- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2008

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Just west of the Continental Divide, high in the Colorado Rockies, tucked away but known and acknowledged as a paragon of skiing, lies Steamboat Springs. It is a perfect retreat for the ski and travel enthusiast who yearns for an amazing mountain journey and a destination with character, charm and heritage.

As we land at nearby Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, Colo., it is snowing furiously, 8 inches in the past 24 hours, another 6 the day we arrive, all boding well for the week ahead. We ride through the town of Steamboat Springs, a quaint outpost of 9,000 people filled with restaurants and shops a mere three miles from the ski resort.

Steamboat Springs has a Western tradition, a cowboy tradition, rooted in the ranching lifestyle of its origins. The town is full of old buildings from the beginning of the last century.

We are staying at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel, a beautiful modern building at the base of the ski mountain. We have a one-bedroom suite with vaulted ceilings, a large sitting area, fireplace, dining area, full kitchen and fabulous bedroom with a balcony overlooking the steaming outdoor pool and the valley below. The Steamboat Grand has a fitness center; health spa; large, beautiful lobby; and live entertainment nightly in the lounge and lobby. With 327 luxuriously appointed rooms and suites, it is the center for activities at the resort.

Dinner our first night is in Harwigs-L’Apogee, a terrific restaurant in the middle of town. Owner Jamie Jenny has created a masterpiece in fine dining for the past 28 years in a small, cozy and beautifully appointed space with just 14 tables. Pheasant with beets and goat cheese is fabulous, and medallions of venison is phenomenal. Most amazing is the wine list, with a depth to rival that at the best restaurants on both coasts. The restaurant is a revelation in the Colorado Rockies.

Another half-foot of snow has fallen as the sun rises. There’s a knock at my door, and Black Tie Ski Rentals has arrived to fit my boots and skis in my room. This innovative service takes the pain out of the ski-rental process, fitting you with the best, most up-to-date equipment, in this case a set of K2 Apache parabolic all-condition skis, and then letting you pick up equipment and drop it off slopeside each day with no hassles. Black Tie Ski Rentals, operating at 11 resorts in the Rockies, is an idea whose time has come.

We ride the gondola to midmountain. Steamboat Springs is one of America’s premier ski mountains; its registered nickname is Ski Town USA. More Olympic alpine athletes are claimed to live in or train in Steamboat Springs than in any other location. Its ski tradition goes back to 1913, when Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian immigrant, introduced alpine ski jumping. Those ski jumps are still in use in the middle of town on Howelsen Hill. Billy Kidd, a gold medalist in the 1964 Winter Olympics, hailed from Steamboat and still gives free ski clinics daily on the mountain.

The Steamboat Ski Resort mountain is massive, with breathtaking runs spread out across thousands of acres. We plunge in, taking diamond runs down the front of the mountain, and then ride back up in the gondola. We take some intermediate runs from Thunderhead Lodge into the center of the mountain and then go up into the clouds in a blizzard to Storm Peak at 10,372 feet. The diamond runs from the top are exhilarating, with fresh powder flying in our wake. We come back to the top and traverse to Sunshine Peak on the far south of the mountain to test the intermediate runs there.

We stop for lunch at the center of the mountain at the legendary Hazie’s in the Thunderhead Lodge. The snow has stopped, and the sun is emerging from the clouds, brilliant blue skies behind them. Hazie’s has an amazing view of the resort and the valley below, and in its upscale accommodations a succulent lamb T-bone is a ski lunch like no other.

We finish off the day with a series of heart-pounding runs down Storm Peak and test myriad trails on the interior center of the mountain in brilliant sunshine before calling it a day. Besides, we are scheduled for a massage at the Grand Spa at the Steamboat Grand Resort. Dinner is in the Cabin, the hotel’s main restaurant, a charming room with excellent service and a fabulous venison fillet.

The evening brings snow and more snow, another 10 inches or more of the champagne powder for which Steamboat is famous. We rise with the dawn and are on the gondola as it opens to break in the fresh snow. It is transcendent. We head straight to the far north end of Werner Mountain, down Buddy’s Run, named for Olympic athlete and Steamboat legend Buddy Werner, and then Longhorn, an isolated trail at the top of the mountain where the powder is knee-deep.

It is still snowing, and half the time we are skiing in the clouds, but the powder flies as we cut fresh lines in the snow. It’s a skier’s dream as we tackle runs well above our pay grade, flying down diamond slopes before the fresh powder is gone. By 1 p.m., we are done and head back to the hotel. This has been a Steamboat classic, a powder morning par excellence.

In the afternoon, we take an excursion with Sweet Pea Tours to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, an iconic Steamboat destination where ancient natural hot springs are channeled into rustic pools. We soak in splendid isolation at 105 degrees. Mineral rich and soothing, Strawberry Park Hot Springs more than lives up to its reputation for an idealized nature soak amid the snow and the open air.

A number of natural hot springs are in the area, hence the name Steamboat Springs, although the namesake spring, which made a sound like a steam engine, is long-gone. Strawberry Park Hot Springs carries on the tradition.

