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Trip Report Trip Report: Steamboat Springs and Vista Verde Ranch Jan/Feb 2012

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This was my 6th annual trip to Steamboat. I do the same trip each year where I spend 4-5 days skiing at Steamboat and then 3-4 days staying at Vista Verde Ranch in Clark, CO where I enjoy cross country skiing, horseback riding and snowshoeing. This is the ideal trip for me as it is the best of both worlds; I get to spend a few days in a lively town environment where the skiing is great and many restaurant choices abound, and then I retreat to the rustic elegance of Vista Verde where I enjoy the seclusion of backcountry skiing and spending time in nature. I’ve grown to love the Steamboat area over the years for it’s un-crowded skiing, friendly locals and consistent snow quality. Sometimes I wonder what if I’d never gone there? Would I have found someplace else to enjoy just as much or would I still be looking? This year of course, in the weeks leading up to my trip, much of the country had been suffering from lack of snow. Despite the fact that Steamboat was still faring better than New England in the natural snowfall department, I was still starting to get nervous in the weeks leading up to my trip. The weather forecasts were all for warmer temperatures and no snow in sight when the resorts desperately needed snow! Thankfully, about 2 weeks prior to my trip things started to improve for Steamboat and they started getting some snow, although we got no fresh snow the entire time I was there!

I departed Boston on Friday night. It was an adventure getting to the airport (we went a way we don’t usually go and took a wrong turn in South Boston that put us on the Mass Pike heading west and ended up having to go 20 min out of the way.) See, Boston streets and signage can even screw up the people who live in the area sometimes! I ended up getting dropped at the airport in plenty of time despite our detour. I departed on the evening United flight to Denver where I made a connection to Hayden/Yampa Valley Regional airport, which is the closest airport to Steamboat that handles commercial air traffic.

I deplaned in Hayden and made my way into the terminal and over to the Go Alpine desk to check in for my shuttle ride to the hotel. I got my bus assignment and then waited for the luggage to come out. The airport now has 2 baggage carousels this year and we were using the new one. The luggage took about 10-15 min before coming out and that is when my next adventure began. I got my first bag fairly soon and then waited . . .and waited . . .until everyone else had claimed their bags and left the area! It was clear there was no more luggage to come, so I had to go to the baggage services desk to place a missing bag claim. They looked up my bag’s tracking number and told me my bag had gone to Aspen! We filled out the paper work and they said they would call me when they knew when it was coming. This was the second time I’ve had bag trouble going to Hayden, but the trouble seems to originate in Denver--they either misdirect the bag or fail to put it on the plane at all.

So off I went to board my shuttle minus one bag. The ride to my hotel, the Sheraton Steamboat is about 30 min--a little more if it’s not the first stop on the route. I got to the hotel around midnight and got assigned room 548. Despite already having had enough hiccups throughout the day, I got another surprise. When I opened the door to the room, there was a bottle of wine and fruit plate in the room with a card addressed to a different guest. It wasn’t a big deal, I just called the front desk to alert them and then set it outside, but after other things had gone wrong that day, I just thought it was unbelievable.

I woke up at 6am on Saturday morning and did my unpacking that I didn’t feel like doing the night before. Of course I only had half my items. Thankfully I carry on my boots and helmet so I had those and I’ve learned from lost luggage on ski trips before to check 2 bags and cross pack them.

I went downstairs to the Pro Shop in the Sheraton (this is a new store location this year--on the first floor lobby level) and picked out my demo skis. Frankly, that location didn’t have much choice--a couple models of K2 and mostly Rossignol Temptation 82s. My prepaid reservation was good at any of the demo locations run by the ski corp but I stuck with the new Pro shop since they were the only location that had the Rossignols which I’d been wanting to try. Anyway, they didn’t have much selection, so if it’s selection you want I’d suggest demoing from the the Yurt at the top of the gondola or the demo shop in the Sheraton basement or going to Christy Sports (formerly Sport Stalker).

