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Trip Report Trip Report: Steamboat Springs and Vista Verde Ranch 2011

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I’ve hit my five year anniversary of returning to Steamboat. Before I took my first trip to Steamboat, I never imagined that this would turn into an annual event for me and become my favorite trip I take each year. Apparently I have been officially struck by the legendary Yampa Valley Curse. Legend states that those who visit the Yampa Valley will be compelled to return and that those who come to dwell in the valley will never leave. This certainly seems to have held true in my case- and for countless others. People who have not yet experienced the draw of the Steamboat Springs area may wonder what the allure is. Of course it really depends on what you want to do, but for me, I like the lack of crowds on the mountain, unpretentious atmosphere, friendly people I’ve come to know and the natural beauty of the area. I have developed a routine over the years. I usually spend four days skiing at Steamboat and then spend three days at Vista Verde Ranch in Clark, CO enjoying other winter pursuits. This year, in honor of my fifth year “anniversary”, I upped my ski days to five and my ranch days to four!

I departed Boston Friday evening on United Airlines bound for Denver, where I connected to a flight to Hayden/Yampa Valley Regional Airport. We’ve had more snow than normal here in the Boston area this winter; it’s been one storm after another. So I was hoping that Friday would be a clear day and thankfully it was, so my flight was able to take off. We did end up taking off about 25 min late, so I was getting nervous about making my connection in Denver. Luckily, we ended up landing on time and actually a little a early. I had 50 min to make the connection, which was a good thing as my carry on bags were heavy and I had to go from gate 20 something to 60. Typically when I fly from Denver to Hayden the flight is always late-- for once the plane was there and we were able to depart on time. The flight to Hayden lasts only about 30 minutes and we were on the ground by about 10:20pm. I proceeded into the terminal and made my way over to the Go Alpine shuttle desk to check in for my ride to the Sheraton Steamboat. In addition to Go Alpine there is another shuttle company Storm Mountain Express, but Go Alpine is the dominant player. After receiving my shuttle number I went over to baggage claim to hope my luggage made the connection. Normally when I fly in on Saturday afternoon, there are several other flights landing and this small airport is hectic and congested, but arriving late night we were the only flight and there was plenty of standing room at the baggage carousel. It took about 15-20 min for them to start sending the luggage out, but when they did, I found both my bags had made it. I grabbed my bags and went out to get my ride to the hotel. Alpine assigns you to a shuttle bus according to where you are staying. On my bus there were only 5 of us and I was the second drop off stop, so I arrived at the hotel by 11:30pm.

Check in was uneventful and I was assigned room 554. This was my 5th time staying at the Sheraton and everything was as expected. I always choose to stay at the Sheraton due to it’s slope side location and transportation convenience. There is a resort fee though and that includes internet access (in room and lobby), 2 bottles of water per day, shuttle service downtown, ski storage and a few other things.
On Saturday morning I woke up at 5am, which is always an issue for me each time I go to Colorado. 5am Colorado time is 7am Eastern time which is my normal time to get up. My first order of business for the day was to go pick up my ski rentals. There is a rental shop in the basement of the Sheraton and I have always rented from them due to convenience, though there are plenty of other shops in the area one could rent from. I ended up with a Salomon Amethyst which had seen better days, as I’ve found to be the norm with rentals.

I headed out around 8:45am and went up the Christie lift for a short run down a green slope to make sure my skis were fine etc. They turned out to be okay, so I went back up the Christie lift and then skied down to the Thunderhead lift and took that up and made my way over to Sunshine Peak. Some of the groomers started off a little scratchy, but since the sun hits Sunshine Peak first, that area is usually a good bet. I took some runs down Tomahawk and Flintlock before heading down Cowboy Coffee into Morningside. The Morningside area is always so pretty-- filled with pine tress and it’s peaceful in there. Some of the trees still had that beautiful heavy coating of snow on them. Up the Morningside lift and down Buddy’s to Rainbow which rounded out the morning. I then decided to download on the gondola to save my legs and go back to my room and get out of my boots for lunch (one of the many advantages of staying slope side).