In a converted stable in the middle of town, chef and co-owner Rocky LeBrun has brought his Boston-Irish charm and impeccable cooking to Antares. Crimini mushroom puree is excellent, prawns with a Bengali rub and tomato chutney are amazing, and elk medallions on wild rice is a terrific finale to a delicious meal.

We start the next morning with a massage at the Sol Day Spa in the neighboring Sheraton Steamboat Springs, where the masseuse takes the kinks out of ski-ravaged muscles. It is a necessary indulgence and leaves me ready for another day of mountain challenge.

The day is crystal clear, the sun brilliant and the slopes fantastic. Each day has been different, a get-acquainted day, a powder day, and now groomed runs giving new meaning to the mountain. We focus on the slopes off Sunshine Peak — fabulous long, steep, groomed excursions that enable us to fly down the mountain, working our technique, plunging ahead with gleeful abandon.

Lunch at Ragnar’s, the other signature upscale mountain dining experience, is fantastic, with thick, hot mushroom soup with wild rice, and a yellowtail sandwich with cream sauce, washed down with a couple of Stella Artois beers. Then it’s back to the slopes, down the Sunshine Peak runs a couple more times, across the mountain to Buddy’s Run on the far side before ending the day with thunderous treks down Storm Peak. Finally, we go back to the front of the mountain to take the tightly groomed diamond racing run of See Ya before calling it a day.

Dinner at Cafe Diva is a culinary experience from chef Kate Rench and her co-owners. The cafe is located in a small space in a shopping area near the slopes, but there is nothing small about its aspirations and quality. A watercress-and-fig salad with locally produced goat cheese is fabulous. Diver scallops are wonderful, and an elk fillet with foie gras is nothing short of a revelation.

After dinner, we walk across the street to the Tugboat, a Steamboat Springs institution where live music is always first and foremost. The Chris LeBlanc Band from Baton Rouge, La., is pounding out high-wattage blues with a power and intensity that is infectious.

Mr. LeBlanc is a guitar wizard, carrying on the long tradition of the blues and reinforcing the Tugboat’s deserved reputation as the place to hang at night in Steamboat Springs.

On our last day to ski, we are on the mountain early. It is snowing again, and the top is shrouded in clouds. We ply the lower mountain and then make our way to Sunshine Peak for a series of exquisite top-to-bottom runs down the High Noon and Two O’Clock trails — yes, there are One O’Clock and Three O’Clock runs, too. It is blind skiing at the top, where the clouds and snow are destroying visibility, before we come into the clear and speed down the tightly groomed slopes again and again for some of the best runs of the ski trip.

We cross the mountain to take on Buddy’s Run in the clouds again and then a final, exhilarating high-speed run down Storm Peak. The day is slipping away. We finish strong down the front slopes; take a final trip down the diamond racing run, See Ya; and we are done. Our legs are rubber, our hearts are pounding, our joy is absolute.

Dinner our last evening is at Riggio’s in the middle of town, a comfortable Italian stalwart where owners Rich and Stacy Most have grown from their Buddha’s Burrito fame of the ‘90s to a new level. Pasta e fagioli is great, steamed mussels are in a lovely fra diavolo sauce, and the portobello ravioli with shrimp and lobster is fabulous. A large space that is popular with the locals, Riggio’s is a restaurant that feels like home.

As we pack to leave in the morning, the sky is a crystal-clear blue. Our entire experience at Steamboat has exceeded all expectations. The mountain shimmers as I follow its line from peak to peak and re-create from the ground our adventures in the sky.

It’s a wistful moment, proof of a week well spent flying down the slopes of an intense, snow-covered track of land on a mountain worthy of the task. Steamboat Springs is truly such a place. From fine dining to ridiculously excellent skiing, fabulous snow and a setting of heritage and character, this is a skier’s destination well worth the trek to this far corner of the Rockies, beyond the Continental Divide.


United, Delta, Northwest, American Airlines and US Airways offer connecting service to Steamboat Springs from Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.

Steamboat Ski Resort: Go to www.steamboat.com or phone 970/879-6111.

Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel: www.steamboatgrand.com; 970/871-5500

Black Tie Ski Rentals: www.blacktieskis.com; 800/821-4754

Steamboat Grand Spa: www.steamboatgrand.com; 970/871-5514

Sol Day Spa: www.solspa.com; 970/871-9765

Harwigs-L’Apogee: www.lapogee.com; 970/879-1919

Hazie’s: 970/871-5150

The Cabin: 970-871-5550

Antares: 970/879-9939

Ragnar’s: 970/879-2484

Cafe Diva: 970/871-0508

Riggio’s: www.riggiosfineitalian.com; 970/879-9010

The Tugboat: 970/879-7070

Chris LeBlanc Band: www.chrisleblancband.com

Strawberry Park Hot Springs-Sweet Pea Tours: www.strawberryhotsprings.com; 970/8795820

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