I started my ski day at around 9am with a ride up the Christy Peak Express and then down a simple green run to the Thunderhead lift. I then made my way to Sunshine Peak and down Tomahawk as a warm-up and then back up and then down High Noon before taking a break at Rendezvous Saddle since it was fairly cold. I made my way back over to the gondola area and decided to switch out my skis at the demo Yurt. One of the guys working there recognized me from last year ( I did a lot of demos last year too) and he suggested I try the Head Mya 6. I ended up preferring the Heads to the Rossignols after a few runs. I then took a run down Heavenly Daze and down to Vogue and to the base to have lunch at Bear River Grill. I wanted something quick so I went with a bowl of the French Onion Soup.

By this time it had warmed up quite a bit and I needed to remove some layers so I went back to my room and also went to check on my luggage. I was a little concerned because they said they would call me by around 10am to let me know what was going on with my bag but I hadn’t heard a word by noon. I wanted to get the number of the Hayden Airport or the Cowboy Carrier luggage delivery service. The hotel concierge offered to look into the luggage situation for me since we were not having any luck reaching a live person and she said it would take a while. I then went about my skiing business. I got a call from the concierge while riding the gondola back up top and she indicated my bag was on the way!

I decided to switch my skis again and try something else. This time I went with the Salomon Lady. I tried these last year and liked them and found I still like them. These were my favorite skis of the day. I finished my day with a run down Moonlight and then into Morningside park and over to Buddy’s Run and then Rainbow. I quit early at 2pm since not only was this my first ski day this season at Steamboat, but my first day of the season!

I arrived back to my room to find I had a message that my bag was there! I was relieved to get my things and none too soon since that was the bag containing my bathing suit and I wanted to sit in the hot tub. I sat in the hot tub for about 30 min before heading out to go downtown. The Sheraton has a shuttle bus that will take you downtown, but you have to sign up in advance for a specific time and they may or may not be able to take you if you decide last minute. I often prefer to just take the public bus--I find it more entertaining as there are always some characters on there.

My first stop was at Ski Haus. This is one of my favorite stores as they have a very wide selection. Next I went downtown and had dinner at Carl’s Tavern. Carl’s is a new restaurant in town this year located on Yampa Street. I had the Howler Burger which has cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and roasted garlic aoli. It’s served with fries, chips or salad (fries for me). The burger was very good-you could tell it was a hand formed patty as it was not uniform in shape and was a little big for the bun. The fries were great and were the narrow, skinny type.

I then walked around town and looked in the shops with a stop in Johnny B Goods for a mocha shake for dessert. I always enjoy a stop in FM Light and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. In Steamboat Ski and Bike Kare I found a pair of ski pants I’d been admiring at the end of last season but my local shop had run out of my size so of course I had to get them.

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    Sunday I woke up at 6am so had a few hours to waste until my lesson at 9am. I went down at 8:45am to collect my skis (Salomon Lady was my ski of choice today) and meet my instructor. This was my 6th year skiing with him, so we met up and went right up the gondola. We started over on Sunshine Peak and then moved over to the mid mountain/gondola area. It was sunny today and with snow/clouds predicted the rest of the week, I swapped my half day which was supposed to be today with one of my full days I had booked, so I did the full day today.

    We had lunch at Hazie’s where I had the Baja Chicken sandwich which is chicken breast, peppers and pancetta and served with fries. I then had Key Lime pie for dessert. I always enjoy lunch at Hazie’s because it has very nice views.

    The afternoon we skied Rainbow, Vagabond and Flintlock among others, before finishing with Heavenly Daze to See Me.

    I then met my instructor and some of his friends at the GPG for a drink before I chose Fiesta Jalisco for my dinner. I’d been to Fiesta Jalisco before and liked it but hadn’t been in quite some time. They start you with chips and salsa and a sort of Mexican slaw. I ordered a small Original Margarita which was huge. For dinner I got a small combination with 2 cheese enchiladas served with rice and beans. It too was quite large. I then finished with the fried ice cream which was also huge. Do you see the pattern here? It was amusing because I had a table near the door that everyone had to pass in order to enter or exit the restaurant and I got lots of comments on the dessert along the lines of “that looks so good”! It was!