I then walked over to Slopeside Grill for a lunch of a BLT with brie cheese which was served with fries.

Around 12:15pm I was back skiing again and decided to take out some demo skis, as I wanted to try something that had a chance of being tuned and waxed. I tried the Volkl Luna in a 151 length first and did a run down Heavenly Daze to Vogue. I really liked the skis, as they held an edge really well and sort of locked into the turns. Since you pay one price and can take out as many demos as you like, I decided to try some others as well. I tried the K2 Free Luv in 156, which was okay, but didn’t have the same edge grip and felt a little noodley at times. In addition I tried the Nordica Mint which I hated, as it felt like the tip edges wanted to catch. The tech in the shop said since I was only the second person to ski them it could be that the edges hadn’t been detuned. Anyway, I really liked the Lunas so I went ahead and reserved them for the following day.

I had to cut my ski day short at 2pm since I had booked a shuttle to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs with Hot Springs Adventures. They picked me up at 2:45pm in a mini bus and then we picked up a few others before making the approx 30 minute drive down a winding dirt road to the Springs. Sweet Pea Tours also does trips to the Springs and they take you up in vans. Upon arrival at the Springs, the driver showed us the changing areas and told us about the temperature of each of the pools. You then walk down a dirt and somewhat icy path to the bottom. The Springs are made up of several pools of varying temperatures ranging from 50 degrees to 104 degrees. The walls are rock and the bottom is sand. The rocks getting into and out can slippery and sharp so watch your step! We had about an hour and a half at the Springs, which was plenty of time, before getting picked up at 5pm. We got back to the Sheraton about 5:45pm and I had to decide where to go for dinner.

I arranged to have the Sheraton shuttle drop me downtown. The shuttle runs every 15 min from noon onward, but you need to call down and reserve a space on one. I didn’t call, but was able to walk onto the 6:15pm one since I was just one person.
For dinner I went to Riggios, which I’d never been to before. I ate at the bar since I hadn’t reserved a table there either and they were full up. I ordered the House Salad which is served with their Gorgonzola dressing which was creamy and delicious. The entrée I selected was Veal Saltimbocca which is served over angel hair pasta. This was also very good and a large portion. To top off the meal I had the Peanut Butter Pie. This too I loved. The dessert portions are quite small but they are priced with that in mind. I would definitely return there again--but if you want a table make a reservation.

After dinner I looked in some of the shops downtown and made my annual pilgrimage to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for some goodies to have on hand. Instead of calling for the Sheraton shuttle to come get me, I just took the free Steamboat bus back to the ski area and my hotel.

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    Sunday morning dawned sunny again. Today was the first of my series of private lessons I had booked and I had opted to do a half day morning. I met my instructor the first year I came to Steamboat and we’ve skied together ever since. I enjoy skiing with him because he knows how far to push me without freaking me out and skiing with him is more like having a private mountain guide than doing drills all the time and I always come away with a few main things to work on throughout the year until meet up again. We met up and went up the gondola and started skiing over on Sunshine Peak since the groomers were hard again this morning and death cookies abounded in some areas. We skied High Noon, Quick Draw, Flintlock and Tomahawk before heading to Cowboy Coffee and then up the Morningside Lift to Buddy’s. On Buddy’s we skied to the right of that run in the easy bumps. Then we stopped at the Four Points Hut for a water break before continuing down Rainbow. After that we went up the Pony Express Lift and skied Middle Rib. We ended our day heading down to the base via See Ya.

    For lunch I went to the Gondola Pub (GPG) and had the Adult Grilled Cheese (cheddar cheese, bacon and tomato) served with fries. Turns out my instructor had the same idea, as he walked in about 5 min after I sat down, so we ate lunch together before heading our separate ways for the afternoon.

    I headed back up the gondola about 12:40pm and skied High Noon down to 2 O’clock. It seemed really busy over there so I left that area and skied down to the base to demo some more skis. This time I took out the Volkl Sol in a 158. I liked the ski and it held an edge well on the icy skied off areas. Then I also tried the Salomon Lady in 153 which I liked okay but it’s edge grip was not as strong, but it would be a fun ski in soft snow. By 3:30pm my legs were shot, so I quit to go sit in the hot tub for a while before walking around the base to look in the shops.

