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Steamboat, March 29-April 2, 2021

thetrailboss

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Resort or Ski Area
Steamboat, Colorado
Date
Mar 29, 2021
Snow Conditions
  1. Slush or Spring Snow
Resort: Steamboat, Colorado

Dates: March 29, 2021-April 2, 2021

Conditions: Spring Conditions

Report: We had a wonderful week at Steamboat. Like my Big Sky report, I will break this down day-by-day for you and add pictures as I can.

March 29, 2021: Steamboat had long been on my radar as it is a straight-shot on U.S. 40 and about 5 hours from SLC. My first trip was a spur-of-the-moment trek in November 2019 to do their 3-day preseason deal and ride the new gondola. The the skiing was limited to the Gondola and Christie Express. I loved the town and even got to ski Howelsen Hill. So my wife was interested to see what all the fuss was about.

As I have learned to do, I set my expectations appropriately--that is I ski the conditions we are given and appreciate it for what it is instead of being disappointed that we got spring conditions and not powder skiing in cowboy hats with Billy Kidd.

Our drive east was uneventful on Sunday. The traffic was light and we met a lot of folks leaving and heading back to SLC. Many had ski racks. We arrived in Steamboat at about 4:30pm--with generous stops we did it in just under six hours. It was mild--in the 50's. We did a nice walk around town, grabbed a bite at Carl's Tavern, and then drove to the City Market right at the base of the ski area. It was the last night of nightskiing and I kind of regret not doing it, but it was not in the plan as we had five days to ski.

Monday was a mild day but the winds picked up in the afternoon closing down lifts early. Though it was a ski vacation, my nine-year old was not motivated at all. We managed to ski a couple hours and, according to the app, covered about five miles and just shy of 4,000 vertical. We got a later start as it was warming up and parked in the lower lot. We took the Wildwood Gondola up to the main base area. While this was a quick and easy connection be forewarned that if it gets windy this lift closes down and it did on us so we took the free shuttle at the end of the day back to our car.

We got on Christie Express and skied down Main Drag towards Rough Rider. My daughter spied a terrain park but did not want to ski Big Foot's icy bumps. Instead, we headed to Rough Rider and did a few runs in that small park. The Poma lift was fun to ride and in the noon sun was perfect. My daughter had not ridden a Poma in a couple of years--the last one she rode was at the summit of Snowmass and it was a hoot seeing her try it. Her first ride here was also a hoot. The liftie and I laughed as my daughter struggled to get her skis under her and finally got in the track.

From here we headed to Thunderhead Express. Concentration looked just ripe for the picking but we were doing easier stuff today. After a nice break at the lodge we skied down Spur Run to Huffman's to find ripe Colorado Corn that was just right. It was a split decision as to what lift to take, but my daughter opted for Elkhead Express--a newer HSQ that gets one to a knoll just above Thunderhead but well below the summit. I will return to a discussion of this odd location in a future report. Once we got to the top my wife and I were ready to keep exploring but our daughter was done. So we skied down Tower back to Thunderhead and, at my daughter's insistence, did a sweet run down Heavenly Daze to Vogue and the base. By now the bottom was going off. Heavenly Daze was somewhat soft and my daughter skied it very well. The wind by now had closed the Gondola, Storm Peak, and a few other main lifts, so I was OK calling it a day.

Despite skiing quite well, my daughter wanted to do other things. We had a drink in the Gondola Square area, visited the candy shop, checked out some other stores, and then packed up and headed back to the rental house in the Old Town neighborhood of Steamboat. That afternoon we had a nice time visiting downtown and had a great pizza from The Corner Slice. I highly recommend it. We eventually turned in that evening listening to the howling wind and watching the mercury dive with hopes that the front would bring some new snow for a fun powder day.
 

thetrailboss

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Day One Highlights:

The first view of Steamboat on U.S. 40 just west of Craig, Colorado. This is about 50 miles from the resort.

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Sunday Night Lights:
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You can ski but you can't hide....
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Charging down on the first run with Heavenly Daze in the background. It seems odd--skiers and riders going towards each other, but you ski down then to the left.
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Rough Rider and a nice view:
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Steamboat: a Ski Area with a Drinking Problem
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Going down Huffman's
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Your host. Glacier Glasses are perfect for spring skiing.
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Elkhead Express in the background. Sundown Express in the foreground.
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Going down Heavenly Daze.
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Last edited:

thetrailboss

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March 30, 2021: As expected, the winds of the day before had ushered in a strong cold front that dropped the temperatures down to the 20's and 30's and froze the snow and base up pretty good, so none of us were too fast to get up and get going. However, consistent with other fronts this season, no snow fell on Steamboat. Many locals had told me that this was a lean season with many "misses" in terms of snow.

My anxious daughter wasn't going to ski. Period. We spent two hours negotiating, arguing, and cajoling her to think otherwise, but it was not happening. Finally she expressed interest in trying out the Outlaw Mountain Coaster while us parents switched off skiing. Again, for a day that almost did not happen, I was satisfied to get just under three hours of "power skiing" by covering as much terrain as I could. My wife opted not to ski and did the Mountain Coaster.

