Steamboat Springs, Colo., sent six athletes to the Sochi Olympics, but back home the game is always on.
What’s it like living in a ski town? While certain outdoor amenities might be closer at hand, just like everywhere else, you still have to squeeze in your outings between work and family obligations. For sanity’s sake, you also have to rally out of said ski town every once in a while. Consider the following a photo snapshot of a typical season in Steamboat Springs.
Get Out of Town
First order of business: Go someplace warm. It’s a long winter ahead. For us, that meant meeting the Alaskan in-laws in Maui over Thanksgiving. Aside from getting my ass handed to me on a SUP downwinder with local stand-up stalwarts Loch Eggers and John Smith, it did what it was supposed to: take our minds off winter. It also helps to have friends in high places, like we did with Phil Cothran, a divemaster for Maui Under Sea Adventures at Wailea’s Four Seasons. He outfitted us with new 007-like Diver Propulsion Vehicles (DPVs) for snorkeling, which are akin to underwater sea scooters. “They’re like underwater motorcycles!” said my daughter Casey, spiraling downward to view a sea turtle.
These, of course, are the real beauty of ski-town living. Rather than brave I-70 to tackle the slopes, you can, work permitting, take advantage of any storm that comes your way. In Steamboat, this means racking up 14,000 vertical in two hours, office door to office door. Take this snowboarding shot from last year, for instance, taken on a break from work after 32 inches fell in two days (please note just the hands sticking up; gotta plug the glove sponsor). Membership has its privileges.
For me that means heading down the SnowSports Industries America tradeshow every year to help edit the Show Daily magazines. Last year it sucked because after no snow all January, it was right when an epic dump came (24 inches overnight). Oh well, no one’s really feeling sorry for me. Besides, I got to check out all the latest and greatest gear (video screen in your goggles, anyone?) and dodge checks in a benefit industry hockey game for SOS Outreach alongside former Colorado Avalanche enforcer Scott Parker (pictured here with me up to his belly button).
The Boom Boom Room
Believe it or not, even when you live in a ski town it’s nice to visit other ski towns — especially when they’re steeper than yours. That came for me last year with a side jaunt up to Jackson, for a few days lapping Granite and Four Pines canyons off the mountain and touring the pass. It also involved a secret handshake entry into the ski patrol’s Boom Boom Room, a makeshift bedroom-turned-bar in second floor room at the Inn at Jackson. Forget that its acronym rhymes with PBR — it has a write-your own-graffiti counter, two beers always on tap, and plenty of booze – the perfect elixir to soothe nerves frayed from launching avi bombs. Just make sure to donate your winnings from a dice game called Horse to the tip jar.
Even locals aren’t above looking dorky. So you might as well hop on the wagon of the latest two-wheeled — er, skied — craze hitting the mountains. Type II ski-bikes — not to be confused with Type I snow bikes many resorts rent, where riders wear mini-skis on each foot — are fast gaining traction at Colorado resorts. So far, Steamboat Springs, Vail, Winter Park and Purgatory allow them. With short skis fore and aft, they employ up to eight inches of full-suspension travel, turning “a four-inch powder day into a 12-inch day,” says Steamboat’s Josh Westfall. “You just put your feet on the pegs and take off.” The company making the 30-lb. contraptions is Fort Lupton’s Lenz Sport, which this year is also adding its own line of early-rise powder skis for them so addicts like Westfall don’t have to saw personal skis in half. The sport is growing fast enough that it has its own web site ( HYPERLINK “http://www.ski-bike.org” www.ski-bike.org), its cult-like following owing itself to how fun and easy they are. “It’s like mountain biking, but you can go anywhere it’s white,” says aficionado Aryeh Copa. Adds Westfall: “It’s part mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, dirt biking and snowmobiling — a total Colorado sport. In the next five years it’s going to explode. It belongs in the X-Games.”
