40 things Steamboat locals should know, including how to walk on ice and how to ride a bull
January 12, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — No matter how long you've been here, there are certain things you should know. Not the obvious things like how to ski or bike but more intrinsic things to have in your seasonal arsenal. We combed the valley floor for tips from experts to ease the learning curve.
How to drive on snow
No, this doesn't mean pulling donuts in a parking lot.
"Monitor road conditions," Bridgestone Winter Driving School Director Mark Cox said. "Determine how much traction is available by braking until the wheels lock up. If you're forced to react, you've already made a mistake. Most accidents can be prevented with just one additional second to react. Gain this by looking ahead. Brake only in a straight line prior to the curve. Accelerate only when you're able to straighten the wheel at the turn's exit. When your rear wheels skid and the vehicle spins, you're oversteering."
And don't panic or brake.
"Steer into the skid (the direction you'd rather be going) and accelerate smoothly to transfer weight to the rear and regain grip. When your vehicle refuses to turn, and the front wheels are skidding, you're understeering. Lift off the accelerator and turn back toward straight, allowing the front wheel to regain grip and start rolling."
How the town got its name
Wow your visiting friends with this little nugget of wisdom. When the first French fur trappers came through town in the early 1800s, they heard a bubbling sound emanating from the mineral spring near the site of the current Depot Arts Center. Mistaking it for the chugging engine of a steamboat, they named the area Steamboat Springs.
How to find King Solomon Falls
Don't ask how many people have gotten lost searching for this gem of a plunge-pool cliff jump. To get there, turn left on the dirt road past Columbine Cabins toward Three Forks Lodge. After about a half hour (10 miles), look for white cliffs on your left marking a two-track off to your right. (If you reach the entrance for Three Forks Lodge, you've gone too far.) Drive the bumpy road for a half-mile and then hike down a trail to the creek. The pool is about 20 minutes upstream. Take the trail close to the river instead of the one veering high to the right.
How to find freshies
Com'on … did you really think we were going to unveil our secret stashes? Best bet: Sign up for First Tracks. It could be the best ski town investment you'll ever make.
How to snowmo ski
Each year, Buffalo Pass vies with Wolf Creek for most snow in the state. To shred it via snowmobile, heed these hints from CMC Ski & Snowboard Business Professor Mike Martin.
"Bring two sleds, as well as extra belts, gas, spark plugs and a tow rope. Plan for a blizzard, from survival gear to headlamp and fire starter. If riding ‘caveman’ style (one person on each side), interlock arms for better balance. When it comes to towing, bring a long rope (or two) and stagger their length so towers can ride off to the sides."
How to snowmobile
"The biggest thing is to ride with people for safety,” Steamboat Powersports' staff said. “And always bring the proper safety gear, for everything from avalanches to spending the night outside."
For actual handling, get the hang of putting the snowmobile on edge, especially when riding off-trail.
"The biggest backcountry riding skill you can learn is counter-steering," staff said, adding that it involves getting the sled up on edge and turning the opposite way you're leaning. "You're handlebars go left to turn right and vice versa. Being on edge equals being in control."
How to ride a Poma
Put your poles in one hand, scooch forward to the line, wait for it to come around, then grab it and put the round seat between your legs.
Do. Not. Sit. Down!
At the top, pull it out and pendulum yourself forward to clear the off ramp. You didn't hear it from us, but to catch air en route, squat down just before a depression and then pop up and yell wheeee! (Just don't let the lift ops see you.)
How to park at Steamboat Resort
To cut your having-to-loop-back-around losses, head straight to Meadows Parking Lot and catch the shuttle or Wildhorse gondola. Otherwise, depending on how early you arrive, risk having to circle back by trying to fit into, in order, Ski Times Square, tiny micro-Knoll (now paid) and then Knoll Parking Lot.
Hint: If you arrive after 10 a.m., cruise Knoll's front row, where early-birds might have already left. To avoid all this cluster, hit the pay-for parking at Ski Times Square, which benefits the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, or convince a spouse or friend to drop you off at Thunderhead.
Best bet? Ride your bike.
How to ski bumps
Who else are we going to tap for this than Steamboat's own Nelson Carmichael, who brought home the Olympic bronze in 1992.
