Steamboat—The End of Normal.

Steamboat Springs Worldmark is about half a mile from the base of the ski resort, and my room faced the mountain so I could see the gondola and several chair lifts on the face of the mountain. Everytime I see the face of a mountain with ski runs waiting for me, I get a little thrill of anticipation. This was no different. I went to the Steamboat Springs Ski Resort website and found the most-friendly site of all the resorts. It was easy to find the mountain tours under their activities and things to do website tab, and Steamboat went several steps further offering not only a mountain tour but also a Mountain Masters tour for 50+ skiers, a Nature tour and snowshoeing tours and rentals. And if that wasn’t enough, Steamboat has a free Ski with an Olympian, Billy Kidd and Nelson Carmichael, both Olympic medalists, on an as available basis.

I ended up taking the Mountain Tour, an hour and a half overview of the mountain. Then I took two Mountain Masters tours. The Mountain Masters tours require pre-registration, and then they group based on blue and black runs. This group challenged me as much as I wanted to be, and we had the opportunity to take tree runs and ungroomed/off piste runs.

After the Mountain Tour that ran from 10:30 to noon, I stopped at Ragnar’s, a white tablecloth restaurant in the Rendezvous Lodge at the top of the South Peak lift. I had an appetizer of gravlax, a cured salmon, with exotic and tasty accompaniments that I knew not what they were. Presentation: 10.

Presentation: 10. Steamboat Ragnar’s Gravlax app

I had finished my lunch of gravlax and wine, when I learned of a Bloody Mary challenge. Steamboat has an “official” Bloody challenge with a punch card and official voting process. I immediately got a card and a Ragnar Bloody Mary, and had to extend my lunch with a dessert of spicy tomato juice, pepper infused Finlandia vodka and interesting olives, peppers, cheese and summer sausage relish stick.

The next day I took the first Mountain Masters tour—for 50+ skiers—and chose the blue/black group. We were a group of five, and had Jack as our guide. He took us from one end of the resort to the other. We started at the Thunderhead Lodge area, skied down to Storm Peak chair which we rode to the top of Storm Peak. True to its name, Storm Peak was foggy and stormy at the top. Buddy’s run is a blue run where at the top of the run sits a bust of Buddy Werner, a born and bred Steamboat boy who was an early US Olympic skier. He competed at the most elite level in the 1950s, an era when all the top skiers were Europeans—Austrians, Swiss, German, Italian, French—often he and his sister Skeeter were the only Americans on the podium.

Jack took us from Storm Peak on the north side to Sunshine Lift on the south end of the resort. Jack was an enthusiastic skier and knew the resort like a pianist knows a keyboard. And it was a good thing. Visibility was horrible, the fog sitting low on the mountain. There were times Jack said, as he pointed his pole into the fog, “There’s a pine tree about 100 yards that-a-way, and we’ll meet just beyond the tree.” He would vanish into the fog, the five of us following his imprint, disappearing one by one. But sure enough, his neon yellow jacket would gradually appear, and our group would reform downhill from him. He pointed out trees that he thought we could ski, even though as a group he could not take us through the trees as he needed a tail-man to do so. He also showed us a very cool hot spot—a deep hole in the snow where the water below was a hot spring. It was marked by bamboo poles so that skiers would not ski into it.

The Mountain Masters tours were three hours long—it was fast and hard skiing. When we all parted ways, I decided to try Four Points Lodge for lunch. Four Points is on the North end of the resort, and was again in the fog. The place was packed when I went in so I sat at the end of the bar. They were known for their turkey pot pie (per Jack’s recommendation) and with a punch card Bloody Mary, it made for a large lunch.

The couple to my right departed, and a new couple sat down. The man closest to me began chatting—he asked me about the pot pie, and I told him about the Bloody Mary contest. He jumped right in and ordered his Bloody Mary and ended up with a pot pie, too. They were trying to take a selfie, and I offered to take their picture, including their drinks. They were from Seattle, and had just gotten to town. They were making their way around the mountain, but Randy gently chastised Eric for taking business calls while on vacation.

I could relate—throughout my 32-year marriage to Scot, there were always calls or obligations that Scot would attend to. I didn’t really mind, but I remember chiding him much like Randy spoke to Eric. We had a fun lunch, and they claimed the picture I took of them was one of the best ever! I think honestly it was because they both had their eyes open, but I may never know. We promised to reconnect for dinner later in the week.

That afternoon I decided to try to catch the Nature Tour curated by a naturalist from the Yampatika Educationa Partnership, a Yampa valley educational organization. I had to race to get to the meeting place, again at the Thunderhead Lodge area. In order to get to Thunderhead Lodge, which is also the top of the Steamboat Gondola, it’s necessary to ride a lift up—either the Burgess Creek chair if you are on the north (Storm Peak) side or the Elkhead Express if on the Sunshine side. I was a little late, but had heard the tour followed the green Why Not run, so I started down the trail.

Bear claw marks in the birch.

