Last year we made our way out west to ski for the first time. We spent a fabulous vacation at Breckenridge (post)and Keystone (post). We had so much fun we decided we had to make skiing out west an annual tradition. As spring break falls later in 2022 we needed that trip to be over the holidays. Due to the historical likelihood of Steamboat having more terrain open than almost anywhere else in Colorado we decided to give Ski Town USA a run.
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Check out our post about packing for a ski trip with a printable packing list.
Day 1- Travel day into Steamboat
We awoke on Boxing Day (12/26) after a great start to the holidays and packed our luggage in the car for the trip to the airport. To save hassle and allow us to rent a cheaper car in Colorado we had shipped our skis out the week before using ShipSkis. It’s a great service and made the airport and travel day significantly easier. All you need to do is bag up your skis, print out and attach the shipping slip on the outside of the bag and put them out front of your home to get picked up and delivered to your destination. We pre-printed our slips for return shipping so we could just repeat the process on the back end.
We decided to fly into Denver directly from Philadelphia to avoid cost and allow for more consistent flights given the predisposition to large snowstorms this time of year. It also afforded us the ability to have the car to use for travel and grocery/wine/beer purchases.
We rented a Ford Explorer with Budget and were glad to have the larger car as you will see later.
The resort had received 15 inches of snow in the 24 hours prior to our arrival and almost 45 inches in the previous two weeks. They got an additional 6 inches the day we arrived. For anyone who read our post on the last time we went skiing out west in Breckenridge, we arrived much later at night than expected, driving through the pitch black night, in a minivan, through a blizzard into town. In true Wandering Keller fashion, we drove directly into a snow storm again which saw the 3 hour 10 minute drive from Denver balloon to 6 hours due to a massive back up on route 70 and a closure of route 40. Luckily/unluckily because we spent so much time on route 70, route 40 was open by the time we got there, even though it was extremely slow going. Although not as bad as the Breckenridge trip, the traffic made for a long travel day. We arrived at 8:00 MST (after 14 hours traveling) ready to check in, grab our skis, and hit the hay. Unfortunately, the resort couldn’t find the skis but thought they may be in a locked conference room that only the day team could access.
We booked the Edgemont Steamboat Springs right on the slope (Stampede). This was recommended as the most comparable resort to One Ski Hill Place where we stayed in Breckenridge. They have a great ski locker area, an outdoor heated pool and two hot tubs. It is truly slope side and just a short ski down to the gondola in the base area. We rented a 1 bedroom condo that featured a fully appointed kitchen complete with wine fridge, 2 full bathrooms and two fireplaces. The adults had a comfy king sized bed and the pull out queen sofa suited the boys just fine. We had a few dinners delivered directly to the room from What a Crock and ate one of them (shepherd’s pie) that first night. After putting away the groceries we grabbed on the way in at the Mercantile in Kremmling (which also has a liquor store) we were ready for some shuteye.
We had purchased the IKON Heavenly daze pass (7 days) before getting there as it was the most economical way to go about skiing that particular week, so we were ready to go after picking them up a short ski away from the room.
Day 2– Steamboat- do we have skis?
I was up around 4:15am since for me, with the time change, this was 6:15 and time to get up. Also, the anxiety of not having my skis in my possession had me a bit on edge. After some tossing and turning and trying the power of positive thinking, I got up and made scrambled eggs and donuts for breakfast. To save time, the adults headed down to pick up our IKON passes.
TIP: everyone needs a photo for their passes (a selfie will do) and if we had realized and inputted photos of ourselves on the easy-to-use IKON app ahead of time we could have had them mailed. Live and learn, I guess.
The shuttle driver that services Bearclaw and Edgemont was kind enough to wait for us which saved us precious time and effort. The resort has an app where you can call for a shuttle (similar to Uber) and see where they are and how long until they arrive. Super slick. What a nice guy (that Colorado hospitality) to wait for us. He dropped us back at the check in desk so we could check on our skis. Presto, they were in the locked conference room and we were in business with 30 minutes until first chair.
We dressed quickly (we had all forgotten how many layers and stuff one must use when skiing, but like riding a bike we got it all on in the right order, after a few tries) and headed down to the ski locker area to grab skis and poles and hit the slopes. To say this is ski in/ski out is almost an understatement. I mean you literally walk 5 feet out the door and you are on the slope 250 vertical feet above the gondola. We were in line by 8:32, so all in all, not too shabby. There are signs in the gondola line for you to order your coffee at the bottom and they will have it ready at the top of the gondola for you. What a great way to save 10-15 minutes in downtown or at the base. I’ll say this a few times, but Steamboat really does try to make the guest experience as relaxing and user friendly as possible. You certainly pay for it, but it is a bit refreshing that you get what you pay for. They had 124 of 170 slopes open, so for the 27th of December that was pretty good. Just an aside, Steamboat historically has 93% of terrain open by 12/25 which is but one reason why they are a good choice for a vacation so early in ski season.
