During the last five or so ski seasons, Steamboat has become our home-away-from-home mountain. There’s not much I don’t love about both the community and the hill. And Michelle has some fairly deep family roots there. As in, her grandfather’s grandfather founded the place. As in (part two), the family home Uncle Jim so generously allows us to occupy was one of the first buildings constructed back when the town was just getting started. (Seriously, you should see the early pictures of the house with nothing around it for miles.)
So, you may be thinking I married into the family for the ski accommodations. That’s only half the story. There were Broncos season tickets involved, too. But we’ll stick to the skiing here.
Steamboat is typically a group event, and February 27, 2016, was no different. Ted, Heather, Peter, and Sasha, along with Shawn, Val, Spencer, Chance, and Ben all made the trip — and for a brief while all made some good turns.
The plan was to go straight to the chutes — my favorite area — and on the gondola and Storm Peak Express and Morningside lifts, everybody, minus Michelle (the chutes are not her favorite place) was in. Valeria said it best, “I want to be in the blog, so I better go over there.”
Damn right! All my best stories seem to be taking place when the slope is steep and the rocks and trees make things a bit claustrophobic. Alas, Chance changed his mind and convinced Val to circle out skier’s left along The Ridge, a fun trail with a little more breathing room. The rest of us spread across chutes 2 and 3.
All the boys and Sasha went first, disappearing from view after a couple sharp turns because of pitch and angles and planes … mountain geometry, you know. I always play sweeper back here and give the younger crowd a good head start so I can make a full top-to-bottom charge. Also, I relish the moments by myself, in the stillness, before all hell breaks loose for a few seconds.
My positioning turn needed to happen directly above a small tree island. I went around it to the left, tight like a slalom gate because of the exposed stone to my immediate right. Pole plant into a huge mogul, back around that and then down a steep face, and another hard turn to miss an old pine tree. I can see Shawn, almost at the bottom, and Heather midway between us. I’m smiling and whooping because on runs like this I go all transcendent out-of-body and visualize what we must look like from above, as if Warren Miller is filming and I’m watching it as I’m doing it. (In those movies in my head, we are badass, and we look good!)
Shawn is stopped now, looking uphill. I’m in a deep squat at the crest of another mogul, about to extend my legs and maneuver around it. Heather’s out of sight, beneath the final drop and to the right of a tree patch. Now I’m straight-lining a pair of granite land mines.
And then … there’s Heather! Except it’s not her signature blond ponytail above the snow plane. It’s her purple pants, and it looks like she’s doing a cartwheel — sans skis. And now I’m snatched out of our personal Warren Miller ski-porn flick and I’m thinking holy shit, that looks like it could be real bad. And I’m seriously already planning our exit route.
But then … because it’s Heather, with her signature what-could-go-wrong ski-hill outlook, when I arrive, all I hear is laughing.
“I guess I’m not quite dialed in yet today,” she says, still smiling, and I hear Shawn add, “Well, that looked like a good time,” and I’m thinking, where are the kids with their damn GoPros when you need them, because, unfortunately, turns out Warren Miller doesn’t follow us around Colorado filming our downhill badassery.
You know the pictures and videos of Steamboat in which people are knee-deep in powder-sugar goodness whisking their way around perfectly spaced aspen and pine trees? That happens over on a couple runs called Closets and Shadows. After the kids took off to do their own kid things, and four of the six adults settled in to the Bloody Mary bar at the Four Points Lodge, the remaining two grown-ups set out for those world-famous glades.
Skier’s left from the top of the gondola is a funky little saddle with three chairlifts: two quads and an old-school (read: slow) double. Sundown Express and Priest Creek (the double) both go to the same place, but there’s usually no line for Priest Creek. I guess because nobody has any extra minutes available in their ski day. But you know what a few extra minutes on a chairlift are good for?
“Adult chair!” Heather said when we sat down, and then performed what is probably my favorite of her signature moves: pulled a beer from her backpack. Then she pulled another one.
“For each of us?” I asked. (Typically on the adult chairs, we share a single can with whoever is aboard. Rationing, you know.)
“What the hell?” she answered. “It’s almost our last run.”
Except, when it’s a beautiful Colorado day at a beautiful Colorado mountain, and you’re absolutely basking in all of that while hanging out with some great Colorado friends, the Priest Creek lift goes a bit quicker than you expect, and all of a sudden you gotta slam your contraband beer. And at 10,384 feet, contraband beer works more efficiently than you’d think (particularly if you might have had a couple Jack and Cokes back at Four Points).
We peered into the trees at the top of Shadows and both just started laughing. “Maybe slamming a beer right before skiing the glades wasn’t such a great idea,” we said almost in unison.