Aspen & Steamboat Springs

An Intermediate New England Skier’s Assessment

We stepped out of the plane and onto the tarmac at the tiny Yampa Valley Regional Airport. To one side of me was desert, the other mountains which soared higher than I have ever witnessed in person. From that moment on I could tell this trip would be one for the books.

Buttermilk

Our first visit of the day would be to Buttermilk, home of the X Games! It’s also a sinfully easy mountain being mostly blues and greens. The 500 foot walk from the parking lot (free) to the lift knocked the wind out of me. Going from sea level to 8,000 feet is not easy. Altitude adjustment drugs are a good thing my friends. The snow was coming down heavier by the minute, it would be a free refill kind of day.

This was it, my first time skiing out west. Was I excited? You bet. Was I absolutely terrified? Even more so. I responded by nearly losing my s*** on a very easy trail. I’ve never skied my new skis in powder and it felt weird. My nervousness turned into pure fun by the time I got down to the bottom and said, lets go again! Buttermilk was the perfect way to spend the morning acclimating to my new skis. Unfortunately for this skier, I became bored rather quickly. It’s a little too easy, great if you’re learning, but terrible for the more experienced skier.

Aspen Highlands

From one extreme to the other is the name of the game. That afternoon we went over to Aspen Highlands. The terrain was quite difficult by comparison. There are some “easier trails”, but even the intermediates felt more like black diamonds by my standards. The snow continued to ramp up in intensity and so did my altitude sickness. Anton is far braver than I am and decided to go ski in one of the back bowls. I soon made friends with another woman on the lift and we decided to attempt a diamond trail from the summit. Almost immediately my nose bled from the high altitude. I’ve never skied such a steep run in all my life. Neither did the poor woman I was with, she fell a few times and ended up twisting her ankle. After delivering her safely to the base village I nearly collapsed in exhaustion. I knew I wouldn’t be able to ski hard on my first day here. No matter, 3pm for me equals Aprés ski time!

Aspen Mountain (Ajax)

Did you know that the Aspen Mountain, was originally called Ajax? Neither did I. Did you also know that after receiving at least 8 inches of fresh pow overnight Aspen gives away free pancakes in the famous sundeck summit lodge? When I found that out I couldn’t wait to get up there. Not only were the pancakes free, but they also tasted like heaven and came with real maple syrup!

Outside the wind whipped the snow around us furiously at 11,200 feet. It was a relief to start skiing where there was more tree cover. The trails closer to the summit were absolutely wonderful. I spent my morning and the first part of the afternoon skiing there. After a while the altitude started tiring me out so I decided to take a few runs towards the base. Mistake, big mistake. There’s nothing down there for a skier of my level. Anton was having a blast but after realizing that I wasn’t going to have any fun down there I quit around 2:30pm and said, “I’m in Aspen. Time to explore!” I went into more overpriced shops than you can count.

Snowmass

It’s snowy and massive, as suggested by the name of the resort. There must have been thousands of skiable acres spread across the many peaks which made up Snowmass. We were fortunate enough to get a bluebird day so the views were incredible. The Maroon Bells were one of the most beautiful sights I’ve yet to lay eyes on. The intermediate terrain towards the Elk Creek side of Snowmass was the best I skied the entire trip. Wide open fields where I could feel confident carving it up or straighlining.

After a few hours of having a blast on that side of the mountain Anton and I decided to head over to the Ullrhof cabin way over on the other side of the resort. After 30 minutes of trying to make our way over we were only halfway there when the onset of a migraine began. I wasn’t drinking enough water it seemed. Have you ever tried skiing on a sunny day with migraine? Wouldn’t recommend it. On the final trail we took to Ullrhof I lost control, accidentally went into an unofficial glade, side-swiped a tree, then proceeded to land into a tree well up to my chest. Anton was nowhere in site and didn’t see me wipe out. I was on my own. Step one: Panic and cry for ten minutes. This step is optional, but I chose to partake. Step two: Attempt to dig self out. Since the snow was fluffy it was easy. Step three: Recover any lost equipment. One ski and two poles were immediately present, but it took an additional 20 minutes to dig out my last ski located 40 feet away. Step five: Hike out of the trees. This step isn’t easy in four feet of powder. Needless to say I stuck to easy stuff to end my day and hydrated enough to attempt to bring myself out of the migraine before heading out again. My take on Snowmass? Despite my little escapade I quite enjoyed my time here. It’s a wonderful place for skiers of all levels.

