Sunday, 11 January 2015

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Craig Writes;
Monday 22 December
The plan was to leave Denver at 9am, get to Golden to pick up our snow gear at 10am, have lunch at Silverthorne at 12pm and arrive at Steamboat around 3pm. Well that didn't quite work out.  Posh, our aristocratically voiced English GPS, got us lost and cost us an hour before we got anywhere then a snow storm came in and literally pulled all the traffic going in our direction to a halt.
This was not a pleasant driving experience.
It took three hours to go the 70km from Golden to Silverthorne. Tired, tense and very hungry we pulled into the first place we could find, a Wendy's burger joint. We ordered four Glob burgers and a side of congealed fries and hit the road.
Finally, around 5.30pm, under the cover of darkness and a lightly falling blanket of snow we rolled into The Steamboat Grand.  It's a massive complex of apartments and hotel rooms that back right onto the ski fields. The fields were lit up for the hardcore nighttime skiers, the ones who just didn't know when to stop. The runs looked impressive, long, wide and a lot of them. We've got our ski gear, we've got our skis and boots and tomorrow we hit the slopes.

Tuesday 23 December
I always feel that a little bit of history makes for a more interesting read.
A trapper called John Crawford first came to Steamboat Springs back in 1874, he liked it that much that he settled in with the local Ute Indians and decided to stay.  It didn't take long before it was decided there wasn't enough room for both of them so the US Army came through in 1879 and just drove the Utes off to a reservation. 
Steamboat Springs got it's name when these 'first settlers' heard what they thought was a steamboat making it's way up the river.  The familiar chug chug sound they heard was in fact the local hot springs doing it's thing.  The first impression stuck though and the place was from that point on known as Steamboat Springs.
It didn't take long before 'civilised man' got around to doing what he does best, cutting things down and digging things up. They started to cut down the local forests of Evergreens and Aspens so that meant they needed a timber mill.  Soon after the timber mill there was a railroad and then after that, just for good measure they started digging the ground up for copper and other minerals and hey presto, now you have some mining. 
Then in 1913 a Norwegian called Carl Howlesson happened to be passing through and was so enthralled with the quality of the snow and the hum of this burgeoning little town he decided to stay.  He shared his knowledge and passion of skiing with the locals, eventually introducing the sport of ski jumping.  Soon there were skiing competitions, skiing clubs and the word began to spread. The rest as they say, is history.

We're staying in a one bedroom condo at the beautiful Steamboat Grand. We have the private room and the boys are sleeping in the massive living area on two large single day beds.  Our lounge windows overlook the pool area and a gentle slope of snow covered hillocks.

Best of all we are literally a one hundred metre walk to Gondola Square where all the shops, bars and ski equipment places are. The ski lifts are just another fifty metres on.
It's a chilly minus 8 degrees C today, we're well fed, well rugged up and ready to met our ski instructor Kayla and hit the slopes. 
Bring it on.
With the lessons of our Austrian instructor, Margoose, still fresh in our minds from earlier this year we bypassed the basics and went straight onto a chair lift up to a very wide very forgiving green run. We went through some brief basics, how to snow plough, i.e how to stop, how to turn, how to get up when you fall down - very useful that one - then it was up and down the half way point of Christies Peak to show Kayla we had some idea of what we were doing.  We finished by going to the top of Christies Peak for a nice easy long run home.
We followed the green run section but we'll have a crack at the more difficult blue runs over the next day or so. It was tremendous fun but we were all glad to be pulling the boots off after five hours.
Our first look at a blue slope.
Tomorrow we have a different instructor, Allie, and we'll be looking to go further afield again, maybe even take on Little Rodeo, a sealed section of small jumps, obstacles and a half pipe that could be fun.  Callum is very keen.

The views from the top of Christies were spectacular but that is still not the very top, there is another run that takes you several hundred metres further up again. We're hoping to get there tomorrow.

Wednesday 24 December
It's the end of our second day skiing and I feel like I have just ridden the Three Dams on two flat tyres. I think I speak for all us when I say I'm bone tired and exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time.
We had Allie with us today. We were back on Christies Peak reviewing some of the lessons from yesterday in preparation for our next step forward.
After lunch we caught the lift further up Mt Werner. We were at 9000 feet with a long and winding three mile run home. Even at this elevation the mountain still had more to give. There were other lifts that could take you further up to where the mountain disappeared into the clouds.  We could see skiers sliding down the slopes like tiny tumbling raisins.
Then whammy, the effects of too much altitude and not enough hydrating struck like an avalanche.  Christina did not feel well.  With the hardest run of the day ahead we decided to take the gondola back down and take a run through Little Rodeo and the half pipe.  We'll tackle the big run first thing tomorrow when we're fresh and well hydrated. For now it's home for some relaxing, a nice cuppa and then out to dinner at La Montana, the local  Mexican Restaurant.  Unfortunately Callum wasn't feeling great so it ended up just being mum, dad and the Charlie.  The food was great,  I ended up having the glazed barbecued Atlantic Salmon and Christina had the fish Tacos.  The standout though was probably the fried ice cream for desert. Not very Mexican but very delicious.
Truly the most amazing fried ice cream.