Steamboat had the singles line at every lift and it proved very useful for me to pack in the runs with minimal wait. We paid $20 to park slopeside at the T-Bar Bar and Grill. My wife and daughter enjoyed a nice lunch while I hit Christie Express and headed up to the top. I skied down Rudi's Run to Lightning which was surprisingly crowded for a Tuesday. I took Storm Peak Express up to the top and then dropped in to the Morningside Area. Though the map suggests that this is a fairly large area with some expert glades and a few groomed blues, I was surprised at just how small and flat this area was. Since the snow was pretty firm I only did a groomed Cowboy Coffee to the Triple and surveyed the area. Despite my disappointment with its size and lack of steep pitch I would return to it later in the week to enjoy the mellow glades and softer snow.

Newbies to Steamboat may be confused by the trail map, particularly with the summit ridgeline. After seeing the area firsthand one will quickly realize that to get to the "highest" lift served point one needs to ski the backside and ride Morningside up. Storm Peak Express serves most of the top runs, but not anything near the true summit without a decent hike. The summit, Mount Werner, requires a minimal hike from the top of Morningside and, consistent with other areas, offered enough of a deterrent to keep the masses away. But I am getting ahead of myself.

As conditions were spotty, I stayed to the groomers. I skied off Morningside and down Over Easy to a delightful Buddy's Run. Named for Buddy Werner, a famous local skier who died tragically in an avalanche in Europe, this is a true-blue cruiser that is a "must" ski for anyone visiting due to its nice pitch, great views, and its nice grooming. I passed a shuttered Bar-UE double and headed down Drop Out to the Storm Peak Express. Riding up I had spied what appeared to be a decently covered Storm Peak South run. I decided to give it a go. Despite the cold wind and "moving snow" at the very top, after dropping over the first pitch I found great groomed snow that was a delight to carve. Most folks were steering clear due to the wind. After this all-too-short delight, I found myself below Four Points Lodge and opted to head over to Sundown Express via Sunset and Moonlight, which were both "almost" soft.

Sundown Express was pretty quiet--the sun over here was nice but it was still cold and windy. Intent on covering ground, hit High Noon, which too was "almost" soft and made a brief pitstop at Rendezvous Lodge. There was a decent sized crowd enjoying the sun outside. After a bathroom break and a stop at the shop to get a souvenir, I skied down Spike to Sunshine Express (note the difference--Sundown Express is different than Sunshine Express--it is confusing). For the next three runs I worked the different aspects of this area to survey its features and to thaw out in the sun. I first did the furthest run on skier's left (Sundial to Blackpowder to Tomahawk) that was pretty flat overall. I then did the Sunshine Liftline which offered only slightly more pitch before one last run down High Noon to Fawn and the lodge. The Sundown/Sunshine area was reminiscent of Stratton and the Sun Bowl area with less pitch.

No trip is complete without also skiing the blatant marketing that is Rolex. The trail name is indeed for the watchmaker and its logo is used on the trail map. Though it is normally a bump run it had recently been ironed out and I found it to be a fun ski with good pitch. I felt like I was skiing a steep Deer Valley run.

Back up Sundown Express I went intent on heading to Storm Peak South again. It is relatively easy to crossover between the Sunshine/Sundown and Storm Peak areas. However, to go from Morningside to Sunshine/Sundown requires a short hike at the top of Storm Peak Express. Take note of this when you visit as the trail map does not really show this too well. I did a couple of runs on Storm Peak South to Dusk/Rainbow and Rainbow/Blizzard before getting pinged that it was time to head back into town. I skied BC Ski Way, narrowly avoiding being runover by an out-of-control Snowbiker who bombed down from Burgess Creek and apparently was intent on avoiding as much walking as he could. BC Way provides the "exit" from this side of the resort, around the ridgeline that separates this area from the "front" side, and back to Thunderhead Express and the Right-O-Way to the base area. Late in the day it is filled with skiers and riders making their way back to the base so patience and communication to skiers/riders you are overtaking is key to avoid being in a collision. This area of the resort also offers a glimpse of the next expansion for the resort--many of the adjacent wooded areas were thinned and there was a couple of access roads in place. Frankly, this area is not great ski terrain due to its low elevation and southwest exposure that had killed most of the snow so snowmaking will be a necessary evil.

After the long traverse I met my daughter and wife and we headed to the Old Town Hot Springs for a well-deserved soak. Be sure to stop by this when you visit.
 

thetrailboss

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First run down Morningside. Reminiscent of Brighton or Alta.

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Heed the warning from the T-Bar.
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Morningside Triple.
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Buddy's Run.
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The view from the Top of Storm Peak.
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Four Points Lodge.
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High Noon.
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Rendezvous Lodge.
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Sunshine Liftline.
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Thunderhead with Thunderhead Express and the Gondola.
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Tonyr

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Great report thanks for sharing. Steamboat was my very first western ski trip around 25 years ago. I don't remember a whole lot about the trip other than getting a bad sunburn and my brother and I skiing down the Christmas Tree Bowl terrified! I'd love to make my way back out there again someday and ski that trail with my son.
 

dblskifanatic

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My wife loves Steamboat. We watched a Warren Miller Movie and one of the comps was a free lift ticket to Steamboat to be used April 1st until closure. We made a long weekend of it and skied A Basin, then Vail and finally Steamboat. When we woke up we had about 4 inches of new snow at the base and about 8 higher up and it was super dry. Skiing was fantastic. There were not a lot of people that day so we were skiing ungroomed powder for most of the morning. It was a cool trip.

