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Trip Report Trip report: Steamboat and Vista Verde Ranch Feb 2013

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This was my 7th consecutive year coming to Steamboat to ski and then spend some time at Vista Verde Ranch. After spending a few days last season in the Aspen area which was nice too, that just strengthened my opinion that Steamboat is where I belong. Everything about Steamboat is very comfortable, unassuming and relaxed. While I’m sure lots of mountain towns can be described the same way, Steamboat just has a vibe that draws me in. So while I’m sure I’ll continue to try other locations as well (heading to Telluride in March), Steamboat is still the top pick for me- both East and West.

I book my trips early. Typically I start putting together my Steamboat trip in September, but this year, I booked my annual stay at Vista Verde Ranch back in June and booked the rest of my trip in September. Last year Vista Verde had a very successful winter season and was quite busy, so I wanted to make sure I got the dates I wanted. I’m not good at booking last minute anyway; I tend to pick where I want to go and stick with it regardless of how the snow conditions turn out for the season. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but I just make the best of whatever conditions I’m dealt. I’ve been in Steamboat during high snow years, low snow years, times when it hasn’t snowed a flake the entire stay, years when it hasn’t stopped snowing for the entire stay and during record low temperatures. One thing that remains constant is that it’s always a fun experience, despite what Mother Nature has in store. The weeks leading up to my trip this year were up and down snow wise; December shaped up well, but then it shut off for a few weeks in January. Four days before my trip however, Steamboat reported 2 feet in 24hrs, so that was encouraging to see.

This year United dropped their evening flight from Boston to Denver for several months (it starts up again in mid Feb), forcing me to abandon my tradition of flying out Friday night. Instead I booked the Saturday morning flight from Boston to Denver, where I made a connection to Hayden. United is my airline of choice to Colorado since I need make a connection regardless of airline and connecting through Denver has the most connection options in case of a screw up. Plus, Denver is the closest connection point to Steamboat, so if my flight was to get canceled for some reason, I figure I could relatively easily drive or get a shuttle to my final destination if I really needed to. I only wish United hadn’t cut their BOS to DEN flights so drastically this year for my travel period--only 1 flight on Saturday and no evening flights at all! It’s really a major cut for a route that used to have bunches of flights that all ran full--at least when I was on them!.

The flight to Denver took off 40 minutes late and while they made up time in the air, we landed at gate B16 just as the flight to Hayden was starting to board . . .all the way at B79. After a 10 minute speed walk along the moving walkways I made it to the flight in time. It was a fairly close connection for checked luggage, so I fully expected my luggage not to arrive with me in Hayden. However, after deplaning and checking in for my shuttle to Steamboat with Go Alpine, the baggage started to come out and my bags were there!

My Go Alpine shuttle was delayed in departing since some people did have to place missing baggage claims. The shuttle was completely filled and my destination, the Sheraton Steamboat, was about the 4th stop. Finally I arrived at the hotel and checked in. I was assigned room 748. I have always stayed at this hotel, so everything was as expected.
The hot tubs at the Sheraton had been under renovation for a long time this year; I‘d been following the updates on the hotel website. In fact they just opened again in time for my trip. They went from 4 smaller hot tubs to 2 large hot tubs. In a way I liked having 4 better, as you didn’t have to share with others as much.

After check in, I went downstairs to arrange for my demo skis. I never bring my skis when I fly west and always do demos mainly because I don‘t trust the airlines to get skis there in once piece. I tend to demo a variety of skis while I’m there since it’s one price for as many skis as you want to try each day. My first ski selection for this trip was the Salomon Rockette 90.

I signed up for the 5:45pm Sheraton shuttle to downtown where I had dinner at Mambo Italiano. It was busy so I ate at the bar. The Mambo Ravioli was delicious. It was mushroom ravioli with mozzarella and gorgonzola cheese in a blush tomato sauce. After dinner I looked in the shops around town before heading back to the hotel.

