AudVentures: Skiing with ski legend Kim Reichhelm and Steamboat Powdercats
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Dressed in a trendy lime green ski coat and pants, blonde and tall, and effortlessly loading skis into the vehicle, female skiing legend Kim Reichhelm is instantly recognizable. She greeted me with a welcoming grin that promised a day of adventure.
I joined Reichhelm’s Ski With Kim clinic, which she started in 1989, hosting clinics, camps and trips all over the world aimed at inspiring more women to get into skiing all over the world.
On Saturday, Steamboat Powdercats and Reichhelm took us to the powder paradise of Routt County known as Buff Pass.
“Make your own tracks,” said Reichhelm to me and four other women who shared 25-plus years of friendship with Reichhelm. “Don’t just follow what everyone else is doing — venture out a bit.
“There’s something about outdoor adventure,” added Reichhelm, a former U.S. Ski Team member and U.S. Freeskiing Champion. “It brings out your best.”
Our ski chariot for the day, a red snowcat, arrived at 9 a.m. as we headed up the mountain to Buffalo Pass’s 5,000 skiable acres.
Bristling with anticipation, the group, which included me, Reichhelm, Jim Grew and guides Kevin Ownes, Brynn Gotchey and Stephen Bass, livened up as the snowcat reached the top of its ascent for our first run through an aspen grove of powder thanks to the prior evening’s snowfall. Saturday proved to be a powder day and then some.
To afford to live here, we work two to three jobs to earn those days of untouched powder. We dream of those bluebird skies where the snow is pristine, lunch is scrumptious and the end-of-the-day beer is refreshingly cold.
“This, this is a really good day,” said Gotchey, smiling at me after another cloud-like run.
“That velvety, sparkling snow, it’s like you’re skiing on a cloud – these are the kind of days I dream about,” said Ben Saheb, Steamboat Powdercats photographer.
Jim Grew, a former USA Water Ski president and USA Water Ski member who moved to Steamboat in the 1990s, said he decided to make the move to Steamboat because of Steamboat Powdercats, our hosts for the day.
“I’ve skied all over the world and some of the best snow I’ve found is here in Steamboat,” Grew said.
The native Floridian equates skiing on cloud-like powder to his days of slalom water-skiing. Grew, who started skiing with Steamboat Powdercats about 25 years ago, has become the operation’s most frequent guest.
For Grew and the guides who help run Steamboat Powdercats, it’s a family.
“Why Steamboat Powdercats? First of all, it’s the guide’s level of care and commitment,” Grew said. “They love what they do, and they’re good at it – it shows. They are like a large family with different, interesting personalities that mesh very effectively. They are the ones that make it enjoyable for me.”
Seven runs into the day, we head into lunch – a spread of warm soup, chicken, vegetables and mashed potatoes – at the mid-Buffalo Mountain cabin. The food is courtesy of longtime skiing guide and river rafting guide Mike Rakowski.
Reichhelm ventures outside for a moment to take in her surroundings, face upturned to the bluebird sky.
I follow and couldn’t help but ask, “You’ve skied with a number of athletic icons, you could do anything you want, be anywhere in the world, why be a guide, instructor?”
“I love it,” she answered. “I do it because I love it, and I’m good at it. I try to create an environment that leaves egos at the door, where there is no judgment and cliques. To allow for breakthroughs to happen.
“When you are in a group where you feel comfortable enough to push your comfort zone past your own limitations, that’s where you find that edge,” she continued. “There’s something about if you see your friend do something you think, ‘Well, if she can do it, I can too.’ And sure enough, you can.”
Following Owens, who won a few freestyle points for getting some air on the wind lip on the last run of the day, we let out “Woohoos!” – a blur of colors zipping through the aspen grove run known as “Double 07,” meeting the snowcat at the bottom and saying “hello” to the other groups as they follow our tracks.
Arriving back at the Powdercats office at Ski Time Square we unload our gear, crack open an ice-cold beer and view our group photos from the day, attempting to transition back to reality.
Not wanting the adventure to end, I say my goodbyes to the women who at first were strangers and now are friends. I hug Reichhelm goodbye as we discuss the promise of the next, hopeful adventure.
She offers me a few parting words of advice to continue to “always push that edge and my own limits” and to “never stay stagnant.”
As the sun begins to set and the day is celebrated with a game of bags, I sip on my beer – a smile still permanently there – while the guides around me recount stories from the day and another great season.
“These are the days we live for,” said Gotchey, summing up my thoughts exactly.
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