Our first slope was Why Not, the longest of the slopes at 3 miles, and is a great way to warm up the legs and get your feet under yourself on the first day of the vacation and the season.
Along the way they have numerous areas to stop with educational signs about moose, rabbits, and other creatures that share the slopes with you. This is great for those who lack some endurance for the 3-mile-long slope. It is not steep so keep up your speed or you will need to pole through several transitions.
We then went to the Thunderhead lift to try and stay ahead of the crowds and took it to Thunderhead lodge before going down Spurs Run (green) to the Sundown lift. As the boys had their legs under them now, we explored some blue territory and the wife skied Sundial to Tomahawk and met us at the Sunshine Express lift. This is a great area for families as it has many different levels of slope that allow everyone to ride up together but ski down separately. We rode in this area for 3 more runs and I convinced the wife to do Lower High Noon (a relatively steep blue with some small moguls) which she didn’t love, but it gave her a bit of confidence. The boys took a wrong turn and had to take the Sunshine lift back up and try again. I sent the wife along ahead to grab a table at the base for lunch.
When the boys arrived tired from “2 miles of hard moguls” we grabbed the Elkhead express lift and rode back over to the main peak to head down to base for some lunch. The more adventurous of us took Heavenly Daze (known by the locals as Heavenly Glaze) to See Me, and the less adventurous took Why Not to Right of Way.
We met at the Timber and Torch and grabbed a table. Only a 10-minute wait and well worth it. It’s at the very bottom of the mountain, so no stumbling around town in ski boots. Turns out Steamboat has more winter Olympians than anywhere in the US and all their names are on the rafters with the years of their participation. There are photos of many of them together over the years and a sign that says “when they get together in Utah it’s called the Winter Olympics, when they are together in Steamboat it’s called Tuesday”. The food ranges from elk chili and salad to burgers and numerous appetizers to share. There is also a well-appointed bar with numerous beers, wines and whiskeys. We ordered a pretzel and some deviled eggs to start. The wife had a bowl of elk chili, which was delicious, the boys and I had 2 lamb burgers and a regular beef burger all cooked to perfection with excellent fries. As everyone was stuffed and getting a bit tired we parted ways with the boys who headed to the terrain park, the wife to the room, and I explored Storm Peak and all its wonders. The boys had a great time doing jumps and riding the half pipe. I rode down Cowboy Coffee, Rooster, Alarm Clock and generally explored the trees. A few words: Avoid skiing close to pine trees especially directly below them where there could be deep snow wells. There are signs all over the place reminding you of this. Stick to tracks someone else laid to start and explore the fresh powder after you get the lay of the land. Snow wells are dangerous. I found one in Keystone on the south bowl and it took me 15 minutes to extricate myself. Also don’t go too far into virgin powder without a buddy. After feeling like I explored most of this backside area I headed over for a few runs down 2 O’clock and Three O’clock then headed into the room tired and spent from more moguls then my body wanted to do.
We all took a nap and relaxed and the boys and dad headed out around 6 for some night skiing. The Christie Peak express lift was open and gave us an opportunity to get off halfway to ride Stampede, the Little Rodeo Terrain Park or ride the whole way up to do the few runs open from the top. The boys rode mostly on the terrain park, there were no lift lines, and it was a great way to grab another 6000 vertical feet for me. I tried the half pipe and boxes and had quite a bit of fun. Then it was back to the room around 8 for some hot stew, a shower, and a well deserved night’s sleep.
A word about Steamboat on my first impression:
- Some greens are very flat (Why Not, Right Away, Spurs Run) making you feel like you are cross country skiing at times. Other are a bit stepper (Tomahawk and Rendezvous) so keep your speed up until you have to dump elsewise your arms will get a workout.
- The Heavenly Days 7 day pass includes night skiing, is much more cost efficient if skiing more than 4 days over the Christmas holidays, and is good for 2 seasons, so if you use 4 this year you can use 3 next year. So, hold onto the pass.
- Heavenly Daze, Vogue and See Me were windblown and icy so stay to the downwind side where more powder collects.
- Many of the blues can be quite intimidating for beginner intermediate skiers with bumps collecting on them.