"Stay centered over your skis," he said, stressing weight placed evenly over your feet with shins resting on the tongue of your boots. "Keep your hips standing up, as opposed to sitting back. Have your hands up and forward, and your eyes looking ahead instead of at the bump you're skiing into. Stay tall, stay centered."
Also, control your speed.
"Edge pressure and turn angle dictate how fast you'll go. Concentrate on speed control through the line, in the ruts themselves. Connect one trough to the next, keeping downward pressure on your outside ski as you turn down the backside of each mogul. Finish each turn shape completely. The more across the hill your angle, the more control you'll have each time. Stay in the line, maintain downward pressure and finish with a decent angle."
When the Yampa River peaks
Wise soothsayers look to the west-facing slopes of Mount Werner for guidance. When the two brown spots on each side meet, that's when the river peaks.
"It's usually pretty darn spot-on," Backdoor Sports owner Peter Van de Carr said. "It's better than most high-tech USGS predictions."
How to roll a kayak
Consider kayaking as one step up the river rung from tubing. And we live in a great place to learn. To master it, first comes mastering the roll.
"It's crucial if you want to progress," Mountain Sports Kayak School’s Barry Smith said.
There are four keys:
"Kiss your cockpit, reach up and extend your blade out of the water, sweep it across the surface, and snap your hips keeping your head down. Having your head come up last is the most important. Master that and you're golden."
How to cast a fly
Veteran fly-casting instructor Jeff Ruff honed his 15-minute crash course for beginners by helping dozens of his Steamboat Springs Middle School students catch their first trout on a fly line. A flexible fly rod is a spring, and fly casters use the kinetic energy of 15 feet of fly line straightening out behind them to load it. Reversing the flex of the spring ultimately propels the line forward.
The first step, Ruff said, is to strip 15 to 20 feet of line beyond the tip of the rod. Second, raise the rod abruptly until its tip is straight above your head or just slightly beyond. Then exercise patience.
"You have to pause to let that line straighten out," he said. "Once you do that, it doesn't really matter what you do bringing the rod forward. It will make a loop, and the line will go out."
How to skate ski
Skate skiing correctly involves a learning curve, best gained by studying others, says U.S Nordic combined skier and 2018 Olympian Ben Berend.
"Like any sport, be in an athletic position," he said, advising knees slightly bent, head up and hands out in front and inside the frame of your shoulders, with elbows out slightly.
It's a lot like ice skating with ski poles, he adds. Alternate the skating motion from ski to ski, and as a beginner, push with your poles only on every other stride. The goal is to achieve economy of motion. Take your time and don't forget to glide.
"A lot of people go out for 30 minutes and say, 'I'm cooked,'" Berend said. "That's because they aren't skiing efficiently. Ski with your butt over your feet. If it's behind, you're going to get cooked."
How to snowboard
To master skiing's sister in schussing, approach the hill a little differently by starting on easier runs.
"Just because you can ski it without thinking, doesn't mean you should try it on a snowboard," said instructor Scott Anfang, who also coaches the American Association of Snowboard Instructors' National Snowboard Team.
Steer clear of narrow paths like cat tracks, he advises, and instead look for wide green and blue runs.
"Not all green runs are created equal," he said. "A nice wide, gentle, green run is great for learning to board."
Weight one edge or the other instead of riding flat to avoid the beginner body-slam, and commit to your edge transfer when turning. For gear, get boots that fit.
"If your feet are swimming, you'll be drowning when trying to snowboard," he said. Above all, he says, "Ride for yourself. Enjoy what you like about snowboarding."
How to Tele turn
People do care that you Tele. Especially if you do it correctly. Instead of dropping the knee or dropping the sport, PSIA-certified Telemark instructor Barry Smith said, "Don't drop too low … you can't turn your feet, and it's more tiring."
He adds to make sure you weight both feet and that as you're shuffling into position, "twist both of your feet at the same time." You also want both feet to remain independent.
An analogy some locals use: Pretend like you're picking up a penny while wearing a tight skirt. Still stuck? Take a lesson.
Q: How many Telemark skiers does it take to change a lightbulb? A: 10. One to change it and nine to say "nice turn!"
How to take a photo
We live in a great place to take photos. So don't blow it.
"Shoot during the golden hours," local photographer Dan Tullos said. "The sun's low angle creates shadows and adds depth and texture."
Also, put the important objects in thirds.