    Monday I was due to have my half day lesson. For skis I chose to take out the Volkl Kenja today. I was planning on doing the Salomon Geisha but changed my mind at the last minute since we had no new snow. We went up the gondola and went over to Sunshine Peak to work on some carving drills. My instructor, being the salesman that he is, talked me into extending to the full day. He sweetened the pot by offering free lunch and two beers at the GPG later--plus I got a $5 off coupon for any of the stores owned by ski corp.

    We had lunch at the Truffle Pig; I had the bacon burger and added the truffle fries. The burger was great--very flavorful and juicy with a tomato jam, cheddar cheese and bacon. The fries were great too and were nice and crispy. We also got dessert--chocolate chip cookies served with vanilla and chocolate ice cream.

    After lunch we went back up and spent much of the afternoon in Morningside park. We worked on moguls and trees which was fun. We ended the day in the Four Points area skiing a run I’ve never skied before--Tornado.

    About 4:30pm I went to the GPG to collect my free beers. We stayed there until about 6pm and then I went to dinner at the Cottonwood Grill. I took the 6:45 Sheraton shuttle . The bread they serve to start the meal is rolls and breadsticks with scallions/cilantro. For the entrée I had the pork tenderloin with panko crusted bread crumbs and parmesan. They served it with a bean and vegetable ragout. I also had a chocolate martini and then the chocolate pyramid for dessert.

    After dinner I returned to the hotel and sat in the hot tub and admired the clear dark sky.

    Tuesday I met my instructor for my full day lesson and we skied Hot Cakes, Huevos, Alarm Clock, Twilight and Rolex. This trip we worked a lot on trees and bumps-- and bumps in trees. We broke for lunch at the Paramount at the base. I got the mac and cheese and we split a serving of fries which are served with a bbq sauce and a horseradish dipping sauce. The mac and cheese was pretty good I thought but very heavy. It’s made with taleggio cheese which I think is sort of an acquired taste. The fries and sauces were great with a lot of flavor.

    After my lesson I met up with my instructor at the Sheraton bar before heading over to the GPG for more drinks. I then went to La Montana for dinner. I always like to go to La Montana--it has both southwestern and tex mex type dishes and is a little fancier restaurant. I got a margarita, side order of chile con queso, tortilla soup and cheese enchiladas for the entrée. For dessert I got the fried ice cream which is covered in slivered almonds and served with chocolate, raspberry and caramel sauces and cinnamon whipped cream.

    After dinner I sat in the hot tub once again.

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    Wednesday was my last ski day. I had another lesson. It was a bit colder this morning and we struggled to find a place that was warm and wasn’t all hard and crunchy. Finally it softened up over on Sunshine Peak and Morningside so we stayed there for the morning. Worked on trees and bumps.

    Today lunch was at Ragnar’s where I had the burger with sautéed onions and mushrooms and had a chocolate mousse cake for dessert.

    In the afternoon we skied Jump Start and Flying Z, Sideburn and Sunset. We skied to the edge of Chute 1 and looked over the edge so I could see what it was like. Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to ski it . . . . We ended our day at 4pm and said our goodbyes till next time.

    Now the next phase of my trip began--Vista Verde Ranch. I got picked up for the ranch at 4:30 by ranch hand Cooper. We arrived about 5:15pm and I checked into my room, Mica. At the ranch you can opt to stay in a lodge room like I do or in one of the very spacious cabins. Both rooms and cabins are decorated in a western motif with natural pine beds and comfortable furnishings. The cabins each come with their own hot tub on the deck while only one of the lodge rooms (Gilpin) features a hot tub on it’s deck.

    Each night happy half hour starts at 6pm in the Great Room of the lodge. They feature an hors d’oeuvre and choice of several wines and beers. This is when a staff member comes around and asks what you want to do for activities the next day. If you are a new guest who has never been to the ranch before they will discuss/explain all your options to you. At 6:30pm you move into the dining room. Dinner was a salad for me, beef with salsa fresca hollandaise and a whipped potato and dessert was molten chocolate cake with homemade peanut butter ice cream. Dinners always feature one appetizer (which I rarely like so I just get a salad) and 3 entrees to choose from. Dessert is usually a set item. Tonight’s cake with the peanut butter ice cream was one of my favorites! Some nights there is entertainment after dinner but tonight was not one of those nights.

