Skiing in Steamboat Springs & Breckenridge, Colorado – February 2018

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Steamboat Springs, Colorado

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Two weeks before we were due to pack our skis, snowboard and the rest of the enormous quantity of paraphernalia which accompanies a week in the snow, I was frantically searching online for an alternative winter destination somewhere (anywhere) in the sun. There was no snow in Colorado! It had been the worst start to the ski season in living memory and there were reports of general doom and gloom with summer droughts ahead unless the fluffy white stuff started to fall.

Up-to-the-minute online reviews painted a picture of patchy manmade snow, icy collisions on dangerously overcrowded runs and ski resorts operating with 50% fewer slopes open than usual. First world problems, I know… but a week relaxing on a Caribbean beach sounded distinctly more appealing and far less treacherous.

I watched the daily resort forecasts convinced we’d have to cancel until a friend in Colorado reported back that some decent snowfall was finally predicted so we packed our boots with trepidation and took a chance.

First stop Steamboat Springs – our favorite ski town – first day – first run and we were calf deep in perfect powdery snow. Perhaps not the champagne powder for which Steamboat is famous but perfect for us on the long, winding runs through the trees. No icy collisions nor broken bones… just peace and quiet listening only to the whooshing sound of my skis and the grating of my companion’s snowboard as he whizzed past me every so often. Of course, it would have been nice if I could see past the end of my skis or identify Geoff in his luminous yellow jacket at less than 10 feet but the compromise for all of the sudden snowfall was that we were alternating between white-out pea soup thick freezing cloud (where we couldn’t even see the ground beneath our respective planks) and giant, gently falling snowflakes which at least muffled the sound of Geoff’s board… ghastly thing 😉

It wouldn’t be Steamboat if we didn’t finish a hard day of skiing cooking at 104F in the hot springs at Strawberry Park – a 20 minute drive out of town into the foothills. We haven’t seen much change over the years in the somewhat limited facilities there – which is all part of the charm, of course. However, I don’t think either of us would recommend a Saturday evening there again – it is perhaps getting too popular for its own good. Usually we requisition one of the smaller private pools but every one of its small and large pools were people soup full of 20 somethings pouting at their cellphones taking selfies. I wonder if at any stage they stopped admiring themselves for long enough to appreciate their surroundings – steaming natural hot springs pouring out of the mountain side in a beautiful wooded glade. I suspect not.

Steamboat is a gastro destination so it would be remiss of me not to mention our favorite restaurant – excellent for vegans and non-vegans alike. Laundry is so popular that I booked 6 weeks in advance for the 2 nights we planned to eat there. Pray for a miracle if you turn up in high season and want to enjoy their delicacies without a long-standing reservation. Table 79 was our posh go-to choice for years but we struggled enormously there this time and ended up restricted to 4 veggie side dishes… no doubt it’s still great if you eat meat! Rooting around online looking for other vegetarian/vegan options, I fell upon Rootz Cafe – a typical hippie-style, boho cafe serving superlative vegan bowls and the odd non-vegan dish. They also have an interesting collection of peacock feather earrings if that’s your bag 😉 Thoroughly cliched in outward appearance but absolutely excellent 🙂

Back to skiing… by our second ski day there had been many more inches of fluffy white snow overnight. Geoff had his best slope day ever – glade boarding on the black runs in pristine virgin powder – without any major wipe-outs. He neither impaled himself on any tree limbs – nor broke any more ribs after a hard landing (as per the final jump of the final run of the final day of our last ski vacation 😉 )… all of these things are a bonus!

So, with hindsight (and a lot of overnight snowfall) we were very pleased we hadn’t cancelled and swapped the wintery wonderland for a week on the beach 🙂 The sun was only intermittent but when it shone it was glorious as it should be in Colorado in winter.

Back to Strawberry Park after our second day of skiing and boarding for some more therapeutic waters – Monday is obviously the day to go! We grabbed our favorite pool and wallowed for an hour before we looked like boiled lobsters. Whilst it is much more pleasant without the hordes of pouting kids, I am beginning to feel too old and too spoilt to deal with the non-existent, icy cold changing facilities. Unless you remembered to pack your flip-flops for your skiing vacation, you have to step onto icy gravel at the side of the pool, hop about from one freezing foot to the other trying to hold a towel around you and simultaneously strip off a dripping wet swimsuit with one hand and get dressed with the other – all without dropping your clothes in the muddy slush. There is an open air teepee “changing room” which is usually jam-packed with other shivering guests trying to maintain their dignity as they struggle to dry themselves and get dressed without keeling over from hypothermia.