"If you're taking a picture of mountains, make sure the horizon is straight and positioned either one-third up from the bottom or one-third down from the top," he said. "This looks the most natural and emphasizes the foreground or sky. People's faces look best when they're positioned on the upper third of the photo."
Finally, he advises, include people in your landscapes: "It gives it a sense of scale and context."
How to avoid the grocery line
Local mom Val Dietrich has a foolproof scheme.
"I go first thing Sunday morning before the kids get out of bed," she said, adding that the store is usually fully stocked.
"Don't bring (the kids). They just prolong everything because they want everything." Also avoid holiday weekends, she adds, and Saturday evenings in winter. "That's when a lot of the tourists get to town, and the first thing they do is stock their fridge," she said.
Her final advice? "Don't go when I go."
How to pick up the tab
Do it secretively instead of making a big to-do about it. Slide the waiter your credit card en route to the bathroom, or snatch up the bill as soon as it arrives.
Hint: If you do it during happy hour, chances are you'll come out ahead come payback time.
How to dog sit
Live in a ski town, and it'll happen: Someone will ask you to take care of their dog while they skip town for the weekend.
Steamboat's Erin Orr offers this advice: “Rule No. 1: Don’t lose the dog. If the owner says Ellsworth needs to be kept on a leash, keep it on a leash. Rule No. 2: Follow instructions (no matter how weird). If Ellsworth’s owner says not to freak out if he poops candy wrappers, don’t freak out.”
Veteran dog sitter Tony Counts adds this pointer for taking care of pointers: "Know the dog first, as well as its habits and toys. Don’t let it up on the bed if it's not supposed to do so at home. Also, know its walking route and special foods — don't just give it a cheeseburger.”
How to pitch a tent
There was a time when tents needed instruction manuals and multiple people to pitch. Today, local companies like Big Agnes have simplified things, leaving you more time to catch that trout, climb a peak or roast that marshmallow over the fire. A few pointers: pitch the tent on level ground, spread out the base first and then connect the poles into each corner, and position the door accessibly (not leading straight into a bush). Also, note where your campfire will be beforehand (no need to have your tent smell like smoke). Final tip: crack a beer while you're setting it up; it might not make the process go faster, but it'll be more fun.
How to car camp
Unlike backpacking, car camping allows you to bring the kitchen sink, literally. Whether you're in a camper or tent, bring it all and ask questions about if you really needed it later.
For a key lakeside spot, reserve a campsite well in advance. For other more-roadside sites, take the time to explore a few to find the best spot, and don't park your car on the prime socializing real estate.
Backdoor Sports owner Peter VanDeCarr offers one more car camping must-have: "Bring a small guitar so you can sing songs," he said, adding that you can always crash in your car if the tent craps out.
How to appreciate art
Three letters: FFA. It stands for First Friday Artwalk. At the beginning of each month, local galleries open their doors and wine bottles to showcase new wares. The free downtown gallery stroll is perhaps town's best grassroots art event.
"It exposes people to the valley's creative energy," local artist Bonnie McGee said. Indeed, you couldn't ask for a better place to impress your date with your softer, cultural side. Just don't mix up your abstract from avant-garde.
When is naked hour at Strawberry Park Hot Springs?
It's a grey area. Not the part that's being uncovered, ahem, but the time. The "clothing optional after dark" decree ranges from as early as 5:30 p.m. in the dead of daylight-saving-time winter to 9:30 p.m. ish come June.
It's a great rule, just don't flaunt your wares so it can stay that way.
How to avoid butt bruises tubing the river
Avoiding a sore hinny when tubing the Yampa River is a team effort.
The tuber in front should alert fellow tubers behind to upcoming obstacles by yelling "butts up!" Then comes the art itself. Lift your derriere out of harm's way by arching your back up and weighting your elbows until the obstacle has passed.
Finally, make sure your tube is fully inflated before heading out for extra gluteal clearance.
How to wax your skis
"Hot waxing is similar for Nordic, jumping, Alpine and snowboarding," Winter Sports Club Nordic coach Brian Tate said, adding that an iron's heat opens up the base and allows for saturation. "Get a good vice and start with your ski warm. Drip or rub wax onto the base and then move the iron from tip to tail for about eight seconds, repeating to get full coverage. For Nordic, set the iron for the hardness of the wax and don't overheat the base; cross-country skis are fragile. Also, apply enough wax for heat control, keeping a good layer between iron and base. Scrape and brush once it's cooled. Scrape from tip to tail with consistent, careful pressure. A sharp scraper is important but also dangerous. A few passes should be enough. Brush aggressively from tip to tail."
