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Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

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Birmingham, Alabama
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Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

We just returned from a wonderful week-long spring break in Steamboat! Thanks to everyone who helped us plan. Rather than do a day-by-day chronology, which would get repetitive, I'll split the report up by categories.

ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE:

We had direct flights between Atlanta and Hayden, which made getting to Steamboat and back a breeze. We had prebooked the Storm Mountain Express shuttle through Steamboat Central, and the whole process went super-smoothly. The resort is about a 25-minute ride from the airport, but it goes by fast and the shuttle takes you right to the door of your accommodations. Between the airport shuttles and the excellent transport around town, we found no need at all to rent a car.

LODGING:

We stayed at Timberline Lodge in Trappeur's Crossing and really liked it. It's just a short way from the gondola base and has free and frequent shuttle service to get you there and back. You can also use the on-call shuttle for anywhere else in town you need to go. (Be kind to your drivers - they are a great source for inside tips on where to eat, shop for gear, watch the action on the slopes, etc.). There's a little market/deli and a couple of restaurants within easy walking distance.

Our unit, 2311, was spotlessly clean, bright and well decorated, with a big, squashy leather sleeper sofa and chair, huge bathroom, timer-operated fireplace and an unbelievably comfy bed in the master bedroom. We loved having a third-floor balcony to enjoy the views of the mountain, even though we didn't spend much time out there because it was so cold. It was also nice to have a private ski locker right on our floor.

Trappeur's is pretty compact, with a cluster of older buildings centered around a main lodge and two newer buildings (Bear Lodge and Emerald Lodge) at the fringes. The main lodge has both indoor and outdoor hot tubs, an indoor/outdoor pool (heated, but still pretty chilly), a sauna, a fitness center and an on-site spa with a limited menu of services. We only used the pool and hot tubs and never had problems with them being crowded. The facilities were all well maintained and in excellent shape.

One note: If your unit faces the pool, as ours did, be aware that it's open until 10 pm. We didn't have any major noise issues, but you will hear sounds and splashes from outside. If you have young kids who go to bed early, you might need a way to screen it all out. Our unit came with a white noise machine in the master bedroom - we never had to use it but it was a thoughtful touch.

RESORT:

We don't have a lot of experience with ski resorts so don't have much to compare it to, but we found the base area very easy to navigate, with a good variety of retail and amenities but not too glitzy or overbuilt. Since Steamboat is relatively remote, crowds are reasonable and lift lines looked short to nonexistent. Even with the large number of spring breakers, like us, it still maintains kind of a local feel. You can find upscale if you want it, but the prevailing attitude is down-to-earth and unpretentious.

There's no shortage of places to rent gear. We got ours from the Sheraton rental shop and were fine with the process and the equipment. You can take your boots and helmet with you at the end of the day; you have to store your skis there. Obviously it's more convenient if you're staying there, but it's right next to the base of the mountain, so it was no big deal and there were never lines to pick up skis in the morning.

You hear it a lot, but one of the best things about Steamboat really is the people. The Steamboat ambassadors are everywhere and extremely warm and helpful. We never met a single employee within the resort who wasn't friendly. The staff is a big reason for Steamboat's laid-back, hospitable feel.

Bonus: Because the altitude is low compared to many other ski areas, altitude sickness isn't really a factor. I felt a little lightheaded for a few minutes up on the mountain, but it passed quickly.

SKI SCHOOL:

We enrolled our 7-year-old in the kids' ski school as a "never ever," and were really pleased with the instructors and with his progress. They did an admirable job of keeping kid chaos to a minimum and the class sizes were small, which we liked. Our son was skiing easy blues within 3 days, plus they did some fun stuff like riding the special 50th anniversary gold gondola with Billy Kidd. We scheduled two consecutive lessons, then a one-day break, then a final lesson. If I could do it over, I'd keep lessons back-to-back, because after the break he was upset that his friends from the first two days had moved up a level and he was in with a new group of kids.

My husband's experience with the adult ski school wasn't quite as successful. He enrolled as a Level 1, having only skied one other time years ago, but his instructors put him at Level 3. He explained his inexperience and questioned the ranking. They reassured him that he'd be fine, so, assuming they knew their stuff, he headed up on the chairlift with the rest of the group. On his first few runs, he took several hard falls, strained a hip flexor and twisted a knee. They bumped him back down to a 1 after that, but the injuries made it too painful for him to ski the rest of our trip. We asked the reservations desk if there was any way they could refund or credit his two remaining lessons, but were told they have a no-refunds policy. Understandable...but it was just a little unfortunate the way it all went down. A private lesson might have worked better.

OTHER ACTIVITIES:

I don't do downhill, so I opted for the Steamboat Ski Touring Center, where they teach cross-country and which I think is one of Steamboat's best-kept secrets. I took two lessons and the instructors were both wonderful - very thorough, patient and articulate about proper technique. The center is in a beautiful, serene residential area not far from the resort. Best of all, cross-country is amazingly affordable; a lesson with gear rental is much less than the price of a lift ticket.

I also did the guided gourmet snowshoe tour on the mountain, which was lovely and well worth it. We had a fun group of about 8 ladies and a terrific, very knowledgeable Steamboat ambassador as our guide on the Vista Nature Trail, high up on the mountain. You share some parts of the trail with skiers, including tree skiers, so you just have to keep an eye out and stay to the side. I'd snowshoed before, but never in fresh powder - it was like walking on cotton balls. The three-course lunch afterward at Hazie's was delicious.

