Insider tips to riding Steamboat Resort, plus alternatives that are kind to your pocketbook
December 24, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Welcome to Steamboat. Here are our tips for hitting the slopes — and après — like a local.
First Tracks is the best way to ensure fresh tracks on the mountain. It lets you board the gondola before everyone else, between 8 and 8:15 a.m., and gives you special access to untracked terrain from the Sundown Express, Sunshine Express and South Peak lifts.
Bonus: It's for intermediate and advanced skiers and riders only. 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," one glass-pressing local said. "It carries with it some pretty big bragging rights."
Like fresh cord? Try night skiing 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 reopens at 5:30 p.m., you get fresh corduroy. And if it's snowing, you'll get nighttime freshies. It's a great precursor to a beverage at the base afterward.
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. Hours are 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, with nightly skiing during the holidays and later hours in spring.
Bonus: If you fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport in 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 instead you’ll have a rustic, convenient escape from the elements at the top of the lift, meaning no lost time getting warm. Plus, it's the perfect place to break out that sandwich you've been carrying in your pocket all day.
On the cheap
Affordable alternatives to taking the family on the slopes of Mount Werner.
Ski for free: On Sundays, you can ski free at the city-owned Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat. Thank the city's Olympic heritage for the free turns, as the promotion was approved ahead of last year's Olympic Winter Games to honor the historic ski area, which has produced more than 90 winter Olympians. Free skiing also includes access to Howelsen's Nordic, snowshoeing and fat bike trails.
Bike, fish or snowshoe Stagecoach: As part of their efforts to encourage Coloradans to get outdoors, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is now offering free snowshoe, ice fishing and fat tire bike rentals at Stagecoach State Park. Rentals are available on a first come first served basis and are free with the purchase of a park pass.
Alternative lodging: Memorable lodging experiences can be found for just $80 a night in small cabins at Steamboat Lake State Park, an hour north of Steamboat. Cabins sleep up to six people. To "rough" it a little more, try a heated yurt at Pearl Lake for the same price (requires a 10-minute walk, snowshoe or cross-country ski along a road). Other North Routt lodging includes cabins at Hahn's Peak Roadhouse and rooms at the Glen Eden, which both have restaurants and bars.
Get around town for free: If you took a shuttle from the Hayden airport to Steamboat, utilize the city's free bus system. It connects breweries, restaurants and dispensaries in West Steamboat to downtown and the base area. A bus arrives every 20 minutes.
While you won't find this kid-friendly "secret passage" on any maps, it's as mesmerizing as any lion, witch or wardrobe for youngsters with a decent snowplow.
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 the trail follows the old mountain bike track 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 the Broadway catwalk (left at the top of West Side), sporting awesome views of the Flat Tops Wildernes Area. Another can be found on the straightaway to the left between the top of the Burgess Creek lift and the gondola, and another exists to skier's left about one-third of the way down upper Vagabond.
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 (a great way to access Storm Peak Express from the top of the gondola).
Beat the lines: ride singles
Skiing or riding by yourself? Take the singles lines. It’s 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!"
Take a snowcat or sleigh ride to dinner
For a break from the usual dining routine, snowcat to a multicourse dinner from the top of the gondola to Four Point Lodge or sleigh ride behind a snowcat to Ragnar's for a five-course Scandinavian meal. You also can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride before dinner at Haymaker Golf Course.
Sunset Happy Hour
Come February, 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.
Bashor Bowl Chuckwagon
In the spring, hit the Chuckwagon at the bottom of Bashor Bowl for beers and snacks on a sunny day. You'll avoid the crowds while the kids lap the terrain park.
To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email ebuchanan@SteamboatPilot.com.