I met the group of three women and the guide on the side of the trail where a weather station was set up. I joined in, and was delighted to learn so much! Along Why Not there are nature signs that could serve as a self-guided tour, but having a knowledgeable guide with an engaged group asking questions was so much more interesting. We saw Aspen trees with bear claw marks that to the casual observer would look like four brown spots on the trees. We discussed Aspen as the largest living organism, each new “sprout” a clone of the host. We learned of the ecosystem beneath the snow next to the dirt that was home for voles and mice and other little creatures. They access their underground network of tunnels via the tree wells that can also swallow up an unlucky skier/boarder.

The guide told us to look up for porcupines, who forage and sun themselves at the tops of the aspen and pines, and we stopped at an old bear den! The tour was only an hour, but chock full of wonderful information. As we parted ways, I decided to call it a day, and cut from Why Not to Vagabond, which connected to Right-O-Way that led down to Gondola Square and home.

I decided to ski with the Mountain Masters again the next day, as there was a chance there would be two guides so we could ski trees. An unwritten rule in skiing and boarding is to never ski trees alone. There is a real and life-threatening danger skiing trees—the same tree wells that make the sub-surface environment for mice and voles accessible can also be suffocating death-traps for skiers and boarders who fall head first into the wells.

The day was clearer than the foggy day before, and we did end up with two guides. I had asked to ski trees if they had enough guides, and it seemed that we would. Alas, one person in the group had no desire to ski trees, so our hopes were somewhat dashed. We did do a little veering off into trees, but probably not as much as any of the rest of us would like. But it was a fun group regardless, and we explored the unmarked Olympic Way on the south Sunshine side. Olympic Way is so named because there are large posters of Olympians interspersed in the trees between Quickdraw and Flintlock runs. It’s a fun, easy tree run with little rewards in the form of bios of the Olympians. Steamboat brags having more Olympic skiers and boarders who claim it as home than any other mountain.

One of the other Mountain Masters participants was a fellow Minnesotan! Roger had his “bleeding pumpkin” Buck Hill orange and red instructor jacket on. He and I hit it off, and we ended up having lunch together at Thunderhead Lodge. I got another Bloody Mary punch, and it turned out Roger and his wife were staying at the Worldmark, too! We skied together down the mountain, and promised to re-connect on Friday.

The base of the mountain at Gondola Square has a large plaza that is perfect for people watching. At the end of the day I got another Bloody Mary at Timber & Torch and sat in one of the bright red Adirondack chairs and watched the world go by. It was a great day!

That night Eric, Randy and I had dinner at the Ore House, a fine steak house right around the corner from my Condo. We had great fun talking about the Solo Ski Sojourn, our kids, life in general. The Ore House is one of the most popular restaurants in Steamboat—for locals and tourists alike. It’s good, reliable red meat, cooked to perfection. That and a couple bottles of wine, friendly talk, and a blossoming friendship. A person can’t ask for more.

Dinner @ The Ore House with my new Seattle friends, Eric and Randy.

I needed a break, so I took Thursday off, and hit the local library that had a room with local history and a Buddy Werner scrapbook of news clippings. It was so interesting to read about this young dynamo who changed the complexion of skiing. He was killed in an avalanche in Switzerland filming a Bogner commercial. He was 23.

Last year when I first came to Steamboat I discovered F.M. Light, a western wear store. I bought my first wild rag there—an oversized neckerchief. This trip I returned to F.M. Light and bought a cool western snap shirt and a couple more wild rags. Then I discovered Steamboat Jewelry and Fossil store. I found a couple shiny objects there that I couldn’t resist.

Since mid-February the Coronavirus had been heating up, and by this time, the stock market was tanking. Aspen had reports of confirmed cases, and I thought to myself I was lucky I had opted out of going to Aspen and Vail. I had planned on taking a day or two at Winter Park, and maybe hitting Summit County, where several Epic and Ikon Pass resorts were located. I was feeling so good about my skiing—I had been practicing some drills that the Snowbird PSIA coach had given me, and could feel my edges so much better. But the Coronavirus threat was putting a damper on things.

I skied my last day at Steamboat on Friday, determined to cover the mountain from north to south, east and west. I had skied Cowboy Coffee on the backside serviced by the Morningside chair, but today took Cheesy Grits through the trees (but within sight of the main trail where I could see skiers), just because I could. I covered the mountain and then called it a day.

It seemed like every hour some news about the Coronavirus was breaking, and then the ski areas started closing down. I came out of Thunderhead Lodge after having my last Bloody Mary at Hazie’s Restaurant and grabbed my skis for my last run down the mountain. As I dropped my skis on the snow the back binding of my right ski flew clean off! Without the back binding with the ski brake, my ski started sliding down the hill. I fell on the ski to stop it from sliding, and grabbed the binding that was laying pathetically in the snow.

It was a sign.

Time to stop. No more. I give up! Corona wins for today.

My binding flew clean off! It’s in the snow upper right of picture.

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