    I opted for an early dinner at La Montana, so I just walked over. This is one of my favorite restaurants. I had the margarita especial, chile con queso and cheese enchiladas. I also really like the 2 house salsas they serve--the sweet red salsa and the green sour cream avocado and cilantro. No meal is complete without dessert so I had the fried ice cream which was delicious rolled in slivered almonds, served with cajeta sauce and garnished with chocolate, mango and raspberry sauces and topped with cinnamon whipped cream.

    Monday I awoke to a couple inches of fresh snow and still coming down. This was the day of my full day private lesson. I had reserved the Volkl Sol ski, but in light of the fresh snow, I instead took the Salomon Lady. Fresh snow always screws me up, so I was glad to have a full day lesson. We went up the gondola and went over to Sunshine Peak, where we took one run down High Noon and into some easy trees before heading down lower on the mountain where visibility was better. We stayed around the Four Points, Thunderhead and Burgess Creek lifts. We skied mostly easy blues and some greens since as I mentioned before, I have trouble with fresh snow. It helped to ski easier terrain so I could work on my technique.

    At noon we broke for lunch at Hazie’s, located at the top of the gondola, and we both ended up with the special of the day which was a rib eye sandwich served with roasted peppers, onions and blue cheese. It was huge-- basically a full size steak on a ciabatta roll. Seeing as I have a sweet tooth, I also ordered dessert---chocolate toffee cake which I was only able to eat half of.
    After lunch we skied at the same mid mountain level as we had that morning and skied Rainbow, Vagabond, Moonlight, Sunnyside, Tornado, White Out.

    At about 4:30pm I met up with my instructor and some of his friends at the GPG for drinks before I headed over to the Pine Grove area of town to shop at the Ski Haus and have dinner at the Ore House. For dinner I got the Steak Bits served with the house potato (shredded potato mixed with cilantro, deep fried and covered in cheese sauce. Entrees also include a trip to the salad bar and cinnamon rolls.

    Tuesday was extremely cold. It was well below zero at some points especially with the wind-chill. I had never skied in anything colder than 12 degrees, so that was a new experience. The snow was very sticky and it was hard to move at all. I had my second full day private lesson and we started over on Sunshine Peak. About halfway up the Sundown Express chair, it got pretty windy. Once at the top, the snow was windblown and variable-- groomed areas showing through in some spots and 6 inches of blown powder in others. Some of the fresh was a bit heavy and slabby as well. We made one run down High Noon before descending to mid and lower mountain, where we remained the whole morning.
    We had lunch at Hazie’s again and I had the French Onion Soup and the Kobe Burger. It was nice to go in and warm up! During lunch my instructor had our skis waxed with cold temperature wax, so it was much easier to ski in the afternoon, as the skis would actually slide. We skied off the Four Points lift and the made another attempt at Sunshine Peak to ski some of the easy trees (Pump House trees) off High Noon.

    After my lesson was over I met up the instructor and some of his friends again at the GPG. After that I went downtown to eat dinner at Tequila’s where I had a combo meal of a beef taco and cheese enchilada. After dinner I walked around to some of the shops, but it was so cold it was not very pleasant to be outside.

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    Wednesday was my last ski day and it started out very cold, like -29 degrees at the base. I had scheduled a half day private lesson. We went up the gondola and as we were boarding, there was nobody else going up. Upon arriving at mid mountain though, it was warmer than at the base and sunny with no wind. Steamboat often has a temperature inversion where it can be quite a bit warmer at mid mountain or the top than it is at the base. We went over to Sunshine Peak and took the Priest Creek chair up, as the Sundown Express was frozen. It was nice once we got up there though because we had the mountain to ourselves and got fresh tracks down High Noon--multiple times. The snow was in great condition for me-- groomed packed powder, soft and edgable. We went in to warm up and I decided to extend my lesson to full day since it really was not that bad out. We skied a bunch of trails that were new to me this morning such as Rolex, Valley View and Lower Valley View, before heading back up in the gondola (and out of the cold) to lunch at Hazie’s. I had the chicken sandwich served with peppers and bacon and a brownie for dessert.