- Almost all the blacks and blue/blacks have moguls on them so make sure your legs are fresh or you will be stopping to catch your breath along the way especially if coming from low altitudes like we were.
- We lifted and did cardio for Breckenridge due to the significant elevation but we didn’t do nearly as much this time and this was a mistake especially given this was our first day of the season on skis.
- There are many apps for vertical feet, etc. (I use slopes) but Steamboat has a cool app that allows you to see what’s open, weather forecasts, as well as track slopes done, vertical feet, and compete with others on the mountain. Worth a download for many reasons. I couldn’t get the Epic app to track my runs last year but the Steamboat app was a breeze.
Day 3- getting more adventurous
I awoke at 4:45 after 6 and a half hours of sleep and my legs reminded me of my 22,000 vertical feet the prior day. The soreness waned quickly and it was time to fuel up for a new day. Breakfast was a quick, one pot hashbrown recipe I love for cooking while getting ready for the day and feeds between 3-6 people.
- 1/2 -1 bag (15-30oz) of frozen hashbrowns or potatoes O’brien
- 3-6 eggs
- 4-8 ounces of mozzarella or favorite cheese
- 1-2 tbsp butter
Set oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a baking pan (13×9 or 9 x 9) with butter. Be liberal with the butter. Add the frozen hashbrowns making an indentation for each egg you’re using. Put pan in the oven for 12-16 minutes depending on elevation and oven. Add a piece of butter into each indentation and crack an egg on top of each. Put a generous layer of cheese over top and bake for 8-11 minutes longer depending on how firm you like your egg. I like to apply some butter after the first bake around the edges to help make sure there is no sticking.
Now you have a nutritious, no-frills meal that only makes one pan dirty and allows you to get dressed, rouse others from bed, etc. while it’s cooking in the oven so everyone can hit the slopes early (including the cook) and fueled up.
People were tired, so dad headed out to the slopes early and the rest of the family trickled out slowly. Dad did a fare bit of tree skiing and moguls and everyone met up at noon at Torch and Timber for another great meal. We found that getting there 10-15 minutes prior to 12 was the ticket as we arrived at 11:30 the day before and only waited 10 minutes versus 25 minutes today (we arrived at noon) and by the time we were seated the wait was almost 45 minutes.
After lunch we all headed back out to do some skiing as a family and came in a little early as everyone was a bit tired. The adults wanted to go into town to explore but the kids stayed back so the older one could Facetime his girlfriend (young love) and the younger one could hit the terrain park. Incidentally, we had two unbelievable things happen this day. One child lost an Apple watch and the other a battery for their heated sock. How those make it out from under multiple layers I will never figure out.
Steamboat the town is an ~12 minute drive from where we were at the resort and if you have the time and energy is worthwhile to visit. We went to The Laundry on 11th and had a drink and some amazing buffalo carpaccio and pork cheeks. Definitely a great place to catch a bite and they have a million things to drink with very skillful bartenders. Unlike Breckenridge, which is built around the resort, Steamboat is a place people live and work year round so it’s not set up with only tourists in mind. There is an excellent square at the resort base with tons of shops, restaurants and places to pick up needed ski apparel, so for those who don’t have a car, shuttle or the gumption to go in there really is no need.
A cool thing we saw was Howelsen Hill park which is a very affordable slope located beside the middle of the town. It is Colorado’s oldest continuously operated ski area running since 1915. It is home to many skiers in both the Nordic and Alpine disciplines with the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in North America. A family pass can be purchased for 1000 dollars for both types of access and about half for either Alpine or Nordic access. Many high schools train here and nearly 90 winter Olympians have trained on this famed hill named after Karl Hovelsen (changed his name to Carl Howelsen upon coming to Colorado from Norway) who established the area. What an awesome idea and no wonder so many Olympians call Steamboat home.
We stopped at a Safeway on our way back in and picked up some more food as skiing builds up a hunger. We all were in bed by 10 wiped from such a fun and active day.
A few hints for those visiting for the first time after our second full day:
- For the men out there, make sure you pack underwear with a fly. I packed two pair sans fly and it makes this much more challenging with all the ski gear.
- If you have a kitchen I would recommend buying breakfast items and maybe over purchasing a bit as it saves time in the morning and makes for a good snack at night. Don’t overbuy lunch food, as honestly it’s the best time to eat out giving you time to warm up and make a plan for the rest of the day. Do plan on eating more dinners in the room than you think as 7 and 8 o’clock dinners will be a chore after a long day. This also makes night skiing easier.
