For the last week, Meg and I took a week off to appreciate Colorado on weekdays. It seems like everybody loves doing the same outdoor stuff in the mountains here, so taking a few days off to avoid the weekend crowds makes a massive difference in actually enjoying the state.
We had quite the adventure.
Our ski week started with a Monday at Arapahoe Basin, Colorado's least soulless mountain. A Basin has it all: reasonably priced, decent Bloody Marys; crazy terrain that even scares seasoned skiiers like myself and Meg; no awful million-dollar studio condos; a crowd that leans more "high ski bum" than "Californian millionaire on vacation"; and a peak that's over 13,000 feet.
It's my very favorite mountain on the I70 corridor.
Monday was a perfect blue-sky Colorado day. Light wind, barely a cloud in the sky, and a sun so strong you could hang out on the deck in a t-shirt. The morning started out a little icy, but quickly softened up to a point where all the moguls and groomers were comfy to ride down. We ventured into the glades just once, but it was so icy it just wasn't worth the risk to life, limb, and our already-dull edges.
I forgot to mention one of my favorite parts of A Basin: the food. For a non-crazy price, Meg and I split an entire (very large) tray of chicken fingers, waffle fries, and a bowl of chili to dip them in. If you haven't tried dipping chicken fingers in chili, you're missing out. It's best on a mountain.
We wrapped up our day in the early afternoon, and cruised over to Outer Range brewing for an afternoon beverage. They might not serve the most complex brews in the mountains, but if you want a hazy IPA, they know what they're doing. Just avoid the sours.
After Outer Range, we headed up to Steamboat Springs for our rental and the next stage of our vacation: hot tubbing and skiing, day in and day out.
Our rental condo was mere steps away from the Thunderhead lift at Steamboat, so we started out our morning early on some groomers. Conditions were decent, but a little icy. We made our way up the mountain to Morningside Park, a bowl that's chock full of glades and blues. Bonus: all of the trails use breakfasty names like "Cheesy Grits", "Wake Up Call", "Biscuits", and "Huevos". As the snow softened up, the glades became more and more fun, but also more and more busy. We didn't end up catching the last lift or anything, but I'd say we got a pretty solid day of skiing on the mountain.
The day ended with a modest amount of snowflakes, hinting that we might just get some much-needed snow overnight. We had a beer, a pizza, and a crazy good beet salad (seriously) at a favorite from our last Steamboat visit, Mountain Tap Brewing.
We woke up on Wednesday to a brilliant sight: inches of fresh snow, and more coming down. It wasn't hard to get ourselves to the lift a bit before opening time, and we must have looked so psyched for the powder that the liftie took mercy on us and let us up a few minutes early. We ascended up the mountain into what could be best described as... white. Maybe 50 feet of visibility, inches of powder on the groomers, and the glades in Morningside were chock full of fluffy, fluffy snow. It was nothing short of spectacular.
We circuited Morningside for a couple of hours, until the line started to get really busy and disorganized, and then started to explore the glades on the middle-front side, where the lifts had essentially no lines. I couldn't believe it, but those glades were even better, and had less traffic to boot.
Fresh tracks every time we headed down the mountain, even when repeating the same glade back-to-back, and my first experience skiing aspen glades. We even spotted an ermine (a sure sign of good luck)!
We skiied the absolute hell out of Wednesday, and drained just about every minute we could out of the ski day. Conditions were a blast, the hot tub was well deserved after, the peak beers were delicious, and the Colorado Style Pizza... well, it was kind of like shitty upstate NY pizza with honey for dipping the crust. But it tasted damn good after a hard day of skiing through inches and inches of powder.
Thursday's conditions were almost as good (maybe better on the groomers) than Wednesday. The powder settled into a fairly solid upper layer on the slopes, and you could make it down most runs in the morning without hearing a single hardpack scrape. We once again explored the many many glades of Morningside until things got busy, then switched to the frontside glades, which were as amazing as they were the previous day.
The only issue? By our third day at Steamboat, it became very, very clear that the lodge design is... poor. We spent most of our time riding on the Thunderhead/Morningside half of the mountain. The only lodge on that side of the mountain isn't really a lodge, it's a sit-down restaurant. With a very very tiny bathroom for each gender. And non-sit-down seating that's less spacious than the tiny ski hill lodge I used to frequent back home, Dry Hill. This isn't just inadequate for the amount of people on the hill (on a weekday!), it's incredibly annoying to constantly wait in line for the urinal. Let alone trying to warm up when there's no space and people are just giving up and sitting on the ground in the hallway outside the bathroom. If anybody knows of some secret lodge on that side of Steamboat with adequate bathroom space and big tables to warm up and sip a hot cocoa at without a waiter... let me know. But that was probably my biggest beef with Steamboat.
