The best Steamboat Ski Area runs you’re not skiing
Steamboat Springs — Ask a longtime local for a favorite overlooked run at Steamboat Ski Area and you’re as likely to get a snowball as an answer. Secret spots are Steamboat gold and treated as such by those who know where they are.
Still, several of the town’s most regular skiers and snowboarders dared to offer up a few of their favorite spots. It’s not about out-of-bounds hikes or hidden glades — it’s about good runs that you might be skiing right by.
To many, Steamboat’s green runs are simply highways to the base area or a lift. Longtime Steamboat instructor Bill Root said that’s why so many people ski right by Swinger, a green run near the Thunderhead Express chairlift.
“People will be skiing Main Drag or Boulevard and just head down to Thunderhead,” said Root, who taught skiing in Steamboat for 20 years. Now retired, he still uses his trips to the mountain to maintain his health.
Swinger connects from Main Drag down to the bottom of Giggle Gulch, just above Right-O-Way, the route back to the base of the gondola.
One O’Clock and Two O’Clock
High Noon is one of the most popular intermediate runs on the mountain, and it’s a great run to rip down, but skiers and snowboarders might regret burning by the two runs that break off High Noon: Two O’Clock and, a little further down the trail, One O’Clock.
“You can ski One O’Clock a little later in the day, and the groom might still be on it, and the snow will still be good because it doesn’t get utilized as much,” 100-day-a-year skier Rich Gibson said. “It’s a little out of the way and most people won’t do it.”
On the sunny side of the mountain, they can be a delight on cold days.
They call the southeastern portion of Steamboat Ski Area Wally World because of its plethora of blue runs but also because on busy days, making it down one of the most popular runs can feel about like shouldering the way through Walmart’s aisles at 5:30 p.m.
Flintlock cuts parallel to the often-packed Tomahawk, only it’s set a bit more inside the boundaries, between Sunshine Lift Line and Quickdraw. It’s easy to miss, and plenty do, leaving it with a small fraction of the traffic seen on similar terrain in the area.
“You’ll find veteran instructors who use it quite a bit, but otherwise very few people ski it,” Root said. “It just isn’t right in front of their eyes, so people don’t explore.“
It can’t be a secret when there are tracks through it as soon as the snow starts falling, but Triangle 3, tucked under and next to the Bar-UE lift line, does a good job hosting its visitors and offering a little something for everybody.
The top section, starting between the unloading spot for Storm Peak Express and Bar-UE, is filled with pines, and they’re not too tight. It’s a bad target for beginners but manageable for advanced intermediates.
The middle section includes a short, steep pitch. Make about three good turns and you’re down, again weaving through loosely spaced trees to Calf Roper, a tame run that doubles as a road during the summer.
The last section, below Calf Roper, isn’t steep and dips through a forest of small pine trees, making for a fun playground for skiers of most abilities. Then catch Meadow Lane over to Buddy’s Run.
There’s no trail sign directing skiers and snowboarders down, so that helps dissuade those not in the know.
Morningside flanks: Jump Start or Hot Cakes to Wake Up Call
Morningside Park, on the back side of Mount Werner, provides some of the most reliable powder. Try a loop that includes attacking the park from the far corners for something a bit different.
From the top of Sunshine Peak, head southeast, staying high along the beginner run Sundial. Jump Start and Hot Cakes break away to skier’s left. The top section can be steep, but the terrain usually can be as tough as someone wants. There are very difficult ways down but also exits for those who don’t want to fly off a boulder.
It’s then a short distance to the Morningside lift. From the top of the lift, turn right, heading northeast toward the hike-to, double black runs, but duck to skier’s right and traverse as far as you can to Wake Up Call. Drop straight down for a challenge or lose elevation during the traverse to make the drop easier.
After the initial steeps, it’s lots of often ignored backcountry-esque dips and rolls that can be a ton of fun.
Heavenly Daze branches: Oops, Ted’s Ridge, Vertigo
The same way people tend to rocket down High Noon without stopping for the O’Clocks, people often blast by the runs branching off Heavenly Daze.
They all face north, allowing them to be cool and hold snow well.
Oops, the first cutoff, is an often-overlooked bumps run and an alternate route to Concentration and eventually the Thunderhead Express lift.
Ted’s Ridge is next door and is deceptively intimidating from the top.
Vertigo is right next to that and again offers a bit of steep before leveling out.
“Everybody overlooks Vertigo,” Gibson said. “It doesn’t get a groom put on it. It’s an awesome run with a nice pitch to it.”
Off the Map
Many a Steamboater have learned the art of tree skiing in the thickets that separate Tomahawk, Quickdraw and Flintlock.
“Those are a freaking riot for kids,” said Pete Van De Carr, who’s prowled those woods with his two sons, Oliver and Otis.
Land of the Little People
The treed stretch runs from the top of Rolex down to Elkhead and Sundown. It’s not for the beginner, or even the intermediate. It’s a popular locals retreat, however.
“It’s stepper than most of Steamboat, but we don’t really have steep terrain,” Van De Carr said. “It’s super tight trees, so you can’t blast through it like Shadows or Twilight. It’s very appropriately named. You have to make yourself small in there.”
As true as people’s reluctance to give up their sweet spots is their likelihood of coming up with different answers. That’s easy to explain. Steamboat Ski Area has 165 trails and 2,965 acres, but it has millions of experiences, and every trail can be different for every person. Feel free to explore some of the under-utilized trails, but at least one Mount Werner regular said the reluctance to give up the secrets isn’t all about hoarding the best spots.
“I try to watch where people go,” Van De Carr said. “The best places on the mountain are where people aren’t. My best recommendation is to go figure it out on your own. Go out there and discover. That’s where my heart lies.”
Editor’s note: Bill Root, interviewed for this story in 2013, died in 2015.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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