Wide slopes, huge snow falls, sunshine and beautiful blue skies are just some of the reasons to head to the ski resort of Steamboat this season.
People always told me the snow in the US was better than Europe. More fluffy, they said, less tacky. And so much of it, apparently. I’ve always loved skiing in Europe – Austria especially, with its raucous apres scene, and France for its vast ski areas that can easily take a week to explore. So the idea of braving a nine-hour flight, jet lag and the possibility of a week without even seeing fromage on the menu had never appealed. But this year the reports of huge dumps of snow early in the season made me rethink.
Snow quality is one of the reasons Colorado is so popular with skiers and after my trip to Steamboat, I can see why. Its slopes are as wide as motorways and there’s no lift queue in sight. Views of the valley dwarfed anything I had ever seen in Europe and even the blue of the sky seemed different. And with 300 days of sunshine a year, you’ll never be short of a “bluebird day”. The mountains – Storm Peak, Sunshine Peak and Mount Werner – are so far from the sea that the snow is drier than most other places. And they really are an absolute pleasure to ski.
They are dotted with snowboarding parks and jumps, while Pioneer Ridge has great advanced runs. And with powder snowcat skiing, where snowmobiles instead of ski lifts take you to the best snow, available nearby at Buffalo Pass, there’s no risk of getting bored. To say a ski holiday in America is different from Europe is an understatement. The service for a start – nothing is too much trouble at the hotels. Some of them will even drive you to the supermarket. About the only thing they do have in common is the pricey mountain restaurants.
But if you do stop for lunch, head to the new Four Points Lodge restaurant. It was converted last year from a slope-side hut into a huge self-service eatery with a bar and outside terrace. Four Points does tend to get quite busy, so if you’re looking for somewhere quieter, try T Bar. In the old ski-patrol shack it serves great flatbreads, and you shouldn’t leave without trying the peanut-butter panini with bacon. If you’re looking for somewhere straight from the slopes then the Mahogany Ridge is a locals’ favourite and their bloody Mary’s are to die for.
You can pick up one-dollar tapas and two-dollar beers in here from 4pm. They also brew their own beer called Olympic Gold ale – a bit like a Bud Light but better, according to the friendly bar staff. If, like me, you’re an apres-ski fan, then Steamboat is not the best place to go. For all its efforts, the scene is in no way comparable to a good old Austrian knees-up at the end of the day.
There are, however, a few good places worth visiting, including the Old Town Pub. With live country music and nachos, it’s also a great spot to sample some of Denver’s famous ales – I particularly liked the Vanilla Porter. If you’re looking for somewhere straight from the slopes then the Mahogany Ridge is a locals’ favourite. You can pick up one-dollar tapas and two-dollar beers in here from 4pm. They also brew their own beer called Olympic Gold ale – a bit like a Bud Light but better, according to the friendly bar staff.
We were lucky enough to be at Steamboat during the Cowboy Downhill, a local tradition that sees professional rodeo cowboys take to the slopes. It started when some of the country’s top cowboys were invited for a day on the snow. They had such a great time that the Downhill is now in its 40th year. The entertainment kicks off with the annual balloon glow, when six hot-air balloons illuminate the mountain village. It all culminates with the cowboys bombing it down the mountain in full ranch gear. And there is probably no better image to sum up what makes a skiing holiday in the US unique.
FACTFILE: Condos at Timberline Lodge, Trappeur’s Crossing, cost from £150 per night (www.trappeurs-crossing.com). BA operates UK flights to Denver from £715 return.
Snowangel Top tips
Be sure to visit FM Light & Sons, a 100-year-old store that wstill provides local cowboys with boots and hats. The boot wall makes for a great photo.
Take a snowcat ride to Ragnar’s restaurant. The evening features a five course Scandinavian-themed dinner with live country and western music.
Head to strawberry Park Hot springs with sweet Pea tours. it’s the best place for the natural springs. Go after dark and stargaze.