This year’s adventure for Karen, from reservations, and her mum, was a twin centre trip to Steamboat and Aspen. Sit back and enjoy with a cold crisp beer and some John Denver in the background and read on to find out about Karen’s perfect Colorado ski holiday…
The trip started with British Airways flights into Denver. Since we’d woken up to the heaviest snowfall Edinburgh had seen all winter we felt pretty lucky to get there! We opted to stay overnight at an airport hotel before driving up to Steamboat the next day.
I’m always surprised more of our clients don’t do this: not only does it mean you can acclimatize to the altitude a little better (Denver is already a mile above sea level, and some resorts base levels are as high as the top ski elevations in the Alps!), but you get to drive in daylight after a good rest. Of course, all the Colorado resorts can be accessed by transfers as well, but if you want to visit more than one, then a car is really handy.
It takes about 4 hours to get to Steamboat from Denver. I know that puts some people off – but it means you don’t get the same weekend crowds as resorts closer to the city. There’s an airport at Hayden, just 40 mins away from Steamboat, for those that want to get closer by air, but then you miss out one of the perks of skiing in the States: outlet shopping! Silverthorne Outlet Malls are right by the I-70 highway and conveniently located for a rest stop on the way. From there you leave the main highway and drive for a couple of hours through ranch land; the landscape punctuated every 200 metres or so by signs advertising FM Light and Sons – a store in Steamboat that sells everything the modern cowboy could require!! It’s a must-visit.
Steamboat ski area and mountain village sits about 5 minutes drive from the charming town of Steamboat Springs. The mountain village has had massive investment in recent times and is looking fantastic. We stayed at the Steamboat Grand Hotel. Grand indeed!
It’s a quarter mile from end to end and has spacious rooms, condos and excellent facilities. The outdoor pool and hot-tubs are fabulous, and there’s a bar on site so you can relax in the hot-tub with a well earned beer. There’s a fine dining restaurant serving breakfast and dinner as well as great appetizers in the bar. A deli and liquor store fulfill other rquirements and there’s a free shuttle downtown. The Steamboat Grand sits just over the road from the gondola plaza, but they have a ski and boot storage facility on that side so you hardly have to walk any distance at all in your ski boots. A big bonus!
The mountain is a real gem and is definitely in my top 10: easy to navigate, but never samey; lots of long blue cruisers, steep groomers, and some truly great tree skiing. The back side of the mountain, called Morningside, is particularly lovely with plenty of wildlife to watch from the chairlift. We saw blue jays, grey jays and squirrels! On Pioneer Ridge we felt like we had the mountain to ourselves and had a few heart stopping moments in a thickly wooded area, having made the schoolgirl error of following someone we didn’t know!! Blue runs like Tomahawk and Buddy’s Run are great fun too. When it’s time for a rest, tummies are well catered for on mountain, and we filled up at the Four Points Hut – the outdoor barbecue there has teased its last skier and will be replaced by something new next season. I hope the hot-dogs taste as good as they do now! With a terrain park, Nastar course and easy options from most lifts it’s a great family resort too.
At the end of the ski day there are lots of options for an après-ski drink at the base area, but this area quietens down early evening and there are regular free shuttle services into the town centre for dinner and drinks. It’s a picturesque main street lined with galleries, restaurants and shops, including the aforementioned FM Light and Sons. You want a pair of cowboy boots or a fringed suede jacket? This is where it’s at! If you notice a slightly eggy whiff from the drains you’ll remember that it is called Steamboat ‘Springs’ for a reason, and visitors with more time than us should take a trip to Strawberry Hot Springs nearby for some natural therapy. Those with energy to spare might even fancy night skiing at Howelson Hill – a small ski hill pretty much in the centre of the town of Steamboat Springs – notable for being the oldest ski area in Colorado. We only had a few nights here so it was impossible to fit everything in, but I loved the resort when I first visited in 2007, and I love it even more now!
