moun­tain re­sort, a late din­ner after an ex­hil­a­rat­ing and fun few hours of night ski­ing. It is the per­fect end to a per­fect day, spent ski­ing in the play­ground of tree runs on

Morn­ing­side, feed­ing the camp rob­bers, zip­ping down Buddy’s Run and ba­si­cally en­joy­ing the fresh moun­tain air and each other’s com­pany.

Tap­ping Buddy’s Head re­ally did work. •

Open­ing im­age: Two of the au­thor’s fam­ily wait­ing pa­tiently for their mother as she checks out in­side the tree fort.Clock­wise from left: Steam­boat’s his­toric Lin­coln Av­enue lit up for the hol­i­days with the re­sort loom­ing up be­hind, Rid­ing through a grove of as­pens at Del’s Tri­an­gle 3 Ranch; The lounge at One Steam­boat Place; One of the gourmet dishes at Cloverdale Restau­rant.

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