We did a snowmobile/tubing tour with Saddleback Ranch, which was a highlight of our trip (separate review posted). It will be one of the first things on our list next time we come back. We considered going to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, but decided that Old Town Hot Springs would be a little more kid-friendly and less of a haul. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was really fun to soak in the steaming pools right outdoors in freezing weather. There are two waterslides that our son loved (both enclosed, not so good for the claustrophobic). We booked the hot springs through Steamboat Central and had a little difficulty at check-in - they couldn't find our reservation and said it is a pretty common problem with the booking system. Next time I would just pay the fee on-site.

TOWN:

The main drag is pretty compact and easy to walk and, even though it's updated, you still get a sense of Steamboat's Old West character. There are the usual gift shops, T-shirt shops, etc., but also some hidden gems. Off the Beaten Path is a fabulous bookstore and cafe, with both new and used books and a cozy loft where you can read and relax with a cup of coffee. There is also a jewelry and fossil shop that has gorgeous handcrafted jewelry, including all kinds of unusual stones. It's very expensive, but worth a splurge if you find a piece you're drawn to. Of course you can't miss F.M. Light and its western wear, hats and boots. Our son's favorite was Fuzziwig's Candy Factory, which I found completely overstimulating, but it's heaven on a stick for kids.

DINING:

Our condo was well equipped for cooking, and we ate most breakfasts and a couple of dinners in. However, one of our favorite parts of visiting a new place is checking out the dining scene, so we hit a lot of the local restaurants. We never made it to some of the trendier spots like Truffle Pig and Laundry but would definitely go next time.

Food on the mountain and at the base was a little pricey, but overall very good. It gets packed at lunchtime, so eat early or late. Best lunch was at Hazie's, but surprisingly, Stoker Bar right next door was a close second (great chili, nachos and views). Slopeside and the Gondola Bar & Grill both had pretty decent bar-type food. We got a tip to check out the Paramount for lunch, but found our tomato bisque and pesto chicken sandwiches oddly short on flavor. Maybe it was an off day. Bear River at the Sheraton has a fun outdoor patio, fire pit and enclosed umbrella bar where you can grab a beer, hot chocolate, etc.

Our favorite breakfast place was Creekside Cafe downtown - terrific food, cheery atmosphere and really nice staff. Their homemade granola is outstanding and we bought an extra pound to take home. My husband and son also had breakfast at Winona's one morning and said it was tasty but expensive ($50 for two pretty standard breakfast orders plus a Bloody Mary). I stopped at Backcountry Provisions for lunch during a day of shopping - delicious sandwich, okay soup.

We also got pizza from Blue Sage a couple of nights and loved it.

WEATHER:

We were kind of worried about late March being too warm for good snow cover, but we had everything from flawlessly sunny days to big snow dumps both on the mountain and at the base, with temps anywhere from the high 30s to the teens. This being the mountains, you never know what the weather is going to do until it does it. A lot of the clothes we brought were way too heavy - many times we didn't need anything more than a base layer, softshells, wool gloves/hat, and a vest.

OVERALL:

Steamboat was the perfect choice for beginning skiers, and there is so much for non-skiers to do as well. We fell in love with both the town and resort and would definitely come back!

Dublin, Ohio
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for Mexico City
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1. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

So glad you enjoyed your trip. We were there the same week and couldn't believe how great the conditions were for spring skiing especially after last year's poor snow.

Birmingham, Alabama
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2. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

We definitely lucked out in the snow department! Being southerners, we rarely get to enjoy the winter wonderland effect, so those dumps were magical.

Colorado
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3. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

Thanks for the report. I loved hearing about the snowshoe outing. People are always asking for things to do beside downhill skiing, it sounds lovely.

Creekside is also a favorite breakfast place of mine, love those manmosia's! A mimosa with a shot of vodka, brilliant!

Boston...
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4. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

great report-- I love Steamboat!

Steamboat Springs...
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5. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

Great report. Always glad people enjoy the place as much as I do.

Cheers

Watkinsville...
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6. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

So with kids the Timberline Lodge is easy? I hope my 7 year old will fair as well, my 5 year old makes me a little worried. I was trying for ski/in ski/out but most of the units in our range appear a little dated (kind of like me). Sounds like you had a great time. Thanks for the report!

Colorado
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for Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Crested Butte, Gunnison
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7. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

Awesome report! The exceptional nordic skiing in nearly every Colorado ski town is definitely something that is often overlooked by visitors. Glad you enjoyed the experience.

Birmingham, Alabama
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8. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

Skidawg - Timberline was perfect with kids. The shuttle runs every few minutes between Trappeur's and the base area, and it is just a 2-minute ride. IMO it's almost as convenient as ski in/ski out. The lodge is about 10 or 15 years old (I think), but I didn't find it dated at all, and I'm picky.

I think your 5 y.o. will do fine. I never saw a little kid in ski school who appeared to be having a hard time, once they got their footing. At that age they are fearless on skis!

Oh, and just for fun: I see you are from Watkinsville. I'm a UGA alum...know the area well. :-)

Thanks, all, for the kind comments! So glad we had the chance to visit such a great place.

Watkinsville...
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9. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

Thanks Fam, That is funny! Tough to be a Dog in B'ham! Great report, so glad you guys had a great time!

Steamboat Springs...
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10. Re: Trip report: Steamboat, March 17-23

I like your style of report. Covers all the bases.

I try to meet a lot of out of town people while they are visiting. A lot of the folks I meet, say they get a feeling of belonging when they meet locals. I've seen some of these folks now for 20+ years. Really glad you enjoyed X-country too. It's so cool to tour thru the woods without a lot of people. We love visitors with a good attitude. Thanks for the great TR.

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