    Thursday morning I woke up in plenty of time for the 8am breakfast. I had a chocolate waffle with bacon and ranch potatoes for breakfast.

    For my first activity, I chose a backcountry ski. Guide Carla took me to the South Fork area where we did some climbing up to a small hill and then dropped down to the road 440 in a large loop. The snow was somewhat unstable, creeky and breaking off even on very mild slopes. You could be skiing along and then sink knee deep with one leg while leaving the other leg on top of the snow. In the South Fork area you could see that they definitely had less snow than normal for the time of year--bare ground under some pine trees which would usually have deep tree wells.

    Lunch was back at the ranch and I had beef stew and a brownie sundae drizzled with caramel for dessert.

    In the afternoon I chose to ride in the indoor ring. This year I rode Jake. Since trainer Terry is familiar with my riding, they let me pretty much ride by myself and do whatever I wanted with him. We did some turns on the haunches and practiced some leg yielding. He was a fun horse- responsive and had a comfortable canter. I think I rode for about 1.5 hours.

    After I was done riding I took a pair of track skis out for about 30-45 min just around the ranch property to get even more exercise.

    Dinner tonight was a buffet with the staff. I had salad, beer braised beef brisket and bbq chicken. There were also corn muffins. Dessert was fig/pumpkin bread pudding, so I passed and instead had a peanut butter cookie out of the always available cookie jar.

    Tonight’s entertainment was the indoor campfire where several of the staff members play guitar and various other instruments and sing songs. It’s amazing to me how many instruments they can play--guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, ukulele and they sing too! A multi talented group they are!

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    Friday I had 2 heath bar pecan muffins and a short stack of banana pancakes for breakfast (garnished with toasted macadamia nuts). I should have asked for just one pancake since it turned out to be too much food with the muffins.

    I then met guide Zack up at the Nordic Center for my backcountry ski. We went to Trilby East about a 30 min drive from the ranch. We started climbing through pine trees before entering an aspen grove where we continued to climb. We then were able to ski down through the trees and I could practice my tele turns. We ended with a run down an open slope before skiing back to the car and driving back to the ranch. This year they are doing something new on the backcountry trips. The guide carries a gps with camera built in and they track your ski and take photos of you at different points along the way. They then send you an email link with a google map of the route you took and your photos. I thought this was quite fun so you can get an idea of where you went.

    Lunch was a casual buffet style with the staff. There was salad, mac and cheese (delicious), grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, blackened trout and beef tenderloin with horseradish cream. Seven layer bars were the dessert of the day. I think this was my favorite lunch ever at the ranch!

    After lunch I met guide Tom for my snowmobile tour. They provide you with a helmet and also pants if you need pants. I wore ski pants. The ranch used to use an outfitter for their snowmobiling but now they run the tours themselves. Let’s just say snowmobiling is not my sport! It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. You have to lean into the turn to get the machine to go that way, otherwise you just keep going straight. I also found the throttle position (situated under your thumb as opposed to under your fingers) to be awkward. Being a lightweight with no snowmobiling experience, I had a hard time getting it to go where I wanted.

    We started on the ranch property winding through narrow trails through trees. Within the first 15 min I discovered I didn’t lean enough into one of the turns when I just kept on going straight . . . and through a willow bush and into the deeper snow below. You may ask why didn’t you just release the throttle? Well, I got nervous and released my fingers off the handlebars--forgetting the throttle is under your thumb and not your fingers which is why I crashed through the bush. At least it wasn’t a tree. Anyway, after the guide drove my snowmobile out from the predicament I got it into, we continued on, but by then I was terrified it was going to happen again, so I would/could only go about 9 miles/hour. We stopped twice along the route but it was hard for me to enjoy it because I was so preoccupied with staying on the trail I couldn’t really look around at the scenery. It took a lot of muscling around to keep it going where I wanted to go. Anyway, we stayed out about 2.5 hours--frankly I was just glad to get back in one piece. I’m glad I tried it, but think I’ll stick with skiing and riding!

    After that it was happy hour with the guides in the Nordic Center so I stayed for that and then went back to my room to get ready for dinner.

    For happy half hour tonight the hors d’oeuvre was parsnip chips and fingerling potato chips.