How to tune your skis
"Don't," advises Olympian Chad Fleischer, of Fleischer Sport. "Let someone else do it. The days of tuning your own skis are pretty much gone, unless you really know what you're doing. These days, everyone's using precision machines that can give your skis everything from the perfect bevel to the perfect grind. Technology has come a long, long way so just bring it into the store."
How to carry your skis
You can tell a beginner from a seasoned vet before even setting edge to snow. It's all about how they carry their skis.
Don't be the gomer corralling skis and poles every which way across your chest. Carry them like a pro.
"Experienced skiers carry them over their shoulder with the tips forward," said local Olympian Deb Armstrong, who carried her skis to the gold medal podium in Giant Slalom at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. "Tourists carry them with the tails forward."
Stand them upright, locked together with their ski brakes, grab beneath the tips with a reverse grip and swing over your shoulder. Bonus: providing counterweight with your forearm frees up your hand to carry your poles, freeing your other hand to hold that coffee or breakfast burrito, or blow your nose.
How to ski powder
This you should really know how to do in the home of Champagne circle-R Powder. First, the basics:
"Practice your cough and raspy voice so when you call in sick it's believable," former U.S. Ski Team member David Lamb said. "Then make sure you have the right gear, which means fat skis. Their width will let you make the same kind of turn as you would on a groomer. And remember that speed is your friend, and falls in powder won't beat you up. Also, be smart when you can. In flat sections, follow packed-down tracks to save your energy for the real turns. Be light on your feet and don't steer your skis as much as pressuring your tails to slow you down and turn. Relax, look ahead, and take a direct line."
How to repair a bike flat
There are those who've gotten flats and those who will. To get back rolling and make that happy hour, Brock Webster of Orange Peel Bicycle Service said take your time.
"Don't rush it," he said. "A little bit of patience will save you time in the long run."
Only try a patch if you don't have a spare, he advises, and use plastic tire levers to help get the tire off.
"Only take off one side of the tire, and inflate the new tube a little so it has some shape,” he said. “Check the tire's inside for thorns, and then put it back on by hand, without the levers. Start at the valve stem and work back around to it, which gives it the most slack."
How to ride Little Moab
This short-but-sweet, loose-rocked, biking badge of courage just below the Quarry on Emerald Mountain is one of the trail system's only places to test your technical ability. So don't back off, Webster said.
"It's steep and looks like something you might want to inch your way down, but don't," he said. "Speed is your friend. Pick your line, don't halt momentum and hold on for a tenth of a mile." He also advises the usual when it comes to steep, technical riding: Keep your weight back, pick a clean line, and stay off the front brake. For those trying to ride up it, he said, good luck.
"That's like a once-a-year ride for me," he said. "It's all about the fitness, picking your line and keeping your wheels moving."
How to put on and take off skins
The craze of earning your turns is growing, and to do so you need a pair of touring bindings equipped with climbing skins. First, make sure they're sized correctly — you want slight tension, not slack — and are free of snow.
"Make sure it's centered, so it's not hanging off the edges," said ski patroller Kyle Lawton, who's skinned to the podium in several Cody's Challenge Randonee races. "Then pull taught and apply pressure with your hand to smooth out the bases before attaching the clip or tail attachment."
To remove, take off your skis, peel the skins off and fold each in half glue-to-glue (or re-attach backing) so they don't get dirty (with practice, you can keep your skis on when removing). Then stuff them in your jacket or pack and get ready to rip the next lap.
How to skin an elk
We're surrounded by the largest elk herds in the country. Know how to skin one.
"Get the meat cooled as quickly as possible by removing the hide," hunter Bill Van Ness said. "Get the elk stable and make sure your knives are sharp — the hide will dull them quickly."
After removing the entrails, he'll take out the tenderloins and then cut the hide midpoint in the animal.
"Cut a straight line from the belly to the spine and skin forward toward the shoulder," he said. "When you reach the front leg, cut around the knee joint and then up the back of the leg to the brisket. Peel the hide around the leg and continue up the neck to the skull. The back half is similar. Peel back the hide, cut around the knee and progress up the leg's inside. When the hide is off that half, remove the quarters and backstrap on that side and then carefully roll the elk over and do it all again. Take your time … don't cut yourself by going too fast."