Thursday 25 December
YES!! Finally we have our first white Christmas. We started the morning with the traditional Xmas stockings for the boys before heading down to a tasty breakfast of fluffy omelettes and thin crispy strips of fatty bacon.  I do like the American bacon.
Nothing says Xmas like a stocking and a big eared hat.
It would have been enough to just wake up to the sight of the mountains, rooftops and trees covered in a fresh layer of Christmas snow but to be snowed on while we were making our way down the mountain was more than we could have asked for.  The falls were consistent through the day but they were light and playful.

We all picked up the pace a bit today, our paralleling had improved which meant we were turning better and were more in control.  It  also meant we could stop without using a tree, a snow bank or each other.  Allie was impressed enough with Callum to take him down his very first blue slope. He handled it exceptionally well.  I on the other hand was less impressive.  I zigged when I should have zagged and was off into the bush again, deciding to go through a snow bank as opposed to around it. While Callum is 'impressive' I apparently am 'interesting.'
But it wasn't just me, with the exception of Callum we all took a few tumbles today but it was the price we had to pay for progress.
Charlie having an unscheduled rest.
We started off from where we left yesterday, the almost top of Mount Werner. From here we cruised about half way down the mountain then took the gondola back up top for a quick lunch before cruising the gentle green slopes the three miles back down.  We said goodbye to our instructor Allie who has been fantastic and tomorrow we welcome back Kayla.
Christmas dinner was not what we had expected. Tonight it was Charlies turn to be the crook one.  We had to cancel the reservations that we had made two months in advance and settled for room service instead. But you look for the silver lining don't you.  We found ours sitting around the dinner table in our trackie pants eating ribs and pizza and laughing at Charlie, who had miraculously recovered and was pretending to be a piece of meat on a rotisserie.  You had to be there.  We opened a card game out of Charlies stocking called Pit and had a ball carrying on like pork chops.  It was a perfect Christmas evening.

Friday 26 December
What a day to finish on.  A continual shower of fresh powder fell from the skies for most of the morning, nothing too Arctic but just gentle and soft flourishes.  It was awesome. It was a day of memorable stacks - who knew snow could taste so good - death defying downhill runs and shooting the banks for some serious air.  Callum was again the standout almost wiping himself out before spinning in a 360 and sailing on like a pro.
We saw many things today, a family of three moose lying amongst the Evergreens on the other side of the valley, we saw guys skiing with one leg and a kid skiing with no legs, we saw conga lines of four year olds tearing down the mountain with loud giggles and rosy red cheeks.  I saw a guy skiing with a young kid wedged in his backpack.

It was an amazing day and considering we all started the day that tired we weren't sure we would make it past lunch we all finished with ease.  Towards the end Kayla convinced us we were ready for a gentle blue run and we all fell for it, but you know what, we did it.  We had lunch at Hazies, a lovely little restaurant towards the top of Mount Werner where once again Callum excelled by choosing the dish of the day, the lobster mac n cheese. I've never seen such large hunks of lobster meat thrown into one bowl before.  It was ridiculous. I for one had extreme food envy.
To finish what had been an exceptional day Callum, Charlie and me took the last run through Little Rodeo for one last crack at the jumps and another run down the half pipe. It was a fitting way to finish what has been an amazing few days.
The half pipe.
Both the instructors, Allie and Kayla, were terrific. Having them there to guide, correct and push us was invaluable. We celebrated our final run down the mountain with some apres-ski in the Sheraton lounge overlooking the ski fields drinking hot chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps before heading back for some feet up.
Heavenly peppermint schnapps. 
We took the shuttle into the small town of Steamboat around 6pm to have a wander before ending up at Aurum restaurant for our 7.30pm reservation.  We had plans to walk the whole five blocks and do some window shopping but it felt every bit the minus nine degrees that the big Wells Fargo sign on Main st was displaying.  We made it two blocks before saying stuff this, let's get to the restaurant. And wow what a meal that was, not that my memory was all that clear after the pre-dinner cocktails.

Tomorrow we pack our bags, take delivery of our new hire car and drive back to Denver for a 7.45pm flight to New Orleans.  This has been a fabulous way to kick start our holiday and although it can be cold bordering on freezing and tiring to the point of exhaustion, skiing is brilliant fun.  We'll definitely be back for more.

Saturday 27 December
The Jeep is packed and we're leaving just in time, the weekend crowds are pouring in. The road back is clear and the weather is fine. We'll cut our travel time in half from when we drove up a few days ago.  In fact there will be enough time to drop into the museum and the grave site of that legend of the Wild West, the famous scout, Indian hunter and showman, William F Cody or aka, Buffalo Bill.
Over 25,000 people came to pay their respects when he was laid to rest in 1917.  His grave lies high up on Lookout Mountain overlooking the Great Plains and the far off Rockies. After leaving his life as a scout and buffalo hunter for the army and later the railroads he became a showman and traveled the world for thirty five years with his pioneering Wild West Show. He entertained hundreds of thousands of people both abroad and through the United States with his authentic display of a slice of what the untamed west was really like. His original outfits and guns and his beloved Bowie knife are all on display.  
Buffalo Bills well used Bowie Knife.
One of the most impressive pieces to me though was Sitting Bulls head gear, his moccasins and his bow and arrows that he used at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He was to join Buffalo Bill in his later years as apart of his show using the fame and notoriety to try to help his peoples cause for a just claim to recognition of their rights as original landowners - sound familiar - and cultural independence.  It was an impressive visit.
Sitting Bulls headdress and bow and arrow from The Battle of Little Big Horn. 
Now onto Denver Airport and the next stop, New Orleans.

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