    For dinner I had a salad with sesame soy dressing and then beef short rib with parsnip whipped potato and garnished with onion crisps. Dessert was a delicious chocolate mocha mousse garnished with fruit and chocolate covered espresso beans.

    Saturday morning I had just bacon and potatoes again. I was planning on doing 2 half day skis trips but the guide talked me into an all day and I‘m so glad she did. I met up with guide Jess at the Nordic Center at 9:45am and we drove up to Columbine. We parked at the trail head and started our ascent. We climbed through the trees for about and hour and a half. By that time we had made it to the top of the tele hill where we climbed up and broke for lunch. The view from there was wonderful--an expansive panorama which included views into Wyoming.

    If you choose an all day activity where you don’t return to the ranch for lunch, they will pack a lunch for you. They give you cold cuts, bread and condiments to prepare your sandwich how you like it and you can also get fruit, chips, cookie and drink. We stopped for lunch for about 30 min and Jess had also brought hot chocolate.

    After lunch we skied down the hill and I got to practice my tele turns. The snow was perfect--soft but not too deep and after one run down we went back up to do it again. After our second run we skied up onto another lookout point and then began our descent through aspens and pines, weaving our way among them.

    By the time we got to the bottom it was only about 2pm so we still had time. Jess asked if I wanted to keep skiing and I said yes, so we drove farther up the road and skied the Nipple Peak area. We didn’t have time to go up the peak, but we skied around below it doing a gradual climb. On our ski back down again, we built a campfire since I’d never done that before on one of my skis and had some Bailey’s by the fire.

    By the time we ended it was about 3:30 I think so we got back in the car and drove back to the ranch in time before the 4:30pm deadline.

    After my ski I took the opportunity to walk around and take some photos around the ranch before dinner.

    Dinner tonight was a salad for me and the beef tenderloin with white truffle butter for the entrée. Dessert was served differently tonight in that it was a showcase in the Great Room of the lodge. Lewis, one of the chefs, prepared a pear and almond tart with a flambéed sauce and it was served over ice cream. Despite not normally liking fruity desserts as well as chocolate ones, I really enjoyed this dessert. During the time we were eating Dace entertained us with his guitar.

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    Sunday I got up at 7am to prepare for my 8am ride to the airport. I took a couple cookies from the cookie jar for the road and had my stuff ready to go by 7:45am. Ranch hand Cooper took me to the airport and it took about an hour to get there. Many times when I’ve gone to the airport it is very busy with a long line to check luggage but this time there was only one group in line ahead of me and the airport was deserted. I was pleased to be there early rather than cutting it close and I was able to proceed through the line and then to security in a relaxed manner. I waited for my flight and then we boarded and departed on time. Upon arrival in Denver I went to Wolfgang Puck Express for Mac and Cheese and then got an Espresso Cooler at Caribou Coffee before heading to board my plane to Boston. The flight was full and we boarded more or less on time but then sat on the runway before leaving 45 min late due to a “safety issue” whatever that was.

    We landed in Boston about 30 min late and then the luggage took about 10-15 min to start coming out, but at least both my bags made it this time.

    My Steamboat trip is probably my favorite trip I take each year. Even in a low snow year the skiing is great coming from the East Coast. I enjoy having an instructor I ski with each year because it is easy to pick up where we left off. Vista Verde really understands the concept of customer service and will do whatever it takes to make sure everyone has a positive experience and the best time possible. When I took my first trip to the Steamboat area years ago, I had every intention trying a new location each year. But, I had such a wonderful time at both the ranch and at the ski mountain that I have no desire to go anywhere instead. I wouldn’t mind trying someplace new in addition to Steamboat, which I am doing this year in going to Snowmass as well, but I can’t imagine not returning to Steamboat each year. In my mind Steamboat/Vista Verde has everything I’m looking for--- good customer service, real town atmosphere, great snow, no crowds and nice scenery. I love having a place to return to that feels like a second home--“my” room at the ranch, seeing the same staff each year, my personal ski instructor, knowing my way around the mountain without having to use the map and favorite restaurants in town all contribute to a feeling of familiarity that makes it feel like a homecoming each and every time.

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