Going Out West to Ski: Worth It?

Steamboat Resort, CO February 2019

As I packed up my five bags including a large unwieldy ski bag and a big boot bag, I began to wonder if all this schlepping was worth it. I mean honestly, I have a home in Vermont—why on earth would I travel all the way to Colorado on multiple flights just to ski? It seemed ridiculous to me. The snow can’t be that good, or different. But some incredible friends invited me, and I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to spend time with them, so I went.

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My close friend Robin Azer, who writes for Snowbrains.com, came too, making it that much better, and so she and I arrived at LaGuardia on a cold Super Bowl Sunday morning. We checked our many awkward-sized bags of ski and winter gear before boarding our United.com flight to Denver.

Robin is a true gung-ho skier, and I found her knowledge and excitement about all things skiing to be infectious.IMG_0839I may be a lifelong skier, but at this point in the trip I’m doing my fair share of whining, resisting and still wondering why I am enduring all this hassle. But nonetheless, we head west to the Rocky Mountains.

We transfer in Denver to board a small plane to Hayden, the airport that services Steamboat Springs. Once we are ensconced in our tiny window seat spaces the captain comes onto the loudspeaker saying “Good morning folks, the conditions at Hayden are white out with less than 1 mile visibility, so I’m going to have to run the numbers before making my decision.” I start to think of plan B, which I run by a lovely woman named Sue, sitting beside me, since she’s been a Steamboat resident for 26 years.

“We can rent a car and drive,” I say. But her response is “let me share my story about driving the pass with you.” And so she goes on to tell me her harrowing tale of a near death experience in a white out storm years ago. So there goes plan B.

We are stuck. I feel anxious and helpless as the captain runs the numbers. He finally comes back on the intercom 15 minutes later saying, “Well folks, looks like there’s been a dramatic change in the weather and Hayden is now sunny and clear with plenty of visibility, so we will be taking off shortly.”

The planeful of passengers lets out a collective sigh of both disbelief and relief. Mountain weather is so fleeting, severe and unpredictable. And so we take off on our 28-minute flight. I watch out the window as the gray clouds part, giving way to jagged mountain peaks and brilliant sunshine. We land into our airplane’s shadow enlarging across a shimmering white blanket of snow.IMG_0679The GoAlpine shuttle that Robin had smartly reserved is there to collect us and all our gear. We board it with about ten other passengers, and greatly enjoy the driver’s cheery disposition as well as free coupons and advice about the area during our scenic 30-minute drive to Steamboat. The shuttle drops us off at Wyndam Vacation Resorts Steamboat Springs.

The awesome concierge who greets us gives us more après ideas. And just as we are orienting ourselves, my dear friends Ben, Jake and Kristin arrive after flying from Boston to Denver and then braving the pass in a rental car. All five of us then settle into a beautiful three bedroom space on the top floor of Building 5, just four minutes from the base, with options of a free shuttle or gondola to get there. There was a hot tub outside beside the building, and it suited us all perfectly.

Being loyal Patriots fans, finding a spot to watch the game was key. So we went to the very lively Slopeside bar over at the base. It had a friendly crowd, but we found it way too noisy to focus on the game. So we settled in at our new Wyndam home instead, to cheer the Patriots on to victory. We got to sleep early that night, in anticipation of our first day on the slopes.

Day 2 was our first day of skiing and snowboarding. The highlights of the day included Taco Beast for lunch where we ate delicious tacos served straight out of a snowcat, without having to leave the trail. We spent the day skiing and boarding in the wide open trails and tucking into some gladed terrain, finding pretty good conditions. But I still wasn’t sure this was that much different from what Stratton, VT offered. I wasn’t convinced this was worth all the effort it took to get here from New York.

But I loved the crew of fun-loving souls I was with so much, all so full of positive energy and a zest for life that any would envy. IMG_0825This hardy group had enough camaraderie to make a trip to the supermarket a fantastic time.

At the end of the day, we braved a half hour drive and rough roads in 4-wheel drive to reach the highly touted Strawberry Park Hot Springs at dusk. It was worth it though, to sit in the middle of the woods on such a cold night—under a sky full of stars—soaking in a natural mineral spring of 104 degree water. IMG_0757

Day 3 was a powder day. And a shift began in how I felt about this place. The trails began to feel more like smooth powdery snow slides, as we swish-swashed down their silky, fluffy buttery wonderfulness. And it felt more like floating than skiing. I felt weightless and all our smiles seemed to get bigger with each run.  Robin was excitedly saying “fresh pow”, “playful” and “flow rides” a lot, and my resolve to not be too impressed with this place began to thaw.

The lifties wore cowboy hats and cool outfits, with matching attitudes. It felt to me like they all knew something I didn’t, and I began to think I might want to find out what that was.

Then a local guy, who worked for Wyndam, and who we were skiing with, said “watch this,” as he held up a handful of granola up high. A bird instantly flew straight out of the woods to land in his hand. It was so unexpected and fun to see wildlife acting so tame and predictable.

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As we rode, our group got more rowdy from the adrenaline, as we jostled with each other on every chairlift ride and gondola ascent. At the end of Day 3, I felt like my legs were made of jello, and the altitude helped to make the Happy Hour margaritas in town at Salt and Lime go straight to my head. The tacos were inexpensive and delicious and we hit up a local dispensary afterwards, just because we could. But the chocolate shop—Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory was the bigger hit in my book.

Day 4 brought us even more powder and that took us into the trees. We spent the entire day skiing gladed trails that were often very steep. The powder was deep and the woods felt like a giant playground. I woo-hooed a lot and definitely felt fear, but the thrill was greater. We had a Denver local with us this time, a cousin of Ben’s, who guided us well into every gorgeous trail like Shadows, Closets, Triangle 3, the Fletcher Glades, Biscuits, Gravy and Christmas Tree Bowl. We decided to lap it on Morningside lift until our legs gave out and so we stopped at the insanely delicious Four Points Lodge for lunch.

But other than that short break, we could not stop chasing the high of feeling our skis turn and land between each aspen and pine in such deep pillow pockets of champagne powder. The experience had us all giddy with exhilaration and breathing heavy from high altitude exhaustion. We often watched in awe as Jake sent it off jumps like a pro everywhere he could find them.

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One of us, dear Erin, IMG_1284sadly lost a cell phone in all that powder between the trees, but the high we were all on made it almost a non-event.

We hit the beloved TBar for aprèsIMG_1097 and reveled in the warmth, solidarity and post ski day story-telling of that established, intimate slope-side space.IMG_1117

Day 5 brought more powder and so we took our tired legs into the trees, yet again, where we got lost…and then found. And I finally understood the joke, during a catch-your-breath moment in a small clearing in the middle of The Gulley (a glazed trail marked “Double Diamond-Ex” meaning experts only, not kidding). Colorado is worth it. And Steamboat is a magical spot full of such beautiful secrets and special places.

We ascended in the gondola at the end of our last ski day, racing to rise above the red orange glow of sunset that lit up the Colorado Rockies.

When we got to the top, we reveled in a purple and pink glow while the local happy hour crowd danced to live music. IMG_1202We then rode the gondola back down in thrilling darkness, under a sliver of new moon and twinkling lights the Steamboat Base area below.

Winter Carnival had begun, and so we stumbled into fun snow sculptures in the quaint cowboy downtown later that night as we explored a bit of nightlife.

On Day 6 we departed, with such profound gratitude for the sunny skies, those powder-filled days of tree-skiing, and the overall high of Steamboat Ski ResortIMG_0935

 

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