Sunday was my first ski day. Took the Christie Peak Express up and then skied down to Thunderhead lift. From there I headed over to Sunshine Peak area where I skied for a bit before dropping down into the quiet of Morningside. I did all this skiing on the Salomon Rockette 90 in a 153 length. I found this ski to ski very short and didn’t really care for it in this length. It would have been smarter to ski it in the 161. My next stop was the demo Yurt at the top of the gondola to swap out the skis. For my next pair I got the Volkl Kenja in a 156 length. I loved these as they felt very stable, excellent edge grip and were lively.
I skied until 11:15am on Buddy’s, Rainbow and Westside and then had a lunch of Nachos at Slopeside Grill.
Back up the gondola and switched my skis to the Nordica Hells Bells in 154. I didn’t care for these, they enticed me into the backseat and I felt like I had to be “on them” all the time; just felt like too much ski for me. They wouldn’t have been my choice of Nordica models to try, as they are stiffer and wider than what I wanted but they didn‘t have the ones I wanted, so I figured what the heck and tried them anyway.
I returned those skis and got the K2 Superstitious in 153 and then K2 Superfree in 153. The Superstitious was okay, but a bit heavy for my taste. The Superfree was more to my liking, as I found it easy to turn yet not quite as heavy as the Superstitious. I spent the afternoon skiing Rainbow and Storm Peak Face areas.

After skiing I sat in the hot tub then took the free Steamboat Transit bus to Ski Haus for some window shopping and then dinner at Ore House. Entrees at the Ore House include salad bar and cinnamon rolls. For my entrée I got the grilled pork special with a blue cheese, roasted garlic crust topped with balsamic sauce. I also got the house potato (shredded potato fried and covered in cheese sauce) and then mud pie for dessert.

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    Monday I had my half day morning private. I decided to take out the Volkl Kenjas again since those were my favorites. I’ve worked with the same instructor for 7 years now so we met up and went over to Sunshine Peak to warm up. I have a tendency to not have enough weight on my downhill ski, so we worked on that a bit. At 12pm, I went to lunch at GPG and got the grilled cheese with bacon, cheddar and tomato.
    I went back out after lunch skied on my own on Cowboy Coffee, Buddy’s, Rainbow, Storm Peak Face, Quickdraw, Westside, Heavenly Daze and See Me.

    After skiing I once again sat in the hot tub for a bit before taking the Orange Line bus to Rex’s. I’d never been to Rex’s before so I tried a few things. I got the Pork Green Chili which came with a small cheese quesadilla. Then I got the cheddar mac with bacon and tomato and finally the Brownie Sundae for dessert. I enjoyed everything I ordered there and would return again.
    Tonight they were having fireworks and a torchlight parade down the mountain to kick off the 100th annual Winter Carnival.. I was able to see the festivities from my window table at the restaurant.

    Tuesday I had an all day lesson. We worked on pivot slips and bumps.
    We went to Hazie’s for lunch. I had planned on getting the cheeseburger (I love their burger), but they had a pork chimichanga special that sounded good too, so it was hard to choose! So we split the burger and the pork special. They cut them in half for us so they were easy to split up which was nice.

    After lunch we skied Norther bumps and Surprise among other areas.
    During the day my instructor had noticed that I seemed to be riding the inside edges of my skis, so he suggested I have someone take a look at my stance. I went to SportStalker/Christy Sports to address my issues. My boots are about 5 years old and have a fair bit of shimming and padding that has been added over the years, so I was planning on getting new boots at the end of this season hopefully on sale. Anyway, when they saw my overly padded boots of course they talked me into pulling the trigger on new ones now. I also got my footbeds redone since the ones I had gave me a pain on the bottom of my right foot. I was lucky the boots were on sale and they also gave me a discount off the footbeds since I was getting a bunch of work done at the same time. It was decided that I am one degree off on my left leg and 1.5 degrees off on my right leg and that they would give me some canting shims under my footbeds to see if that would solve my riding my inside edges, except they didn’t have any 1 degree shims in stock. Anyway, I ended up getting new boots, Dalbello Chakra with intuition liner and I was able to drop down a whole boot size. While they worked on my footbeds I went over to the GPG to have a drink with my instructor and some friends of his for a few minutes before heading back to the shop to finish up my boot fitting.

    Tonight I ate dinner at La Montana. I had the Margarita Especial, queso dip and cheese enchiladas served with rice and beans. I also really like their 2 salsas they serve prior to your meal-- a red traditional one and a green tomatillo. Fried ice cream for dessert was delicious, served with caramel, chocolate and raspberry sauce and covered in slivered almonds.

