Locals take advantage of wide-open resort (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s a warm weekend at Steamboat Resort. Usually, Gondola Square is packed with people, all clanking their boots on the ground and trying not to hit anyone with their skis as they maneuver through the clamorous mass.
Saturday, though, it is quiet. There are no lines for lift tickets, no crowds shuffling to get on the gondola, and the Christie Peak Express is still.
Instead, dogs bark, roaming free and running after each other. People donning sunglasses and backpacks click into snowshoes and skis. As they start up the mountain, they make a shoop, shoop noise as the skins glide along the warm, slushy surface.
Usually, Steamboat Resort doesn’t look like this until late April when locals take advantage of the dwindling snow on the slopes after the season has ended. Due to COVID-19, the resort closed March 15, leaving a wide-open resort for those able and willing to earn their turns.
“It’s tricking your brain into thinking we’re already in a normal post season,” said Steamboat Springs resident Michael Walker. “This is exactly like it is the week after the mountain closes. You try to lead a regular life, but you catch a lot of reminders, like it should be packed down here.
Walker tries to skin up Steamboat Resort as often as possible. As is his routine, last Saturday, he caught the gondola just before it closed and skinned from Thunderhead to the top. That’s where he was when he found out the resort would be closing indefinitely.
“The groomers were still running and it was pretty neat,” said Walker. “There was fresh corduroy down the face and down sunset. I feel like I got some of the last tracks of the season. Now I just hike every day. I’m lucky enough to still have a job, but there’s plenty of free time to be taken advantage of.”
Walker said the first weekend the mountain was closed, when it also happened to be 50 degrees, there could have been 500 people on the trails. He said it felt like the resort was still open. While many skin, some snowshoe and bring their board while a few walk up in sneakers with crampons.
Kathleen Walsh opted for snowshoes. She had been up and down Emerald often, but Saturday was her first day at the resort since it closed.
“There’s only so much sitting around you can do,” she said. “It’s so nice out, too.”
Lew Cutter, a regular uphill skier, strapped on his skins with the intention of catching up to a group at Christie’s Peak for a drink. Whether he earned any vertical feet after that was still up in the air.
“It depends on how much beer they want to serve me,” said Cutter. “At least to the top of Christie’s, then maybe all the way up to Thunderhead and get a good line down.”
Cutter would be joined by dozens of skiers who are visible on Heavenly Daze leading to the Thunderhead Lodge alongside the gondola. The tiny bobbing black dots can be seen from almost anywhere in town, proof that no closure can stop Steamboat skiers.
One thing that any recreator on the resort needs to keep in mind is there is no ski patrol to rescue them if they were to hurt themselves. Walker said he’s certainly aware of that fact, but isn’t too worried since there always seems to be someone within sight.
“There’re so many people up kind of around you, you’re definitely on your own, but you’re not by yourself,” said Walker. “Yesterday, I skinned all the way to the summit, but there was still quite a few people around. I think people would help each other out, I would hope, if something did happen.”
The amount of people is certainly a positive in that aspect, but pretty soon, the most frequented trails will be worn away from use as well as the sun.
“Gosh, if they could just run a groomer up there, this would be great,” said Cutter with a chuckle.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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It was a love story that brought Jason Erwin to Steamboat Springs from Nashville, Tennessee.