- If you don’t have a kitchen, purchase some snacks and things that don’t require cooking as it will come in handy especially if traveling with younger kids or hungry teenagers. Not sure where they put it all some days.
Day 4- powder day
Dad awoke at 6:45 (man he was tired to sleep almost 9 hours) and made eggs and toast for everyone. Everyone else was slow to get out of their pajamas so dad headed out at 8:15 to catch the first few gondolas up and head over for some serious powder off the Storm Peak and Sunshine Express lifts. The boys had a day just to themselves rotating around to different hills (as they call it leisurely skiing as opposed to dad’s planned and militant effort to explore as much as possible) and mom skied some easy greens. We all met for lunch at the room, and it was right back out to the slopes for some more powder for dad.
It snowed all day and the temperatures at the top of the mountain were in the low teens without the wind chill, so even dad had to stop at Four Points to warm up and add another hand warmer. I see heated gloves in dad’s stocking for Christmas next year. Mom has heated gloves and socks from Snow Deer. They have held up well for her over the past two seasons allowing her to stay on the slopes longer. Four Points (located about halfway down from the Storm Peak summit) was a key area for us as it sits below some of the coldest and steepest skiing on the mountain, so it is a great place to not only warm up, but also compose yourself after some long hard runs.
Another place we warmed up was the Rendezvous Lodge which had a great bar called Ragnar’s in it to grab something warm to eat and cold to drink. It is situated in the Sundown/Sunrise lift area and can be accessed by any difficulty of slope making for another great place to rest and meet up for the family.
Everyone met at the gondola and the oldest joined dad for a quick tree run (Biscuits) and some small moguls (Sunset and Moonlight) before heading back towards base via the Elkhead lift. Dad had 23,000 plus vertical feet today on some hard tree runs and difficult moguls so he was exhausted coming down the icy Heavenly Days and Vogue to the room. Dinner was in the room where we polished off the stew, shepherd’s pie and salad. The boys headed back out for some terrain park night skiing and mom and dad had some wine and spent some time relaxing in the hot tub outside. It was cold outside but well worth the view.
Day 5- snow dump
We awoke to 5 inches of new powder and many more inches on the way throughout the day. Steamboat added 18 new trails overnight bringing the total to 145 of 169 trails. Breakfast was dad’s hashbrown-egg one pan meal again to get us ready for another long day of fun in the white stuff.
Dad and the boys left early to grab the gondola and ski down to the Storm Peak express to get some fresh powder on the Christmas Tree bowl, Chutes, Biscuits, and Alarm Clock before heading to Four Points to warm up a bit as the youngest’s feet were frozen from all that fresh powder.
The whole family met up for a few runs down Why Not and Right of Way before lunch at the Truffle Pig. We got there at 12 to find a line and a 20 minute wait. You can make reservations so that may be the way to go if you want to avoid a wait. We waited inside and grabbed an order of tasty truffle fries from the bar and some drinks while we were waiting. There are signs to stay on the rugs and they are to be followed as the oldest child had a wipe out 5 feet after stepping off the carpet. Only pride was injured luckily. Our waitress was from Ireland and spends winters in Steamboat and summer in Martha’s Vineyard. She was spectacular, as were the people at the bar. Dad had a beer and pulled pork sandwich, mom a few glasses of wine and the wagyu bolognese. The boys had a wagyu burger and an adult grilled cheese. The food, atmosphere, and service were great.
After filling up on burgers, bolognese and grilled cheese the boys headed to the terrain park and mom and dad rode the gondola to ski together a bit. Dad gave mom a little lesson and after that she was skiing a bit more confidently. After some turns together, mom headed her way back via greens and dad headed out for some more moguls and tree skiing in the Closets, 3 O’clock, High Noon and Valley View before heading in for a hot chocolate with the family in the lounge. The amenities at Edgemont, including this lounge, were fantastic. Not many places have all you can drink hot chocolate (complete with Hershey’s chocolate, marshmallows, whipped cream and sprinkles), coffee, a 3 sided fireplace, great locker rooms and a heated pool and hot tubs all within feet of the slopes.
Dinner was in the room and the adults were wiped so only the kids ventured out to grind the rails at the terrain park with their nighttime skiing buddies. Mom and dad curled up on the couch to watch a Hallmark movie and have a glass of wine in front of the fire before turning in early in advance of the last big day on the slopes. The Keller’s work hard and play hard so we knew that all the juice would get squeezed out of the orange on Friday.