    Before lunch I had arranged to swap out my demo skis for a different model and the instructor once again convinced them to wax the skis for me with cold weather wax even though they really didn‘t want to do it. Since they are demo skis, you would think that they would want the skis to perform at optimum performance since the idea is to convince people to buy them. So after lunch I took out the Volkl Sol in a 158. We skied off Storm Peak, did Buddy’s, and some easy trees near Big Meadow and hit Morningside (I think Frying Pan) as well. This was my second time on these skis and I really liked them. They held an edge well and were easy to turn on groomers. The only thing they were less good at was they were harder to turn in the trees in the fresh snow-- but I wouldn‘t be in the trees at home, so no problem.. We finished up the day skiing down Valley View and then over to See Me. After we were done, I decided to purchase a pair of Volkl Sol since you can apply up to 2 days of demo fees to your purchase price. I was due to get picked up for the next phase of my vacation- a stay at Vista Verde Ranch at 4:30pm. So, they mounted the bindings and adjusted them for me and I arranged to have them shipped home. In the meantime, while I was waiting to be picked up, I had a drink in the Sheraton bar with my instructor and then he helped me drag my stuff out to the ranch suburban to get my ride. We said our good byes and see you next years and I was off to Vista Verde.

    Ranch ski guide Beka was the one who picked me up and we made the approximately 45 min drive to the ranch and arrived there about 5:30pm. At Vista Verde you can choose to stay in a cabin or in one of the lodge rooms. My favorite place to stay is in one of the lodge rooms. This year I was in Mica. I have also stayed in one of the cabins and they are very luxurious yet rustic in theme, large and comfortable and each have their own hot tub on the porch.

    Happy Half Hour is at 6pm and is held downstairs in the Great Room of the lodge and you get your choice of beer, wine or soda and a daily hors d‘oeuvre. Turns out I was the only guest that night, so they sent staff in to socialize with me. I was joined by Dace, John and Carson. We had dinner at 6:30pm and it was a choice of chicken or trout with elk tenderloin for the appetizer. I had a salad for the appetizer and chicken for dinner and had the apple crisp for dessert. The dining room was really cold for some reason, so we ended up having dessert by the fire place!

    The next day, Thursday, I went down to breakfast at 8am and had a piece of what I think was banana bread, some bacon and ranch potatoes. Breakfasts at the ranch consist of a fresh baked bread product, smoothie of the day, granola, or choice of 3 hot items which are served with potatoes and your choice of sausage or bacon.

    For my first activity, I selected a riding lesson in the indoor arena with the ranch reining trainer Terry Wegener. The horse I rode was Mary Jane and she was quite nice; really responsive to whatever you wanted her to do. We rode about 1 hour and by the time we put the horses away it was 11:30am so I had an hour to kill before lunch.

    For lunch I had the Black Bean Soup, an open faced pork sandwich and some delicious brownies for dessert. Ranch lunches are usually a choice of 3 hot entrees, salad bar, 2 soups and make your own sandwich.

    After lunch I went on a backcountry ski with guide Teresa. We just went around the ranch area and saw an elk. We criss crossed Hinman Creek a couple times and had some fun downhills through the trees.

    Happy Half Hour was at 6pm and there were more guests tonight. Tonight’s hors d’oeuvre was called lobster bites. This was a fork full of pasta carbonara with a chunk of lobster; I don’t eat seafood, but was able to pick off the lobster and enjoy the delicious pasta. For dinner the appetizer was a salad, and I had a thick cut pork chop in an apple glaze served with parsnip mashed potatoes. The dessert was delicious as well---devils food cake with orange icing and covered in chocolate ganache.

    Even though there were only four of us, the evening entertainment was the Indoor Campfire. It varies, but you will have 1-3 staff members perform guitar music by the large fireplace in the Great Room. Tonight Dace entertained us with name that song artist.

