Champagne powder, glorious pistes and riding horses in the snow, are just three of the Magnificent 7 reasons to visit Steamboat Ski Resort
And then there's High Noon...
1) COLD MOUNTAIN
The champagne powder® is so exclusive that it's a trademark registered by Steamboat Ski Resort. Who knew? It was local rancher Joe McElroy who apparently coined the phrase back in the 50s, declaring that the light powder tickled his nose like champagne (lucky, then, it didn't end up as Cocaine Powder®).
But it's true that Steamboat’s snow is uber light and sparkling, averaging 6 percent water content compared to the 15 percent more typical of fresh powder elsewhere. Indeed it's also known as 'blower' pow as you can see the powder glittering in the air after a storm and hovering like a cloud when it's blown off a branch.
Just why Steamboat is hit by storms so frequently and with so little water content is all to do with distance from the ocean, prevailing winds and height of the resort. But why do very few weather sites accurately predict the snowfall? When there's an inch and a half due according to the forecasts, the Steamboat crew smile broadly knowing it'll be more like a foot or two.
The most accurate forecast site is Open Snow, written by meteorologist and local, Joel Gratz. If you're a weather geek read more here about Steamboat's weather in detail, otherwise, just enjoy the fact that the champagne seems to keep pouring out the skies during the winter months..
2) THE BIG COUNTRY
Steamboat Ski Resort is at 2103m rising up to a height of 3220m close to the highest of European glacier resorts (Tignes is 3456m). With nearly 3000 acres and 169 trails, the inbounds area is vast with every turn revealing a picture postcard view.
Steamboat is actually a complete mountain range: Mount Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Pioneer Ridge, and Christie Peak. On storm days the powder is often knee deep even on the pistes and, for a few dollars more, around $40, you can buy yourself some exclusivity to the powder via First Tracks. And then there are those glorious groomers for bluebird cruising, with some floodlit for night skiing on the weekends
Out of bounds is obviously even bigger country, quieter and mostly untracked but, of course, discouraged unless you know where you're going and have safety kit. Read our cautionary Lost In Steamboat tale.
The best place to be when you're stormriding in all that falling champagne powder® and stunning when it's a bluebird are the glorious glades of conifers majestically cloaked in white snow and the magic forests of aspens world class for tree skiing or snowboarding. They are not even off piste but more between piste and open to anyone to dip in and out.
If you didn't know, aspen glades are connected underground with a massive joined root system, the largest living organism on the planet, so be careful not to bump into one of the fine silvery trunks as you'll send a shiver through the forest.
3) COMES A HORSEMAN
Forty minutes from the Steamboat Ski Resort driving passed ranch land teaming with cattle and,also elk pretending to be cows so as to score some winter hay, you come to Del's Triangle 3 Ranch. Here's where you can do powder but on horseback with the legendary, Ray 'I've been called a cowboy all my life but I've never owned a cow' Heid. This dude is as gnar as his well worn elk skin coat with beaver collar. Sometimes he has to lead his mount through three foot snow drifts during the hour and a half ride and the next day you'll find him telemarking on what must be the gnarest ski set up still in use with cowboy boots strapped onto skis.
At 81 years old he is typical of the older generation of ski dudes (see 6), last year deciding to ski for 80 days to mark his birthday, completing the last 15 with his arm in a sling following a fall, which is exactly how the West was won.
4) PAINT YOUR WAGON
Then for more horse action you can join the wagon train. OK so it isn't the wildest west but, blanketed in white snow, you'd never know it was the local golf course. Our wagons rolled, towed by magnificent Belgian shire horses circling the 18th hole as the setting sun lit up Steamboat Ski Resort before a mighty fine three course dinner in the Haymaker Club.
5) URBAN COWBOY
A five minute shuttle ride from Steamboat Ski Resort brings you into the original picturesque mining town, now bustling with shops, bars and restaurants. F M Light & Sons is the famous 100 year old mercantile with all the wild west paraphernalia including the sort of tooled cowboy boots that Errol Flynn wouldn't have minded dying in when surrounded by Sitting Bull and his warriors (They Died With Their Boots On, 1941). He might, also, have requested one last craft beer from the local brewers.
Bars are buzzing like every day's pay day at the local coal mine, which is still shovelling 30km south-west of Steamboat. Reservations are advised but sharp elbows rather than sharp shooting will get you a place at the bar in Mahogany Ridge, Carl's Tavern or The Laundry.
And it's surely more urban than pioneer cowboy to head for Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a half an hour's drive from Steamboat Ski Resort, just the relaxing thing after a morning's shred. But if you're expecting a fancy city spa with fluffy white robes then, dude, just remember we're out west. At Strawberry Park, the hot mineral springs flow out of the rocks at 40ºC and mix with cold creek water to provide a choice of pools varying from melting hot to skin-numbing cold, all set in snowy surroundings so natural that you wouldn't be surprised to see a bear in the springs next to you fishing for salmon (except, of course, they're still hibernating).
The air temperature is, in contrast, pretty cold in the winter and changing al fresco (there's a cabin if you prefer) is like outdoor school swim trips where you learn that speed is key to preventing hyperthermia. It's not often you see bikinis worn with woolly beanies but it helps prevent brain freeze; also flip flops for going pool to pool are a good idea otherwise treading without wincing over the icy stones is True Grit
6) THE GOOD OLD BOYS
Pete Townshend, Mick J, Rod, Bob Dylan and, of course, Johnny Cash, they were all there at the gondola entrance, at the chairlifts and in the bars. The hills of Steamboat are alive with the sound of 70s and 80s rock music and apparently the Steamboat playlists are chosen by whoever is in charge that day so either they're young with a great and mature taste in music or they are over 60 and know how to rock the resort and create the best vibe for riding pow.
Talking 'bout our generation? There are plenty of them in Steamboat, wearing cowboy hats on monoskis or leather jackets on snowboards. Along with the POWS, Pensioners On Wide Skis, they prove that, if not for so many retired baby boomers SKI-ing as in Spending Kids' Inheritance, resorts would be quiet on both the visitor and music fronts. Certainly no one at Steamboat Ski Resort hopes to die before they get old.
7) RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY
High noon, mid-afternoon or midnight. You choose. In Colorado you can grow your own marijuana up to six plants, buy and carry one ounze to smoke (or eat) legally although not openly or publicly. But sometimes you only need to breathe in while riding in a gondola cabin.
It could be why everyone at Steamboat Ski Resort seems so friendly - take a chairlift with someone from the 'singles' line and it's like forced speed-dating. With no escape for the duration of the lift, you either interact, answering all their questions, or throw yourself off into three feet of fresh snow to escape. But, if you're lucky to be with a local, you'll learn everything you need to know about the resort, snow and secret stashes. Also about their dog and/or love life. Maybe it is the weed or maybe it's just that they are super friendly in Steamboat wanting to know howya doing?
Welcome to Ride the Hi Country...