The crowds started to clog up the groomers and lift lines by early afternoon, so Meg and I opted to recharge in the hot tub with beers instead of fighting the traffic. After a few hours, we were ready to get back on the slopes for a night of skiing under the lights on the frontside. Night skiing turned out just as great as Meg and I remembered from when we were in high school, and we had a great time zooming down the slopes (with Olympians!). A margarita and a big plate of nachos later, we headed (slightly stealthily) back uphill to our rental on the side of a green run, since the local shuttle service apparently doesn't extend to our condo. A beautiful walk, and a great workout besides.
Our last day at Steamboat followed the same pattern as all of our previous days: we skiied the Morningside glades until the crowds clogged up the lift, then we headed back down the frontside glades to Thunderhead to journey home. We woke up to a very fine inch of powder, with more up the mountain, and the glades felt just as good as they had for the last two days of powder. Our last run down the mountain from nearly the top of Storm Peak all the way to Thunderhead was very much the long way down, but ended up being pleasant cooldown after days of thigh-and-calf-aching powder surfing.
After our couple of hours on the slopes, Meg and I had one final stop in Steamboat: Yampa Valley Kitchen. Our meal was just as delicious as our previous meal, and Meg is happy to report that her Cinnamon Toast Crunch Latte was just as she remembered it. (She can, in fact, see why kids love it) After our brunch, we headed straight back home to Denver over Rabbit Ears Pass, excited to be back in our apartment after many days of skiing.
Unfortunately, Colorado had other plans.
Right at the peak of Rabbit Ears Pass, our car, Clem, started yelling at us to consult our manual. As a naturally skeptical person regarding all technology, I figured it was just a software bug, and recommended that we ignore it. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, and Meg checked the tire pressure using the dashboard. Once we realized that our rear passenger tire was rapidly losing pressure, I changed my tune and recommended that we pull off immediately. Mountain passes might seem like a shitty place to get a flat, but I have to admit: there are few places in the country with as many pull-offs as Colorado mountain passes.
So we pulled off into a backcountry skiing parking lot and I opened my door check the tire. A very, very loud HISSSSSSSSSSS informed me that our problem was not just a software bug. In about 30 seconds flat I watched our tire turn into a pancake, and not the tasty kind.
Fast-forward through about 5 minutes of debating the merits of roadside assistance vs. a tow truck vs. a roadside DIY repair, and Meg and I sprang into action. We cleared out the trunk of ski supplies, lifted the damaged wheel, and swapped our fresh pancake for an anemic donut (don't worry, we know all about the star pattern). Not very many minutes later, we were on our way to the nearest Subaru dealer in Dillon, around 60 miles away. I have to give Meg's dad, Craig, credit: I'm really, really, really, really glad he taught us how to change a tire last summer. If you don't know, please watch an instructional video or at least read an article. Thanks Craig!
Did you know that you're not supposed to exceed 50 miles per hour on a spare tire? It seems most Colorado residents don't. Even with our best efforts to frequently pull off the road to let traffic by, it was amazing how many drivers took our 50 MPH speed cap as a personal affront. I've never been honked at or given the finger so many times in my life.
About 30 miles later, we made it to Kremmling, where we stopped at a gas station to check on the donut. Sadly, their air pump lacked a gauge, so we skipped topping off the donut's air to avoid accidentally overfilling it. At Kremmling, we finally had reliable access to cell service, so I contacted the Subaru dealer in Dillon to hook us up with a service time.
Another 30 miles of angry drivers, and we made it to Groove Subaru, just in time for our appointment. Groove might just be my favorite Subaru dealer ever, since they had it all: two dogs (one was a Bernese!), a ping-pong table where Meg realized how embarrassingly bad I am at ping-pong, free coffee and granola bars, and some incredibly helpful and kind workers. We ended up waiting for an hour or so while they fished a large piece of metal out of our tire. Then we found out that they couldn't patch the tire. And they didn't have any replacement tires, used or otherwise, that we could use to get home. So we did what any reasonable person would do: asked them to fill up our donut to the appropriate PSI, and headed out on I70 during a peak traffic time in the hopes that we wouldn't exceed 50 MPH much during traffic anyway.
(Thanks Grace! We owe you a beer.)
(we were correct; most of the time, we were lucky to go faster than 30)
In the end, we made it home by 7 PM or so -- a testament to the buffer time we left ourselves on the way home from skiing. Aside from one highly aggressive yellow rental moving truck driver who very nearly honked and rammed us off the road (despite adequate passing space on the left), it wasn't too bad. We made it home safe, dragged our stuff back to the apartment, and headed over to Illegal Pete's for some much-deserved margaritas and burritos. Fortunately, the Friday night peak burrito hour line gave us plenty of time to agonize over replacement tires on our phones.