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    Friday started out with Chocolate French Toast for breakfast, which was delicious and I don’t even like French Toast! For today’s activity, I chose to do an all day backcountry ski and they sent me with guide Kyle. The area we went to is called South Fork. We parked at the trailhead and started climbing. We climbed a trail for about and hour or so and then came to a hill where we hiked up and then skied down. We then put on skins and started a steeper climb up a drainage and then eventually down into an area that had willows and we saw 2 female moose. After that we skied into a clear area in the woods and had lunch on the trail. If you choose to do an all day activity, the ranch will pack you a bag lunch. I opted for ham & cheese, chips, cookie and water. After stopping about 20-30 min we continued on and started our descent into an area where there are a series of small lakes. We climbed another hill and spotted an elk. We skied down the hill and continued on to an area called Panorama, due to the panoramic views you get. It was not a clear day though, so the views were not as grand as they could be. We then skied down and met up with a road, which we ascended and then skied down an area called Lovers Lane which is the right of way under the power lines. From there we met up the road again and skied that back to the car. We ended up being gone 5 hours total. It was really tiring, but was a lot of fun and seeing the moose was great!

    Dinner tonight was a salad for me since I didn’t like the appetizer and I ordered the lamb chops. Unfortunately, the lamb was way too rare for my taste---I don’t eat meat that looks like it’s still breathing--so I could only eat the very edges. Dessert was a delicious mocha mousse with a peanut butter garnish.

    Tonight we had some excitement in the lodge . . . . .at around 10:30pm the smoke detector in my room started beeping like it had a low battery. Then it started going off completely. I took the battery out, but it wouldn’t stop! So I had to run out and go wake up Dace to come and figure out what was going on with the system. One other person was staying in the lodge as well and by the time Dace arrived, my smoke alarm had triggered 2 other smoke alarms upstairs to go off as well, as they are linked. Dace solved our problem for us and everything was fine after that.

    Saturday started with breakfast of bourbon pecan waffles and a slice of gingerbread. For my morning activity, I chose to go on a trail ride. It was snowing pretty hard and the property always looks so pretty in the snow, with all the trees covered and the mountains shrouded in clouds.

    Lunch was beef chili and blond brownies.

    I opted to ski for my afternoon activity. They sent me with 2 guides, Beka and Cliff and we put skins on and climbed up behind the ranch to Hinman Lake. I’d never been there before, so that was fun. The ski had a lot of fun downhill sections and we ultimately descended back down to the ranch behind the cabins.

    Dinner tonight was salad for me, bison ribeye served with fingerling potatoes and a saffron panna cotta for dessert. I don’t do panna cotta, so I ordered the always available sorbet instead--in guava flavor.

    Tonight’s entertainment was a night snowshoe. Myself and one other guest went out with guide Teresa. I always do the night snowshoe and more often than not it’s either just me or me and one other person! The trek meets up at the Nordic Center and they give you snowshoes, poles and headlamps---and they’ll give you boots as well. The typical route takes you from the Nordic Center out to the Homestead Cabin (the oldest cabin on the ranch property) where you drink hot chocolate and then loops back again. However, it was snowing really hard and we could see barely 10 feet ahead of us and the trails were getting filled in, so we ended up walking right by the cabin! So instead of stopping we ended up just turning around and following our tracks back. I’d never done it before when you couldn’t see anything, so that was a new adventure!

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    Sunday was my last full day at the ranch. Breakfast was a piece of lemon poppy seed cake, with bacon and potatoes.

    I chose to ski in the morning guides Cliff and Beka took me and two other guests to Trilby West. I had never been there before and it was beautiful. You can see Hahn’s Peak in the distance and one section of the ski is filled with pine trees that look gorgeous covered in fresh snow and the next slope we went to had aspens mixed in as it was south facing and slightly warmer.

    We arrived back at the ranch a little after 12:30pm, so just in time for lunch. I ordered herbed chicken breast garnished with a sweet tomato relish (it was supposed to be a sandwich but I only wanted the chicken). Dessert was delicious 7 layer bars.