The drive over to Aspen took us about 3 1/2 hours or so. It’s a stunning drive through ever changing countryside and geological features, including the impressive Glenwood Canyon. This is like the Grand Canyon’s wee brother, and it’s worth keeping your camera handy: we spotted a bald eagle soaring above the cliffs!
Aspen is one of the best known ski resorts in the world. Synonymous with great skiing, luxury lodging and being the playground of the rich and famous. Well it ticks all of those boxes, but this is no style-over-substance resort. Strict building regulations maintain the genteel character of the place, but this is a town that likes to party. hard. Not in a see-and-be-seen way, but a lets-have-fun-and-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously sort of way, if that makes sense.
We stayed at The Gant: a 4 star condo property which is a short walk from the centre of town. Of course, this is Aspen, so there are a fleet of courtesy vehicles with handsome young men at the wheel to take you anywhere in town, so walking is not obligatory! Our condo was beautiful: great kitchen with everything you might require to cook a full banquet, and stylish, but comfy furniture that invited you to relax. There are pools and hot tubs for guests use and you can order take-out food from various restaurants in town, but we made use of the local supermarket which has a great range, and is handily next door to the butchers and the liquor store!
We had 3 days to ski in Aspen and there are 4 mountains, so we has to miss out Buttermilk this time. We headed for Snowmass on our first day. Snowmass is about 15 minutes away from Aspen, and there is a free bus every 20 minutes or so. The Gant man dropped us at the transit centre and we got the Snowmass bus from there – unencumbered by skis. That’s one of the great features of skiing here: we rented our skis from the good people at Four Mountain Sports the previous evening, ‘That’s you all set, where do you want ’em sent to?’ was the question. ‘Snowmass’ was our answer, and there they were! What a great system! It’s a free service for those renting equipment, but if you have your own gear you can also pay to have your skis transferred between mountains. So nice! Snowmass is the biggest of the three mountains with more vertical than any other USA resort and 150 miles of trails so we just scratched the surface, but it’s got a bit of everything. We loved the blue cruisers from the Big Burn lift, and Elk Camp has some more fantastic intermediate terrain. The new restaurant there was a great lunch stop in weather conditions that were more Scottish than is the norm in Colorado! We checked in our skis with the valet amid heavy snowfall and had high hopes for a powder day at Aspen Highlands the following day.
Aspen Highlands did not disappoint. It’s famous for its big mountain expert terrain as well an an abundance of groomed cruisers. Weather conditions dictated that we felt justified in not exerting ourselves to ‘hike the bowl’ and for the most part we stuck to the groomed pistes, which were sublime with a few inches of fresh snow settled onto the corduroy! Having seen little of the incredible views that Highlands boasts in the morning, we were treated to a glimmer of sunshine at lunchtime and the afternoon brightened up a treat. Legs ached as we headed back to town…
Our final day and Aspen Mountain beckoned. Rising right out of the town this is no place for novice skiers – not a green run to be seen, but we loved the steep blues and blacks. There’s a healthy amount of terrain given over to moguls here, but we weren’t feeling the bump-love so we found lots of groomed, fast carving snow to keep our legs burning. The descent run down into Aspen is truly stunning with the town all laid out beneath you. There are a few lunch options on the mountain as well as around the base. We had a delicious lunch with Ellen from Aspen-Snowmass at Element 47 in The Little Nell. Delicious!
Après-ski is as important as the main event here and there are lots of options right at the foot of the mountain: Ajax Tavern and 39 Degrees for starters. People-watching is a recognised sport here! Happy hours are a-plenty in town too and the Limelight Hotel has a great one: live music, drink specials and hand made pizzas. Mmm… We also visited the J Bar – part of the historic and beautiful Hotel Jerome. This bar sort of sums up Aspen for me, managing to be both elegant and casual at the same time. And they mix a killer cocktail!
And far too soon it was time to go home… We did this trip in 8 nights, with 6 days of skiing – but a few more days would have been nice to make it the perfect Colorado ski holiday! The two resorts of Steamboat and Aspen complement each other very well and it made for a really wonderful holiday. I hope it’s given you some inspiration for yours…
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