When the kids are out of school, it’s time to rally out of your zip code. For that, we took a trip to the foam pits at Woodward at Copper, where the rugrats could get their huck on. Inside the 19,400-square-foot “Barn” is a skate park, tumbling mats, flybed trampolines, and the crown jewel foam pits, which you can soar into off a 35-foot-long Snowflex ramp. All it takes is surviving the Intro course. Everyone starts on the spring floor under the guidance of coaches, where you stretch, dive over a barrel, cartwheel and tumble. Then it’s onto a Nestea Plunge into the pit, followed by launches off the tramp (hint: be careful it doesn’t steal your socks). From there, you strap on the skis and stop your knees from buckling long enough to soar off the ramps into the awaiting foam. The only problem is getting your kids to leave. (Woodward’s One Hit Wonder program costs $69, certifying you for $25, two-hour-long Drop-in sessions. Info: www.coppercolorado.com
Pond Hockey Tournament
Last minute rallies occur in ski towns as much as they do in more urban environments. For me, it came in February when I was asked to join an “old guys” team to compete in the Colorado Pond Hockey Championships in Silverthorne. After a 5 a.m., two-hour, 10-below drive, we were throttled in our first game, still working the kinks our of our frigid joints. Then we found our mojo and ended up making it to the finals, where, unfortunately, we faced the 1981 Michigan State High School Championship Reunion Team, headed by some guy named Pavel. No matter that we were in better shape and accustomed to the altitude; they took the air out of our sails just like the cracking open of the PBRs afterward did to our beer. And we were all winners in that no one fell victim to the ankle-tweaking cracks in the ice’s surface.
Sometimes you just got to buckle up, which I did entering Cody’s Challenge, my first-ever randonee race. Held in honor of former Steamboat ski patroller Cody St. John, its 3,500 vert
means saving weight to save face. While I didn’t drill holes into my headphones, I certainly didn’t tour in Volants and Lange Banshees. I had Dynafit skins, bindings and skis, with Garmont boots, which came in at 10.2 lbs. per leg. Dynafit’s lightest set-up clocks in at 3.6 lbs. per quad.
I filled up my water reservoir only three-quarters full and pared down my pack, even taking out Band-Aides. I thought about not wearing underwear, but figured the ensuing rash would weigh more than my boxers. Others weren’t as concerned. One racer’s dreadlocks weighed more than some racers’ skis, and another carried a boom box, salami log and PBRs. The trudges offered a lot of ponder time— like how much time dropping my visor cost me, and if the blister forming on my heel created more weight? And did every sip of water actually lighten my load, or simply move from one bladder to another? More importantly, would the weight loss from urinating make up for the lost time stopping?
In the end, I finished in the middle of the road — about where my puke landed — my time of 2:19 an hour off some guy named Bjorn. And in the end I realized that whether you’re carrying a boom box or shaving chest hairs, Cody would just be proud that you’re out there.
Snowmo Skiing with Lofy
Sometimes you forsake lifts and skins and fire up the snow machine on Buff Pass, which regularly vies with Wolf Creek for most snow in the state. It’s best with three so you can take turns driving shuttle while two people ski or board. You also take turns sitting bitch or holding onto the rope, which turns your forearms into something out of Popeye. This time with we went out with resident yahoo Kerry Lofy, whose dreads are longer than powder cords. A BASE jumper when not skiing Steamboat’s backcountry, he’s all about the air and led us to his favorite launches. We were back at our desks by 9:30 a.m., eight powder laps under our belt.
This badge of courage for local youngsters takes place every year at the ski jouring events as part of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s Winter Carnival. They hold on for dear life and get pulled down main street off jumps and for speed. Just make sure you’re in line when the cowboy in charge asks your daughter if she wants to go fast, medium or slow. I was talking to a friend when Casey answered “fast,” and off she went behind Lightning, the fastest horse of the day. “She’s going all the way to Hayden!” said the announcer when she forgot to let go at the finish line and kept on careening into the sunset. And a word to the wise: have your kids wear brown instead of pink; it hides the manure tracks better.
Skiing with the family is part of living in a ski town and we try to do it as often as possible. Of course, it’s harder now that we have a teen who doesn’t want to be seen with us, especially when I’m testing our mod-colored new ski apparel. My other daughter took up snowboarding this year, and once she mastered the learning curve (she only took out one roll of blue fencing) she was all about getting out. She got 27 days in, in fact, which she proudly boasts was more than her older sister. And joy of joys, we’re finally past the having-to-carry-all-their-ski-gear days.
