A Classic Colorado Ski Road Trip
Story & photos by David McKay Wilson
At the mid-mountain restaurant at Steamboat called Hazie’s, the portrait of fabled US ski racer Buddy Werner reminded of me of those days of skiing with my Dad, when he encouraged me to ski with the verve of my childhood ski idol.
Fifty-three years later, I was taking a lunch break with my sons at the eatery named after Werner’s mother. They’d showed me their verve that morning, as I chased them down the softened bumps on a balmy late March at the Steamboat resort.
It was spring break from college, and on our sixth annual Mancation in the Mountains, spending a week together in the high alpine reaches. It was a time to enjoy all that comes with challenging yourself down the toughest terrain we could find, and to kick back together after the ski day was done.
It was a weeklong trip to ski the mega-resorts of Steamboat and Copper Mountain, with a final day at Loveland, that funky no-frills area with one of Colorado’s cheapest lift tickets and some of the state’s most impressive above-timber line terrain.
We split own stay between condominiums at Steamboat and the upshot of a town called Silverthorne off I-70, just west of the Eisenhower Tunnel.
At Steamboat, we stayed at the Bear Claw – one of the early on-mountain condominiums. In an era when marketers can fudge a bit about what’s called ski-in, ski-out, the Bear Claw is the real deal. We had a two-bedroom, two-bath unit on the second floor. We stored our skis in a hallway locker, put our boots on at a bench by the door, and walked out to a trail called Stampede, which took us straight down the main gondola.
Hang a right at the end of the hall and there’s a bar, open for happy hour with $4 bottles of Breck IPA. Just beyond loomed the heated outdoor pool and hot tub in which we soaked our weary legs after our skiing days were done.
It was so warm – and dry – in March that we didn’t sample Steamboat’s trademarked “champagne powder.” Instead the 60-degree days turned the afternoon ski surface into a mash more akin to frozen margaritas.
Over the years, the boys have developed into top-notch skiers, able to descend most anything the West will throw at them. But none had ever had professional instruction. So as a treat, we signed up for a lesson on skiing the bumps with Chris Noone, a big-hearted Coloradan with a skiing style that was oh so smooth and fluid.
Noone doubled as a mountain guide, taking us to his special haunts on the hill. My favorite that afternoon was skiing through an aspen glade the locals call “2:30” – between trails called Two O’Clock and Three O’Clock.
A lesson can improve your skiing – and your style. Noone wanted us to absorb the bumps, which were mercifully soft in the springtime sun. We also needed to plant our downhill pole just so on the bump, to mark our turns, and the transfer of weight as we made our way down through the trees or in the wide mogul fields that abound on Steamboat’s sprawling terrain.
The lesson paid off. Our turns were tighter, our upper bodies had quieted down. After our sumptuous lunch at Hazie’s, the boys wanted some video footage of themselves on White Out, Steamboat’s famed bump run, which goes on and on and on, bump after bump after bump.
Which we skied three times, to make sure we got the best video.
After which I was so beat that I headed back to the condo by 3 p.m. to let the young lads have another hour on their own as they continued their assault.
On our first night, we’d stocked up at the City Market downtown, with the fully-equipped kitchen perfect for whipping up dinner. On the third night, we headed downtown to explore. The Bear Claw had its own shuttle, and our driver suggested we try a Mexican place called Vacqueros, which turned out to be a good choice. Recalling the late-afternoon slush on the hill, I ordered a frozen margarita.
Steamboat also proved a charm for ski gear. I needed a new ski jacket, to replace the tattered orange jacket my Dad had given me in 2006, just before he had passed away. I struck pay-dirt at Steamboat Ski and Bike Kare – 40 percent off in its end-of-year sale on a Saloman shell in a popping color called Alpha Yellow.
After three days at Steamboat, we drove two hours over Jack Rabbit Pass to reach Silverthorne, the town established a half-century ago during construction of the Dillon Dam. Over the years, the town has grown haphazardly, with its name-brand outlet stores a destination for shoppers, and its spread of condominiums providing more economical lodging for skiers visiting Summit County ski resorts like Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Copper, and Loveland.
All five resorts were less than a half-hour from the one-bedroom place with a loft that the four of us stayed in comfortably at Buffalo Village, three miles up from town.
It’s a quick ride down for dinner. One night we ate at Sauce on the Blue, which opened in the fall of 2016, and has emerged as Silverthorne’s hottest new restaurant. The next night it was Baker’s Brewery, which marries home-made breads with micro-brewed beer, and comfort food, like mac and cheese and specialty burgers. There we met with Silverthorne tourism director Blair McGary, who outlined Silverthorne’s bid to burnish its image by investing in the arts, trying to emulate the success found in Telluride with its summer offerings. The $9 million Silverthorne Performing Arts Center opened in June.
Skiing Copper Mountain never disappoints. We spent our day mostly up the mountain to the bowls at more than 12,000 feet. There was no slush in sight, and when I streamed down the Copper Bowl, the snow was chalky packed powder, perfect for in wide sweeping turns.
On our last day, we visited Loveland Ski Area, which was established in 1937 with a few rope tows to take skiers up the east side of the Continental Divide. It’s a homespun affair, still owned by the Lee family, with day lift tickets at $71. Get yourself a four-pack at Loveland before November 19 for $159 – one of Colorado’s best deals.
The warmth of mid-March had reached Loveland’s above timber-line terrain. But the freeze-thaw cycle, and those wonderful springtime afternoons we’d had at Steamboat and Copper never materialized at Loveland. The vast expanse of open terrain remained frozen boilerplate. We skied the groomers all day, yearning to get out on the open terrain that spread out along the Continental Divide, and accessed by a snow cat, included in our $71 lift ticket.
Whatever. It didn’t really matter. We’d had a great week in the Rockies.
And I could see how the tables were turning as we packed up our car in the Loveland parking lot.
“You missing anything?” asked my son. “What about this?”
He held up my wallet, which had popped out of my new jacket pocket in parking lot. My college boy looking out for Daddy now.
“I found it on the ground,” he said with a broad smile. “And we’re making dinner tonight. It’s our treat.”
David McKay Wilson, a veteran journalist who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, is an avid cyclist, skier and swing dancer. His travel writing has taken him around the world, with his work appearing in the Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant, and several Gannett daily newspapers.