Few tips from our adventure on day 5:
- The Christmas Tree bowl is steep. It is truly extreme terrain. For those looking for a challenge, this and the Gulley are where to find it. The Chutes and Triangle Trees are a bit easier but should challenge most skiers enough.
- The easiest blue is Quickdraw and should be approachable for most beginner/intermediate skiers. It is accessible off Sundial or Tomahawk face and leads into another green (Tomahawk) that leads to the Sunshine lift.
- Biscuits is by far the most approachable tree skiing run with the opportunity to opt out early by heading directly to the left over to Cowboy Coffee (a very easy but pretty ride through the forest) if you find it too challenging. Found off the Sundown and Sunrise lifts it’s worth a try for most intermediate skiers. Beginners should avoid the Morningside and Storm Peak areas as advanced terrain is needed to get back down.
Day 6- last hurrah
We awoke to more fresh powder and scrambled eggs, orange juice and toast made by dad to get the day started just right. It was set to snow all day so dad and the boys were on the slopes first thing to grab some fresh pow in between the trees. We all had a great day of skiing but dad took a huge fall on the Chutes and lost his GoPro in all the fresh powder as he slid down the face in an “avalanche” of snow. Tips on how not to lose your GoPro later in the post.
New Year’s Eve dinner was in town at Harwig’s. We had a four course tasting menu with gnocchi, monkfish, lamb, chicken puttanesca, and beet salad. It was excellent and we had some great family conversation about our trip and reflected on the past year as well as the year to come.
After dinner it was back to the room to pack up the skis and drop them off to ship home. Then all that was left was to ring in the new year at 10 MT. (A perk of being out West!) We picked up some quick bubbly in town to make it official. We decided to do East Coast New Year’s as everyone needed a good night’s sleep before our 5 am wake up to fight the snow back to Denver.
Day 7- drive back to Denver and flight home
We awoke at 5 am, packed up the car, grabbed a bit of gas and headed down 40 to Kremmling. It was dumping the whole way over the Rabbit Ear Pass and the roads never really got any better. We left 7 hours prior to our departure to make the 3 hour drive back, drop off the rental car, and get checked in at the airport. It took us the better part of 5 hours to make the drive including a short stop for a moose in the road and at the mercantile in Kremmling to use the bathroom.
We saw multiple accidents, cars off the road, and abandoned vehicles along the way, but made it to the airport safe and in plenty of time to get some lunch. There were multiple people at the airport who missed their flights or ran so close their bags probably wouldn’t make it. As my youngest always says, the Wanderingkellers always leave lots of extra time so we are never late (sometimes we are way too early though lol).
Tips for travel:
- Don’t feel pressured to drive faster than you want by anyone. Pull over and let them pass and take your time. I know it sounds silly but the road was lined by those who didn’t heed this advice.
- Rent a large SUV with great traction control. If you don’t need it, so be it, but if you don’t have it and need it, this could spoil your trip. We were really happy we had a large SUV on both ends of the trip.
- Ship your skis if you can or rent out there. It made life so much easier at the airport and was really a breeze.
- The heavenly daze pass is good for 7 days of skiing and the days can be used over 2 seasons. This includes night skiing as well on days you ski during the day. This is a cheaper and more effective way to book your tickets especially over holidays and if you don’t plan to ski at other IKON resorts, which would make an annual pass more economical.
- Wear your GoPro on a chest holder as I unfortunately lost my GoPro in an avalanche of snow in the Christmas Tree Bowl/Chutes areas.
- Consider powder skis if you are going to be deep in the trees as the “ice skates” I had were not up to the challenge of some of the really deep powder.
Thoughts about this trip:
We had a great time in Steamboat and would absolutely return. As far as skiing early in the season goes, Steamboat is great. According to zrankings.com, Steamboat is the second best place to ski in Colorado (Alta is first) with an average of 93% open on Dec. 25, and only 5% of its winters seeing conditions where less than half of the mountain is open by 12/25.
We loved the convenience of where we stayed and will certainly stay there again but we may try to book one steamboat place just for a change of scenery next time we visit.
The terrain is challenging but the powder was great. The best part was since it was a hike from Denver the crowds were very manageable. I don’t think we waited more than 10 minutes in any lift line all week (with the exception of the first gondola as we typically arrived at 8:15 or so) and probably less than 5 minutes most times.
I recommend Steamboat highly for anytime during ski season but especially for the holidays. The resort is well run and the staff are friendly and very helpful. The mountain rarely felt crowded except on a few of the beginner runs mid day. All in all, The Boat has something for all levels and all interests.
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