How to wear a cowboy hat
Steamboat's ranching heritage ensures you'll see sombreros around town. But there's a right and wrong way to wear them, longtime cowboy Brent Romick said. Pick a hat with enough brim to shade your face, he said, and a crown that matches the shape of your face (i.e. a tall crown for a long face, a short one for a squat face).
And don't wear it crooked, to the side or at an angle "or else you'll look like a dance hall cowboy." Also, never wear it backward (the bow on the inside goes in back) and never, ever put your hat on your bed. "It's the worst luck," Romick said. "If you don't want to get your teeth knocked out at the rodeo the next day, don't put your hat on your bed."
Eight seconds for bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding.
In saddle bronc and bareback, cowboys must "mark out" the horse (exit the chute with spurs above horse's shoulders and hold there until horse's front feet hit the ground). In all, touching the animal, rider or any equipment with free hand results in disqualification.
Team roping: The clock stops when all four legs have been roped, slack has been taken up and both ropers are facing one another (five-second penalty if heeler catches only one foot).
Tie-down roping: Any three legs have to be tied together; the roper throws hands up to signal the flag judge, then gets back on and rides toward the calf, which must remain tied for six seconds after the rope is slack.
How to ride a bull
Okay, so you might not ever have to or want to. But it's a good skill regardless, even if it's just impressing your friends on a mechanical one at the bar.
"It's simple," said retired bull rider Brent Romick, whose calls his biggest accolade simply surviving. "Keep your hand closed, your feet in your rope, and your eyes open. Do these three, and you can often make it to eight seconds."
How to swing dance
Stuck in the toe-stepping rut? Head to Schmiggity's for Tuesday two-step night.
"If you can walk in and count from one to six, you can two-step," instructor Holly Blanchard said. "People make it harder and weirder than you have to."
Each quick gets one step, each slow gets two: "Quick, quick/slow, slow; or quick, quick, slow/quick, quick, slow."
For good ol' country swing, go to the same side ("to your right," she said, "so you spin around clockwise") and don't worry about your feet. "Your feet don't matter. It's all about big arm movements."
How to shovel snow
If you learn nothing else from this feature at least master this.
"Take the first few snowfalls real easy," Von Wilson of Backsmith Chiropractic said. "It's just like getting into shape for skiing and biking."
Next, he advises, use good form. "Bend your knees, try not to twist too much and keep your back straight."
Or, of course, you could ignore all this, which would be better for his business.
How to walk on ice
It's simple, experts said. Walk like a penguin. That means keeping your center of gravity over your front leg. Above all, look for trouble spots before they find you. If you get someplace suspect, adopt the penguin stance and weight your feet evenly and gingerly.
If you find yourself in a slip, you have two options, both a bit of a lose-lose: try to recover, which can often make things worse; or go with it, often resulting in a derriere-landing splatdown. And you can always swallow your pride and invest in those nifty traction devices for the bottom of your shoes. Just remember to take them off before hitting the dance floor.
How to ice skate
With an Olympic sheet of ice a block from downtown, ice skating should be in your Steamboat bag of tricks. Assuming you're emulating Av's star Nathan MacKinnon and not Will Ferrell, go with hockey skates.
“The edge control is similar to skiing,” said Ryan Dingle, head coach for the Steamboat Wranglers. “For balance, keep your weight centered, with an imaginary line between the balls of your feet, knees and shoulders.”
How to ski with kids
Lessons are the best way to teach your kids how to ski. But there'll also come a time when you're out on the slopes with them, yelling the classic "pizza pie!" and "french fry!" commands.
Hint: Tell your aspiring skiers to put their hands on the outside of their knees and "push the magic button" to turn and slow down (push the right magic button to turn left, the left to turn right, and both to slow down).
You'll also delve into the realm of the vertebrae-tweaking ski harness, which has mummified more than one mom.
Former kids' ski instructor Julie Maus advocates holding a ski pole out to the side for them to grab onto when they need to slow down.
"We didn't even use a harness for our daughter, Lily," she said. "She went to the pole technique right away."
To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email ebuchanan@SteamboatPilot.com