    I skied again for my afternoon activity and guides Kyle and Beka took me and 3 other guests out to Hahn’s Peak Lake. This was sort of a free ski---the idea was to do whatever looked like fun to whoever wanted to do it. We all started off skiing down a hill and making our way over to the lake. Then one of the guides took 2 of us hiking up a fairly steep hill that overlooks the frozen and snow covered lake and we then skied down. The others opted to stay below and play on a less steep hill with guide Kyle. This was the best part of the ski, as I’d never skied anything that steep on cross country skis before, so it was exciting. We then went on to another, much less steep downhill area but there was so much snow we could hardly get up any speed. It was then time to ski back to the vehicle and I think we were back at the ranch by about 4:30. None of us on the ski cared about seeing the Super Bowl so getting back in time for that was not a priority.

    The ranch was showing the Super Bowl in the Great Room bar area and upstairs in the main lodge in their conference room. I don’t like football, so did not watch the game, but did wander in to get some of the snacks---cheese and crackers, vegetable dip, chicken wings and jalapeno poppers.

    Dinner tonight was a little different--you were given the choice of eating in front of the television in the Great Room or of eating like normal in the dining room. Since I hate football, I opted to eat in the dining room. One other couple ate in the dining room as well, so we had a table to ourselves. I had a salad instead of the venison appetizer, the hanger steak with white truffle butter and the molten chocolate cake for dessert. This was one of my favorite meals--the steak was good, though very rich and since I am a chocolate lover, I can never go wrong with molten cake.

    After dinner, the game was nearly over so I went into the Great Room and after the game was over we all watched Glee on the television. All the staff cleared out early, so after the show was over, we were a bit stymied as to how to shut off the television, as the AV system looks like mission control in the back room. I then went upstairs to pack my bags as I was leaving the next morning.

    Monday morning I woke up to heavy snow at 7am. We’d gotten about 6 inches already and it was still coming down, so I went online to check if my flight was still going. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) it was still scheduled to depart. My scheduled pick up time was 8am, so I had some time to go down and grab a couple pieces of gingerbread to eat. They offered to make me the Strawberry Heath Bar Pancakes, but I declined since I figured I’d be sitting all day and didn’t need any more large meals! Ranch hand John loaded my bags and we set off for the airport right at 8am---it took a little longer to get to the airport than usual because traffic was moving slower due to the road conditions, but we arrived in time--luckily I already had my boarding passes printed.

    My flight was the 10:33am United flight to Denver where I would connect to another flight to Boston. We boarded the Denver bound flight on time, but ended up sitting on the runway for 30 min while they took their time de-icing the plane. We landed in Denver leaving me 30 minutes to make my connection, which was fine since I lucked out with the gates being close together. Upon landing in Boston, I’ve never seen luggage come out so fast! I was the 4th person off the plane and made my way immediately to the carousel and 1 minute after I got there, out came my bags. That is some sort of record.

    Once again, I immensely enjoyed my trip to Steamboat and Vista Verde. As much as I love all the other trips I take each year, this is the only one where I truly wish it was not over and that I didn’t have to leave. If you are looking for great quality snow, friendly people and beautiful mountain scenery, you owe it to yourself to head to Northern Colorado and Steamboat Springs. Vista Verde is unique in that it is luxurious yet unpretentious. The friendly, knowledgeable and energetic staff is willing to go the extra mile to make sure you are having a wonderful time. You can do as much or as little as you like, and there are many opportunities to try new activities. For example, I first went there with only classic track ski and a little skate skiing experience and now I’ve become hooked on their backcountry trips and I’ve learned new techniques over the years to become a much stronger cross country skier. Thanks Vista Verde! So go on, give Steamboat or Vista Verde a try, but be careful--you too may be struck by the Yampa Valley Curse and become destined to return again and again like so many others before you.

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    Wow--what a trip report! Thanks.

    I spent 5 days in Steamboat in early January...didn't do any skiing as I was there to attend the annual MusicFest, but I agree that it's an easy place to get hooked on! We also ate at LaMontana and thought it was excellent. Also loved the downtown area, the friendly people and their awesome free public bus service! We used GoAlpine's shuttle from the Denver airport to Steamboat and it was a beautiful trip...the night before our trip home there had been a nice snow and it was just gorgeous coming over the pass.

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