Best Extreme Sports Western Road Trip – Steamboat Springs
This is part of a series that discusses a western road trip that can blow your recreation mind, in winter or summer. Because I’m a big snowhead, I’ll refer to the ski resorts a lot, but these areas have world class recreation in most categories and seasons.
The final leg of our trip takes from one land of peace and abundance to another.
On the way home from the Salt Lake City area, for a Fort Collins guy like myself, the perfect 'almost halfway in between' spot is, of course, Ski Town, USA®.
In a place like Colorado, where there is so much good skiing, where comparing one resort to another is a matter of comparing great to great, many people have trouble picking a favorite resort. I'm not one of those people.
Steamboat is hands down my favorite Colorado snow resort, and I have many reasons.
Yeah, it's one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, but if it didn't get as much snow as it does, I probably wouldn't spend as much time there as I do.
It's said that Steamboat has its own weather patterns that are unlike any of the surrounding mountains with the possible exception of the nearby Wasatch Range in Utah.
When the snow is good, everyone is happy, and the snow at Steamboat is really, really good on really regular basis (this whole year has been and still is outstanding).
As you can see in the photo above, that otherwise green spruce tree is just white. What you see in that picture is how I describe the snow at Steamboat to people who have been to other Colorado resorts, but don't realize what Steamboat is like. On other hills, the snow falls and it sits on top of the branches of trees. It's white on top and green underneath.You see the snow and you see the actual color of the tree. In Steamboat, it snows so much and so hard that the colors of spruce trees disappear. You could at it and never know it was green. It turns stark white, and so does everything else.
The Chairs are on the Hill
I won't name names, but the best terrain at other resorts leads to some excessively long run outs. These are trails through the woods, cat tracks, just a flat treks back to the chair. Some of them take too long. It's like there is more run out than slope, but Steamboat is not this way.
Granted there is a small runout after dropping into one of the more difficult sections of the mountain, but most of the slopes lead directly and in a descending way back to the chair lift. It's all up and down. That makes for a better day of skiing.
Steamboat has aspen trees for days. Inside the huge groves, it's like a hall of mirrors, the pattern is repeated over and over again, and with each glance it grows more beautiful. The snow settles on the high side of the tree like a mogul, and the curvy track cut by skiers and riders lead right to another mogul on another high side of another tree.
When it comes down to it, the extra 30 minutes to an hour that it takes to get to Steamboat from Denver that you won't spend in your car going to Vail will be spent in a line somewhere else. I love Vail. I don't love Vail's crowds. They are frightening at times, and they can ruin the whole day at other times. So many more people go to the Summit and Eagle County resorts that I not only notice in the lines (parking, chairlift, food, traffic on the roads), but I notice it in the snow. Because there are so many people at some of the resorts, the snow just gets harder. Steamboat has more space, softer snow, shorter lines, easier parking.
Some of the people who work at the 'Boat want to educate people that it really isn't that much further than Vail and that it is worth the extra few minutes of car time because you will get it back through your vacation. I kind of want them to not educate you on that (even though I'm doing it right here) because the smaller crowds are like a slice of heaven. Find me someone who spent $10k to bring their family to a crowded resort and I'll show you someone who wishes they would have spent 40 more minutes in the shuttle to save hours on the hill. Even on crowded days, Steamboat is a joy.