Insider tips to skiing, riding Steamboat
First Tracks is the best way to ensure fresh tracks on the mountain. It lets you board the gondola before everyone else, between 8 a.m. and 8:15 a.m., and gives you special access to untracked terrain from the Sundown Express, Sunshine and South Peak lifts. Bonus: it’s for intermediate and advanced skiers and riders only. Cost is $39 extra per day, or $210 for a 6-day, transferable pass. Yee-haw!
Forsake First Tracks and you can still maximize freshies by “pressing glass” with the masses at the base of the gondola. The term refers to pressing your cheeks up to the window while waiting for the gondola to open. “It’s become quite the ritual among the diehards,” says one glass-pressing local. “It carries with it some pretty big bragging rights.”
Like fresh cord? Try night skiing Thursday through Monday nights on the Christie Peak Express lift. It’s like First Tracks, but for fresh corduroy. Steamboat’s groomers manicure each run to perfection every evening, meaning that when the lift re-opens at 5:30 p.m. you get fresh corduroy. And if it’s snowing, you’ll get nighttime freshies. Five trails are open for night skiing — including Sitz, See Me/See Ya, Vogue, Stampede and Lil’ Rodeo — offering 1,100 vertical feet of terrain under state-of-the-art Ultra-Tech™ Lighting. Bonus: it’s a great precursor to a beverage at the base afterward. Hours: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 15 to Feb. 20 (nightly Dec. 25 to Jan. 4), and 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays Feb. 23 to March 27. Cost: $37 for adults ($25 with 7-day advance purchase), $27 ($15) for teens, and $17 ($10) for kids. Bonus: If you fly into Hayden, show your boarding pass at the ticket window for free night skiing the evening you arrive.
Pony Express warming yurt
For an old-fashioned break from the elements, bop into the warming yurt at the top of the Pony Express lift. You won’t find meal service or a bar, but it’s a convenient escape from the elements at the top of the lift, meaning no lost time getting warm. Plus, it’s the perfect place to to break out that sandwich you’ve been carrying in your pocket all day.
While you won’t find this kid-friendly “secret passage” on any maps, for youngsters with a decent snowplow it’s as mesmerizing as any lion, witch or wardrobe. Head due north into the trees from the teepee on the right side of the trail between Upper and Lower Vagabond, then hang on for the ride as it follows the old mountain bike uptrack through a series of quick switchback turns, whoop-de-doo’s and straight-aways down to BC Skiway far below. From there, you can hit the Thunderhead lift so your kids can lap it again. Just beware the final steep plunge onto the catwalk.
Picnic with a view
Not the lodge type? Bring your own fare to one of several outdoor picnic tables scattered across the mountain, all with commanding views of the valley. One is located at the hairpin turn on Broadway, sporting awesome views of the Flat Tops; another can be found on the straightaway to the left between the top of the Burgess Creek lift and the gondola; and a third exists to skier’s left about a third of the way down upper Vagabond.
Hike to the weather station (if Morningside’s closed)
If the gates are open up top but the Morningside lift isn’t, shoulder your skis and boot pack to the top of Mount Werner from the top of Storm Peak Express. It only takes 10-15 minutes if you’re in decent shape (quicker, oftentimes, than skiing down to and riding Morningside). Plus, it makes you feel better about all those nachos and beers afterward.
Ski the beetle kill
While the pine beetle might have whalloped the local lodgepole tree population, the resort’s eradication efforts have opened up great new glades yet to be found on maps. Classic spots include the north-facing slopes on the lower mountain dropping from the top of lower Vagabond (look for the teepee) and the Why Not catwalk down to BC Skiway; a new glade to skier’s right of Vogue and dropping north to Short Cut; and a gladed area to skier’s right of Surprise below the FlatOut catwalk, taking you to the bottom of the Burgess Creek lift (it’s also a great way to access Storm Peak Express from the top of the gondola).
Early season hint
Every early season is different in Ski Town USA, depending on what’s open, meaning you’ll never ski or ride the mountain the same way twice. Here’s an age-old trick for skiers to maximize powder if Upper Closets and Shadows are open but not Lower. Since the pole/skate out on the Duster catwalk to Rainbow Saddle is a pain for snowboarders, not many venture there, lessening the tracks. And if you’re wobbling between taking your skis or board out, opt for your skis just for accessing that terrain.
Beat the lines: ride singles, be sly
If you’re skiing or riding by yourself, take the singles lines. They’re usually faster, whether you’re riding the gondola or a quad. Two other ways to avoid the gondola bottleneck is to ride up Christie Peak Express to Thunderhead; or convince a friend or loved one (or lodge shuttle driver) to drive up Burgess Creek Road and drop you off at the Thunderhead lift (note: no parking).
Buy a mug/medallion
If you’re a regular visitor, consider buying a mug at the T-bar or medallion at Slopesisde. It will get you discounts on drinks and help you feel like a local.
Ride Bar U-E
Who says you have to ride high speed quads all day? Pay homage to the past on the Bar U E lift to get some quiet time during storms and scout out terrain often overlooked by the masses. Plus, it lets you partake in that age-old pastime of holding up your hand and yelling “Single!”
Snowcat or sleigh ride to dinner
For a break from the usual dining routine, snowcat to a multi-course dinner from the top of the gondola to the 4 Point Lodge, or sleigh ride behind a snowcat to Ragnar’s for a five-course Scandinavian meal. You can also take a horse-drawn sleigh ride before or after dinner at Haymaker Golf Course.
Bashor Bowl Chuckwagon
Hit the Chuckwagon at the bottom of Bashor Bowl for beers and snacks on a great spring day. You’ll avoid the crowds while the kids lap the terrain park.
Gondola Happy Hour
Come spring, one of the best rituals on the mountain is riding the gondola up at sunset to live music and a sunset happy hour at Thunderhead Lodge. You won’t find a better view of the Yampa Valley.
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