Adventure of the week: Holiday skiing

Austin Colbert
Passengers get on the Christie Peak Express chairlift on Thursday at the Steamboat Ski Area. With the holiday rush in full swing, lines can be extra long all over the mountain.
Austin Colbert

— By no means am I a Scrooge this time of year, but I’ve always had a love-hate relationship when it comes to the holidays. This is my first winter living outside of my home state of Kansas, where a white Christmas was never something Santa Claus could deliver on a regular basis.

However, I’ll admit living in Steamboat Springs has put me in an uncharacteristically merry mood. Maybe it’s the abundance of snow — there has already been 150 inches at the Steamboat Ski Area this season — or the overabundance of visitors who have decided to spend Christmas here (how does Santa know where to find them to deliver presents?), but there is definitely something about this town that simply makes you feel like you are living in a snow globe, and in the best way possible.

About the only bad part about the holidays in Steamboat — or any ski town — are the crowds. The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association projects upwards of 15,000 visitors in town this coming week, the majority likely wanting to get in at least a few runs at the mountain. What this means is lines at the chairlifts could be long and finding spare elbow room as you ski back down could be challenging.

But, just because you weren’t the only one who wanted a Steamboat Christmas this year doesn’t mean a trip to the mountain has to be filled with lots of waiting. With the help of a few experienced powder chasers, I’ve come up with a handful of tips and tricks to help make your holiday skiing trip as pleasant as possible.

Be an early bird

There are numerous perks to being among the first in line each morning. Of those, the lack of a line is probably at the top. Outside of can’t-miss powder days, you’ll never see me standing in line when the lifts open at 8:30 a.m. Most days, if you make it to the mountain within 45 minutes of the lifts opening, you won’t do much waiting, and you’ll have mostly untouched snow to work with. If you’d prefer to show up around 9:30 or 10 in the morning with everyone else, just be prepared to wait your turn in line.

Be a super early bird

It’s probably only worth it for the super diehard skiers and snowboarders, but for an extra $39 per day (season pass add ons are already sold out) you can get a First Tracks ticket. This allows you to board the gondola between 8 and 8:15 a.m. and have first dibs at the fresh powder. Of course, the best part is laughing at the others without a ticket who have to wait in line another half hour.

Also, don’t forget the night skiing. Night skiing will run from Christmas through Jan. 4 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Day of ticket prices are $37 for adults, less for teens and children.

Don’t stop for lunch

This is a tough one for me, too. Like most, I’m programed to want food at certain times each day. But, if you decide to have lunch when everyone else wants lunch, you’re back to standing and waiting in line when you could be hitting the suddenly quiet runs on your own. Now, if you’re like me and still need something to fuel you for the day, try to eat before 11 a.m. or after 1 p.m. Lines at all the local eateries, including those atop the mountain, will be non-existent, saving you loads of time and allowing you to be on your skis while the rest have gone in search of food. Also, keep in mind many spots near and on the mountain offer grab-and-go lunch options for those who think sitting down for lunch is time that could be better spent shredding pow.

Don’t be a follower

Why are certain runs always packed and others ignored? It’s probably because people tend to move as a flock. For beginners, Preview and the lower runs of Christie Peak Express are the go-to, but they are, more often than not, crowded and full of people taking lessons (something I highly recommend). Instead of playing follow the leader, head all the way to the top of Christie Peak Express, where you’ll find access to other, less-utilized green runs. Bashor, near the Maverick’s Halfpipe area, is a good bet.

For experienced skiers and snowboarders, check out Pony Express. The chairlift is a bit out of the way, but it’s full of great, challenging runs, minus the crowds that come with runs near the gondola and Storm Peak.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask. With 165 named trails when fully operational, there are likely to be dozens of great runs that are never seen by the masses. As much as the locals might want to keep their favorite runs secret, I’m sure most of those same people would be just as eager to let you in if you show a little enthusiasm.

Don’t go skiing

The best way to avoid the crowds is simply to not go skiing. But, if you’re like me, you’d rather have a stocking full of coal than miss out on holiday skiing. Just remember, when you’re out there making turns this next week, you’re probably out there for the same reason everyone else is — to enjoy the holidays in the magical place called Steamboat Springs. Long lines or not, don’t forget to have a jolly good time, and wish as many people as possible a Merry Christmas.

Happy sledding.

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert

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