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    Wednesday I had another all day lesson. I tried the new boots and they were a disaster---altered my stance for the worse. They are a 3 buckle boot and in order to get my heel back enough in the heel pocket to be comfortable skiing, I had to tighten the middle buckle too much and my foot and lower leg fell asleep. We skied one run Why Not to Vagabond and went back to my old boots. Unfortunately, I was ruined for the day as far as my mental state was concerned. I skied badly. It snowed all day too so visibility was poor. My instructor couldn’t believe how badly I skied--even after I switched boots! He tried to encourage me not to worry about the new boots, that the shop would make good by me and either fix them or switch them out, but I was not happy! We went to lunch at Truffle Pig-- I got the burger which was good. My mood improved slightly after lunch and I skied Norther bumps somewhat successfully that afternoon. I was due to be picked up at 4:30pm by Vista Verde Ranch, where I was going for the next phase of my vacation. However, the boot problem put a small crimp in that plan. At 4pm I went back to Christy Sports to deal with the boots. After hearing all my complaints and the fact that my lower leg fell asleep they swapped them for a Tecnica Fling which is a traditional 4 buckle style. I had to call the ranch 2 times to let them know I’d be late for pick up---I was finally ready at 5:20pm which was 50 min late. I arrived at the ranch just in time for dinner with 5 minutes to spare. Dinners at the ranch usually consist of one appetizer and choice of about 3 entrees and then one dessert. If you don’t like the appetizer, you can always just get a salad. I had a salad with blue cheese dressing for appetizer, sumac rubbed steak with romesco sauce and potatoes. Dessert was a poached pear with vanilla ice cream and dollop of fudge sauce.

    Thursday I went to breakfast at 8am which is when they start serving. Breakfasts consist of fruit, bagels/toast and a daily fresh made bread (such as banana bread or a muffin). You can also get pancakes or eggs and they always have one breakfast special each day as well. I opted for bacon and potatoes today.

    For my first activity I choose to do a backcountry ski in the morning with guide Rob. We went to south fork area and climbed up to Panorama and then down the Sky Chutes and back up the road to the car. It took about 2 hours and was a nice first ski at the ranch.

    Lunch at 12:30pm was an Italian Panini with prosciutto, balsamic, olive oil, tomato and mozzarella which I didn’t like since the only ingredient I like was tomato. I had a salad, peanut butter cookie and chocolate revel bar, water and lemonade to drink.

    After lunch I went riding in the indoor ring. Trainer Terry gave me a lesson on Oreo with wranglers John and Nicky. We worked on downward transitions: trot/walk, canter/trot and canter/halt. We rode about 1.5 hours. I used to ride English at home, had my own horse etc but now I only ride when I go to the ranch, but I always have to get on and ride at least once during my stay.

    Dinner tonight was buffet style with the staff. Salad, prime rib with horseradish sauce, bread, cheesy potatoes and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Then for evening entertainment some of the staff performed music in the Great Room.

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    Friday I had some fruit and bacon for breakfast. A new activity at the ranch this year was snow biking, so I opted to try that this morning. Guide Steve took me and 2 other guests. We rode on hard pack and trails which were less packed. We stayed out for about 2 hours. It was much more tiring than riding a normal bike due to snow friction. At first it was a little weird riding a bike on the snow, but the bikes have very wide and grippy tires, so that they don’t slip.

    Today’s lunch was make your own taco--chicken mole, shrimp or beef. Cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, onion, 2 cheeses were also available. Chips, Grilled Mexican Caesar salad, cheese and black bean enchiladas were also on the buffet. Apple crisp with whipped cream was the dessert. This was my favorite lunch of the trip.

    After lunch I went with guide Stewy and 2 other guests for a ski at Trilby East. We saw a moose and had some fun downhills during our time out. If you want to see moose, go with Stewy--he is famous at the ranch for seeing moose all the time!

    Dinner I had a salad with blue cheese and the mushroom risotto for main course. Dessert was crème brulee so I had molasses cookies from the jar and asked for some vanilla ice cream.

    Saturday it snowed. I had lemon poppy seed pancakes and bacon and potatoes for my daily breakfast.
    Today I went on a morning ski with guide Shannon and 2 other guests. We went to South Fork and did Figure 8. I was really tired, as I had come down with an annoying cold. So tired in fact that I changed my afternoon plan to tubing instead of skiing.
    Lunch was a salad and cheeseburger and fries and chocolate brownie for dessert.

    Guides Brandon and Stewy took myself and 2 other guests tubing which was a lot of fun! Tubing at VVR is great, because they take you up the tubing hill by snowmobile and after you slide down, they come down and pick you up so you can repeat as often as you like!

    For tonight’s dinner I had a salad, NY strip steak with mushroom demi glace and baked potato. Dessert was in the Great Room where it was supposed to be a display. Angel cake with flambéed berries, only the berries wouldn’t light! We then had champagne for one guest’s birthday.

