Powderhounds share advice as countdown to Steamboat ski season begins
November 8, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A flurry of snowflakes leave a dusting in their wake. The familiar chill returns as the days get darker earlier.
We welcome the muffled stillness as we linger at the window, watching the snow fall, coffee brewing.
In the quiet, there's a whisper of ski season drawing near as we look to the snow-capped Mount Werner, anticipating what’s to come.
In less than two weeks, the 2018-19 ski season will arrive, and Explore Steamboat asked a few local powderhounds what they do to prepare the mind, body and, of course, the equipment for five months of epic bliss.
Wait for snow to stack up or get out while you can
"First, be safe," said Michael Martin, avid skier who started his own production company, Michael Martin Productions. "There’s no tomorrow if you crush yourself today.
Recommended Stories For You
"You haven’t been using those leg muscles in awhile," he said. "In order to skim over logs, rocks, etc., you will likely need to use your skis or boards in a different way, with muscles you haven't used in awhile, to avoid the hazards."
Thin snow coverage means there’s a definite possibility of hitting something.
"My rule is, be careful, don’t ski alone, keep your speed down and use backcountry skiing to get into shape, but don't go after any big faces or sketchy terrain," said Kim Reichhelm, legendary “License To Thrill” pro athlete who skis all across the world and hosted a Women's Ski Adventure clinic with Steamboat Powdercats.
"A shallow snowpack of a meter or less is a red flag in regards to avalanche danger and needs to be treated with extra care on steeper slopes," said Dan Gilchrist, a Steamboat Springs local known for making appearances in films by Warren Miller Entertainment and Matchstick Productions.
"A shallow snowpack can turn rotten with a dry spell and cold clear nights, leading to a persistent weak layer going into the season," Gilchrist said. "It's best to stick to grassy lower angle slopes in the early season."
Another option? Cross country skiing, according to Rory Clow, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club marketing director and avid skier.
"I'll also head out early season for touring and restrict it to skins only to just start scoping out the terrain and seeing how the snow is loading in certain areas — meaning no skiing," Clow said. "I'm a safety-first kind of girl."
How to get those ski legs ready
"Each morning, I get up before the sun and ride my spin bike for an hour,"
said Reichhelm, who is currently living off the grid in Mexico until ski season. "I create workouts that include my environment — swimming, lunges on the beach, etc. Every day, I switch it up to hit a new group of muscles and let the others rest and recover."
"Skiing at Loveland or Arapaho Basin is great right now, especially mid-week," Gilchrist said. "That will get the legs burning and get you going for the season. Cross country skiing West Summit loops on Rabbit Ears is another good option.
"Be patient. It's a long season," Gilchrist said. "If you choose to ski early-season, shallow powder, use fatter skis. Generally ski with them closer together and lighter on your tips."
"Boots are the most important piece of equipment you own," Martin said. "Bad boots will result in poor transmission of energy."
"Even if you don’t ski a lot, plastic deteriorates and breaks down, making our boots softer every day," Reichhelm said. "If you're not sure, try on a new pair of boots and see how they flex compared to your old ones.
"Don't forget, lateral support is more important than flex," Reichhelm continued.
Typically, the liner deteriorates first, becoming looser, allowing the foot to move within the boot and resulting in less control.
Martin advised about 80 to 100 days is the max a skier or rider will get from a stock liner, and Reichhelm said boots should be replaced every four years.
Snowboarders should look for …
"I recommend looking at all the parts of your binding," Martin said. "Check for any cracks in the plastic, and make sure your screws and bolts are tight.
"When tightening your bindings to your boards, never use a drill. You can permanently damage the base of your boards," he continued. "Always tighten by hand."
Word to the wise on gear
"If you bought any new gear — skis, boots, bindings, boards — you'll want to make sure your new gear integrates with your old gear," said Ryan Duke, owner of Edgewerks, which will re-open at its new location in The Steamboat Grand on Nov. 17. "Seek out an experienced tech to check that everything works and for assurance that you'll be safe on the slope."
"Each season, I waterproof my soft-shell jacket, send my Gore-Tex in for zipper repairs and read ‘Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain,’ as a refresher," Clow said.
When in doubt, tune
Dust off the skis and do the most important prep for the season — tuning.
"Waxing is an important part of good equipment," Duke said. "If your skis are sticking to the snow, that's an indication you need a new wax. A good tech will be able to match the wax to the conditions."
If imperfections on edges are visible along with obvious core shots, it's time for a tune.
"Some people think that you'll prolong the life of your skis or snowboards if you don't tune much, but as a tune tech, I end up grinding more base away just to bring those skis and snowboards back to a good tune," Duke said.
Duke said a hot iron wax is needed after about five or so days of skiing and 10 to 20 days of riding.
"A good tune will make your day, because a sharper edge means you can dig into the snow easier," Duke said.
Where to find the best snow this season in Colorado?
"I'm thinking it's going to be an amazing snow season everywhere," Reichhelm said. "Colorado is going to crush it, and all of us are going to ski our brains out no matter where we are."
Important pro tips
"Have fun, because that is what skiing is all about," Gilchrist said.
"Get fit, eat right and remember there’s 140-plus lift access days to go — don’t blow it," Martin added.