If the skiing’s subpar, as it was on occasion last year, improvise. That’s what Casey and her friend did, spicing up the slopes by using hockey sticks instead of poles. They’d pass snow chunks back and forth on the catwalks, and careen into line like the Bruins’ Terry O’Reilly, causing lift ops to lift their eyebrows. They felt cool and knew full well that they looked dorky, two traits any parent is proud to instill.
Ever read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild? Take a break from the slopes and live out the fantasy with a dog sled tour, which we did in the Flat Tops Wilderness. Casey brought a friend and they each took turns driving their own team (as soon as they were finished petting them). Just make sure you’re in the driver’s seat with your foot firmly on the brake bar on the return route home. They’re a bit like horses heading back to the barn, letting you star in your own canine version of “Balto” or “Mush: The Movie.”
Save for pie, society isn’t too big on crust. Pizza crust gets left in the box, and toast crust heads to the trash bin. And when the ski hill crusts over, you head for a bloody mary. But it’s different when a perfect crust forms in the spring backcountry for skate skiing.
To get it you need a series of warm, sunny days followed by clear, cold nights, which turns the snowpack into a giant popsicle. Some crustmasters study NOAA charts diligently, monitoring temperatures, weather patterns, cloud cover, evaporation rates and their intuition like a broker does stocks, waiting to pounce at the right conditions. Then they’re up there as long as it lasts, milking meadows for every herring bone track they’re worth.
But the conditions can disappear as quickly as they arrive, a snowstorm or warm spell kissing the season good-bye. Nail it, however, and you’re in for one of Colorado’s best unsung sports, letting you glide wherever you want to, as I am in this is picture atop a buried 1958 Impala, in a giant game of connect the meadows. Just don’t get too greedy. Like Cinderella, stay out too long and it’ll turn the consistency of pumpkin innards.
Work on Your Carve
Don’t be surprised if you notice less skid in my turns this year. I had a little help on Halloween. While the rest of the country was carving pumpkins, I was carving turns with members of the U.S. Ski Team at the new U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain. It was the two-mile-long, 2,300-vertical run’s official Grand Opening and the only run of its kind in the world this time of year. “It’s a game-changer,” says the USSA’s Tom Kelly. “It gives us a top-to-bottom training facility before the heart of the World Cup season, which is an astronomical value for our team.”
Snow guns and high altitude make it all possible, and it’s for team racers only until mid-December. Following racers and coaches, I echoed the quad-busting sentiments of coach Scott Veenis: “To have this here is incredible…no matter what time of year it is. But for Halloween? That’s a real treat.”
Cross-country ski with mom
What’s living in a ski town without the annual Christmas visit from 78-year-old Mom, complete with a cross-country outing up a local trail? If a photo’s worth 1,000 words, this one says it all, most of them riddled with profanities. It happened on Spring Creek, a tranquil trail near town. Unfortunately, my wife and mom took a slight detour, forcing a bushwhack. She fell down and when I stooped over to try and pick her up while still in my own flimsy cross-country skis, Splatsville! back I fell also, turtled with her on top of me. And that’s when my wife, bless her heart, grabbed the camera.
It got a little competitive this year. They started appearing in January, right after our big storm. A friend emailed a video of two people skinning a slope near the airport and then making a whopping 13 turns. A few days later other tracks appeared on the sage-covered hill by 7-11 and the meadow by the James Brown bridge. It was a full-on Dork Line War reminiscent of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys.
Whoever made the latter were true pros, 12 flawlessly paralleled tracks so well calculated that they appeared perfectly framed in your windshield whenever you drove over the bridge. So I got after it to, making my own dork lines wherever gradient, length and visibility intersected. Nail it first and you get naming rights, bestowing them with such monikers as Youth Corp Couloir, Hamburglar Bergschrund and Airport Arete. And all this took place amid an unheard-of, month-long high pressure system that preserved the tracks as if they were in the Louvre.
You just can’t get too attached to your handiwork. One morning you wake up and they’re all Zamboni’d clean by a fresh blanket of white, meaning it’s time to grow up and hit the big mountain. (Photo by John Russell)