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    Sunday I had bacon and potatoes from breakfast as usual, and then left the ranch at 8:45am to be dropped back off at the Sheraton Steamboat for the final leg of my trip. I got assigned room 840, a king bedded room.

    I picked my skis in the basement of the Sheraton and then had to go to the pass office to pick up my 50th anniversary pass (3 days of skiing for $159) and got skiing by 10:30am. I wacked my shin on Saturday tubing at the ranch and I had a big bruise where my boot hit my shin. It hurt like anything to ski. The mountain got like 10 inches of snow and conditions were gorgeous though. I took a break and had a cup of chili at Bear River Grill. There were lots of people on the mountain between mardi gras, winter carnival, Sunday and powder day.
    I quit at 2pm and needed to have them soften my boots as they were too stiff. Other than that though, the “second” pair of new boots worked out great.

    After a drink at the GPG, I had dinner at the Boathouse. My cold had sapped my appetite, so I just had onion rings and chicken tenders with bbq sauce and honey mustard. Then took bus back and went to the ice castle. The ice castle is a special attraction they have this year in Ski Time Square at the base of the mountain. It’s sort of rooms and passage ways made with ice and it has lighting which changes color at night.

    Monday I had another all day lesson. My instructor was sick too and we both had low energy. We worked on easy trees and groomers on sunshine peak. We ate lunch at GPG. I got cider and chili.
    That afternoon Christy Sports called and my boot cant shims had come in so I got them put in.
    Dinner was Mazzola’s and got I cheesey bread, and alfredo pasta. Hot apple pie to drink and tiramisu for dessert.

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    Tuesday was my last all day lesson. We skied lots of easy trees today. Lunch was at Hazie’s. We split the risotto fritte appetizer and I got French onion soup. After lunch we skied more trees as this was what I wanted to focus on.

    Dinner was at the Rio Grande--had margarita, queso and steak burrito with spicy green chile sauce.

    Wednesday I got up at 3:30am in order to get ready for Go Alpine to pick me up for my 4:15am ride to the airport. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for the 6am flight. The flight from Hayden to Denver was delayed about 15 min while we de-iced. Then the flight from Denver to Boston was delayed about 20 min as they said they had a weight issue. One thing about the flight to Boston, was it was on a 737-900 and let me say I paid for an Economy Plus seat but you’d never have known it! I was in my usual 8D and I think this plane was not configured for E+, so I think an email complaint to United is in order. These were the tightest E+ seats I’ve encountered and I fly E+ most of the time--I would hate to see the regular seats on this plane if indeed these were actual E+ seats. My knees were almost touching the seat in front of me. We landed on time in Boston and then had to wait about 15 min for luggage while the carousel just went around empty.

    So this was yet another successful trip to Steamboat and Vista Verde. My Steamboat trip is my favorite trip I take each year. Going to Vista Verde always makes me realize how lucky I am. When you go to VVR, you can’t help but meet other guests and you will find lots of guests make their VVR trip their sole vacation each year. I’m lucky enough to take 5 or 6 vacations each year, but it speaks to the quality of vacation you get when you visit VVR, that people are willing to keep returning year after year for their only vacation. It’s hard to beat sitting in the Great Room of the lodge gazing out at the snow covered mountain views eating a delicious fresh baked cookie and contemplating which activities you will choose for the next day. I’ve never considered skipping VVR, as it’s become a staple in my vacation rotation. However, next year they are making a change to their scheduling, which will no longer allow people to stay as long or as short as they like during the winter. Guests will be forced to choose between a Sun-Sun 7 night, Sat-Wed 4 night stay or a Wed-Sat 3 night stay. For years I’ve stayed Wed-Sun because that is what works best for me for downhill skiing and travel. If I go next year I’ll have to do the Wed-Sat option which really is not enough time at the ranch. I’ll now need to reconsider whether it’s worth packing up and leaving Steamboat for just a 3 night/2 day stay at the ranch--and if I do decide I want to do that, I’ll have to hope that they have room the exact dates I need to do it. Time marches on and everything changes--most times not for the better in my opinion.

    The more I go to Steamboat, the better I like it. I guess it’s just the familiarity one gets with an area over time; I like knowing what to expect at the hotel, knowing what my dining options are and being able to ski around without glancing at the trail map. It’s also great to have an instructor who I’ve worked with for years, so that he is familiar with how I ski and we don’t have to waste time diagnosing my problems. Steamboat is the kind of town where the more often you go, the more you learn to appreciate it.

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