Steamboat Springs

We spent three days in Steamboat Springs. The mountain is actually smaller than Snowmass and could easily be done in one day, but there is so much to discover in the Yampa Valley in addition to skiing. We’re here to ski though so lets go with that.

There’s something for everyone at Steamboat aka “The Boat”. From the easiest of easy to trails so steep it will make you doubt your abilities. Warning: A lot of the trails marked here as intermediate are actually quite difficult. These are again, black diamonds at New England ski resorts. I embraced the difficulty knowing that it makes me a better skier. After lunch I worked up the courage to ski the very backside of the mountain which was forested. If you were on a trail, it was quite narrow. Within about five minutes I was having the time of my life and ended up staying there for hours. It’s like Backcountry 101, but there’s a lift so yay! The lifties even built a cute zen garden. Sorry to bore you, but I basically hung out there for three straight days. Of course, I tried some of the other trails, but the Morningside area of Steamboat Springs had me hooked. Those stashes were amazing!

What else is there to do in this awesome little mountain town? Party and happy hour. The skiers around here drink a lot. Anton and I bar hopped like it was going out of style. I don’t know many places where you can get a craft beer or cocktail plus a full meal for less than $10. Steamboat Springs has several restaurants and skier bars to provide for that.

And of course the name Steamboat Springs comes from somewhere. You guessed it, there are hot springs. The Old Town Hot Springs weren’t my cup of tea. Crowded, screaming kids, and lukewarm water. I’d rather put my head in a vice than go back there. Strawberry Park was perfect. The hot springs were very hot and there were no kids! Kids are welcome, but not after dark. Why? Because nudity. That’s right, after dark this hot spring encourages its attendants to be totally naked. Believe it or not it is popular.

Last, but not least I simply must tell you about the backcountry! Anton had an amazing time going off-trail and completely out of bounds. Meanwhile it was 3:30pm and I just quit for the day since lifts were closed. I was about to go inside for my first beer of the evening when I got the phone call that he was lost and at the edge of a canyon. I could hear the terror in his voice. It was getting dark and time was of the essence. I obtained his coordinates immediately, not because I was going to go in and help I couldn’t ski that kind of terrain. The coordinates were obtained secretly because if Anton wasn’t back on trail by 4:30pm I would call Routt County Search and Rescue. The resort would charge $500 since it was out of bounds. Anton decided it was best to traverse his way down the canyon, on skis in order to get back. It would allow him to easily connect up with one of the trails on the mountain again if successful. Start the countdown to the longest ten minutes of my life. Finally the call came through and he made it down unscathed. Thirty minutes later he strolled into the village where I ran to hug Anton in tears. You bet I was angry, but even more relieved. He was soaked, horribly blistered, and freezing. We later found out the area where he was lost is a place where skiers are often rescued from. Anton is extremely lucky. Lesson here: Don’t venture into the backcountry without a plan or a person who knows where to go. This situation could have ended very badly.

Overall, Steamboat Springs is my new favorite place in the entire world. I fell so in love with this area that I was nearly in tears as my flight left. All I can think of doing is returning.

Ski Slang Dictionary

Aprés ski French for “after ski,” this phrase describes the food, drink, and other social activities that occur after a day of skiing. It’s a bunch of skiers partying after a long day on the slopes.

Back Bowl: Large, open basin that is located on the other side of a resort’s main ridge line.

Free Refill: A powder day in which it keeps on snowing, offering bottomless fun and preventing the pistes from getting tracked out.

Fresh Pow: Brand new snowfall.

Lifities: Lift attendant.

Straightlining: Skiing straight downhill without turning.

Stashes: Untouched snow. Also can be referred to as pow stash.

Tree Well: A dangerous hollow space formed around the base of trees after heavy snowfalls; fatal accidents can occur by falling into one.