It transpired, however, that if we hadn’t been in such a rush to get in and out of the water as quickly as possible, we might have taken the time to notice that they have built a proper changing room at the top of the steps heading out of the springs 😉

To rest our weary legs unaccustomed to the rigors of the slopes, we decided to head out to Rabbit Ears Pass to snowmobile in Routt National Forest on the Continental Divide with Steamboat Snowmobile. As usual I near froze to death as pillion passenger tasked with photographing over the top of Geoff’s helmet (without the benefit of a pair of nice warm thick-fingered skiing gloves or heated handle-bars) as we traversed the wide open snowfields and navigated glades so narrow that our helmets were whipped by snow-laden branches. It was a day well spent (despite the frost-bite in my fingers) and the whole day trip included lunch back at base camp where we were so cold we ate things which ordinarily wouldn’t pass our lips. I am still bouncing off the ceiling 6 days later on a sugar high from the 8″ homemade peanut butter, chocolate chip, brown sugar cookie which I managed alone in one sitting 🙂

During our last ski trip to Breckenridge we went dog-sledding with Good Time Adventures, and indeed, we had such a good time that I decided to book us on another afternoon of dog-sledding. This time, however, I was looking for something a little less commercial and a little more authentic. An hour outside of Steamboat, miles down a dirt track thick with snow (where the track dead ends) we found a trailer and a pack of huskies belonging to Snow Buddy Dog Sled Tours. This was the trailhead for our dog sledding trip with Snow Buddy  – a very small family run outfit. We got lucky. We were the only guests to head out for the afternoon so we had the undivided attention of the owner Sarah, Jimmy (the 777th person to run the Iditarod along with 5 of the huskies who had run it with him) and Cody – providing (amongst other things) photographic, snowmobile rescue and cookie-warming services.

The huskies were irresistibly gorgeous (if ever there was a dog I might consider to bring into my supremely OCD not very dog-friendly life it would be a Siberian husky). We learnt the commands (Ready Hike, Easy Whoah, left is Ha Ha, right is Gee Gee) and how to harness them safely to the towlines. All the while they bounced around, howling like banshees and rolling in the snow barely able to contain their excitement.

And then off at mach 2.

Geoff was mushing his own team under the guidance of Jimmy who regaled him with tales of his Iditarod run and I had the guided tour by Sarah luxuriously huddled up under 3 blankets and a waterproof cover trying to stay warm whilst occasionally exposing my camera shutter finger for the purposes of posterity… the sacrifices I make are impressive 😉

I learned that Colorado’s aspen trees are the largest living organism on earth due to a process of cloning which occurs when roots from one tree sprout new trees which obviously then share an identical genetic makeup. There may be many clones in one aspen grove or the entire grove can be one huge clone. Fascinating – but a far more useful discovery is that the side of the aspen tree which faces the sun “perspires” and leaves a white powder coating which can be used as a natural sunscreen for the skin. Historically, Native Americans used this powder (bloom) for sun protection.

Anyway… back to the dogs. We had barely left base camp and I was bombarded with the usual collection of flying dog poo and showered with horizontally propelled pee. Luckily I was completely safe under my waterproof protection 😉 Geoff should have been very relieved he was not traveling at pungent odor level as one of my doggies had apparently snaffled a double portion of barbecue beef for dinner the night before which had played havoc with her delicate internal workings. As a result of her overindulgence I spent most of the afternoon sharing her bowel discomfort with fairly frequent odiferous wafts in the wind 😉

We passed through meadows and drove through aspen groves and pine forest. Heading up a mountain side there was a hair-raisingly hairy right hand turn – the dogs were so excited that the sled tipped 45 degrees and I was sure I would be ejected into the snow until Sarah heaved right and pulled me and the sled back upright again. Quite exhilarating!

During our 13/14 mile run we drove through gently falling snow, sunshine and something just short of a blizzard! To give the dogs a rest and an opportunity to cool down and, conversely, the humans an opportunity to defrost we stopped half way at a warming tent way out in the boonies where homemade chocolate chip cookies were warming on the stove. A couple of mugs of hot chocolate and an undetermined number of cookies later we headed back to base camp – this time Geoff chose to huddle up under the blankets on the sled whilst the pro musher took over.

Brilliant fun 🙂

And then on to Breckenridge – heading south on scenic Route 9 passing Blue River and the mountain ranges of Vail and Beaver Creek. Breckenridge ski resort had had some of the worst reviews for appalling conditions but 3 days before we left Steamboat it started snowing and 12″ fell before we arrived. Yippee!

Amongst other energetic activities during our remaining days in Breckenridge we hiked out on a couple of trails we love – through the pine forest on the Sallie Barber mining trail and Baker’s Tank mining trail high up on the spectacular Boreas Pass with views over Breckenridge ski resort. Expending all of this energy, I felt wholly justified in stopping at Crepes a la Cart on Main Street for one or two of their legendary Funky Monkey crepes (chocolate, peanut butter and banana – all of my favorite food groups wrapped up in a wafer thin crispy crepe…  it is worth flying half way across the country for these alone 🙂 For anyone planning a trip to Breck – aside from my favorite crepe stand, other noteworthy restaurants include Relish and its trendy sister Twist, Ember and according to a vegan friend Piante Pizzeria has rave reviews… despite being vegan 😉 … which is pleasing to know 🙂

Another gastronomically enjoyable and fun trip in the snow survived in our two favorite ski towns without fatality or injury 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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