Unfortunately they used to have a 4 day pass that could be used at Steamboat, Copper or Eldora called 4 on 40, once the Ikon pass came to life that was canceled.

Thanks for taking me back to that day!
 

thetrailboss

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021:

Another day another ski expedition. After a nice morning strolling with the family downtown, I was able to do an afternoon at Steamboat. We got up there about 2:00pm or so. A big reason why I waited was to allow for the snow to soften. The sun had worked its magic and a lot of folks had already left. I walked onto the Gondola and within about 7 minutes was on Thunderhead. First spin was down Heavenly Daze and down Ted's Ridge down to Lower Concentration. The upper portion was still pretty firm but the lower part was starting to soften a bit.

After this I figured that heading south would get me some sun-softened snow and I was right. I found some nice softer snow on Spur Run/Huffman's to Sundown Express. As I rode up I saw that Rolex (TM) was groomed and not bumped up. So I figured it was now or never and headed down an almost perfect High Noon past Rendezvous Lodge and down a firm and fast Rolex (TM). It had largely gotten skied off but was still edgeable. Since it faced north it was not in the sun.

Since Storm Peak South was nice the day before I hit it again and found it nice and fast. I turned onto Cyclone and Drop Out--the latter was "half and half" with groomed on skier's left and bumps on the right. This used to be a popular thing to do--at places such as Sunapee--but apparently has fell out of fashion. It was nice to have the option.

The run of the day was Longhorn off of Pioneer Express. This lift was constructed by ASC and has very few chairs--presumably to keep the crowds down and to save cost. While folks were queueing up for Storm Peak, Pioneer was largely "ski on". I had seen that Longhorn had gotten some nice grooming treatment and could see the cats working it the night before. This run was great--nice pitch, good rolls, stellar views, and perfectly soft spring snow. Amazing. Though Valley View was calling my name, I opted to get seconds and made note to bring my wife on it the next day. It was nice that they took the care to make this trail a real gem instead of making it a wider cruiser as were most of the trails at Steamboat.

After another delightful spin I then cruised around BC Skiway and to Thunderhead to wrap up. Or so I thought. I took a pleasant spin down Vagabond, a classic Steamboat run, and back to the lift. I dropped down Heavenly Daze again and then made the hard left over to Upper Valley View that was perfectly soft moguls. While most of them were the GS variety it was still a nice change from fast groomers. Some thin spots were beginning to show. This is a fun trail that has good pitch. After cutting back onto Heavenly Daze I did the sequel--Lower Valley View. Perfect corn. It felt like skiing on sand. Just amazing. This run too was showing some thin spots and was interesting as it cut along through a lot of oak scrub and then back to Christie Express and the Outlaw Mountain Coaster.

I cruised along Lower Stampede and figured that an encore was in order. The famous "Steamboat Whistle" was blaring indicating that it was 4pm, but I snuck onto Christie Express and did a delightful encore down Lower Valley View. Although this trail has a banner reading, "Seriously Experts Only", it was really a steeper cruiser that would probably be a high blue at most places. Regardless, it hit the spot and was perfect corn that was a pleasure to harvest. I cruised along Preview and then popped out of the skis and walked back to the car where the wife and daughter were waiting.

The GPS tallied about 15 miles and 15,797 vertical in about two hours.

Now having sampled all of Steamboat over the last three days, and having skied it in the early season of 2019-2020, I had a good feeling for the area and what it offered. In 2019 I really enjoyed the Gondola and lower portions of the mountain as that was what was open. Gazing up at the other peaks I looked for the steep stuff figuring it was there somewhere. For east coast skiers what does this feel like? Last year I mentioned that the base area--complete with a "Summit Grand" and a corporate feel--really showed signs of its ASC roots. One person took offense to that "ASC" comment. Indeed, ASC was not very popular with the locals the relatively short time that they ran it. And I return to that comparison--it is Colorado's version of Stratton and maybe a bit of Killington. There is no real steep stuff and expert stuff is mainly glades and a few isolated "hike-to" options off the summit area (more on that later). Morningside, which is fun (more on that later), was really a disappointment. With the exception of the very top part, which is a nice bowl that drops into the trees, most of this side is quite flat. Sunshine/Sundown Area feels so much like Stratton--sunny slopes with moderate pitch and good cruising. Vagabond, Rudi's Run, Lightning, Blizzard, and Ego feel like a cut and paste from Killington--wide boulevards meant to funnel skiers and boarders from one area of the resort to another. Lots of snowmaking too. So for those looking out west who like a great authentic town with largely blue cruisers and moderately pitched skiing and riding then this is your place.

The report for April Fool's Day is next.
 
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