Tackle the slopes with Cliffs Notes for skiing Steamboat this month
December 31, 2011
It's no secret that subpar snowfall has spelled a mountain that's skiing a tad differently than it did at the same time a year ago. While the resort has worked its tail off to open 122 trails — and most agree that it's skiing surprisingly well given our snowpack — the 24-inch mid-mountain base remains uninspiring by Steamboat standards. It's hard to imagine what it would be like without the diligence of the resort's snowmaking and grooming crews.
But how is it really skiing these days? To find out, we sent a crack investigative team onto the slopes to offer some insight. Following is what they unearthed from their two-hour blitzkrieg.
Three main conduits exist down to the bottom of the gondola and Thunderhead: Vagabond, Concentration and Heavenly Daze. While this is the type of year that lives up to its Heavenly Glaze moniker, the Daze skis softer than its Vagabond cousin, especially near the far skier's left side. But don't discount Lower Vag, whose consistent pitch offers few surprises. Concentration also is open but requires its namesake to avoid the occasional bush top.
Get to the upper mountain by cruising such runs as Rudi's Run, Blizzard or Lightning, but beware of the rocks near their steeper sections. For bumps, hit Norther or White Out, but approach the troughs with trepidation — the snow forming the moguls had to come from somewhere, leaving your skis' P-tex at the mercy of the bumps' trenches. And don't pat yourself on the back too quickly after reaching Ego at the bottom; fed by springs, a few uncovered ice patches can wreak havoc on the egos of the unprepared.
Storm Peak Express
Usually, there's more snow up top, but with two relatively recent wind events, that's not necessarily the case this year. First, there's no need to impress people riding the lift by skiing the lift line right off the top; even on a good year, that's one of the most exposed reefs on the mountain. For set-an-edge cruising, hit Buddy's Run (knock his statue with your pole for good snowfall luck beforehand). It's firm but well covered. Triangle is a bit dodgy but soft because of its northern aspect while Storm Peak Face is firm yet covered.
While a friend maintains that Tornado skiing is "as good as ever," take off his rose-colored glasses and you'll notice a few twigs strewn about. And be careful hucking the catwalk three-quarters of the way down lest you land on an outcropping. The more northern Cyclone also is a safe bet, funneling into a glissade down Vortex. Best bet for a rock-free cruiser: Sunset.
Believe it or not, this area harbors some of the softest snow on the mountain, thanks to those same wind events (with little worry so far about tree wells). Dig deep and you can even find a few fresh turns. Head back there to either spice up your day's route selection, or to access the top of Mount Werner. With the Chutes and Gates still closed, from the top, you can head down The Ridge or Crowtrack to Flying Z and Big Meadow before hopping back on Storm Peak Express. Just beware the hidden rock; my buddy Jeremiah splayed his knee open telemarking there just before Christmas.
One word: Westside. It's serving up some of the softest snow on the mountain, and even without snow-making, it's well-covered the entire way. While you can pick your way down Closet and Shadows, exercise caution: The trees harbor more snow snakes and deadfall than you can shake a stick at. And if you don't dump out onto the Duster catwalk at lower Three O'Clock, be prepared for a long traverse back to Rainbow Saddle. High Noon is as cruisy as ever and affords the option to stop in for a hot chocolate at Rendezvous Saddle without any remorse about missing a run. Best bet for kids? Unsung hero One O'Clock, which is littered with jumps.
Good news for families: Wally World is open. Bonus: There's a great series of whoop-de-do-wind-lip-jumps against the ropeline heading toward Hot Cakes right off the top. The runs that are open are skiing fine, funneling you either far skier's left or right down toward the bottom. Just be suspect of the usual secret passages kids like to explore; many still are harboring ravine-like creek beds and snags.
Parks and pipes
'Tis the season to huck in the park. Yep, even on a great powder year, parks and pipes rarely get soft, meaning this year they're as good as ever. While the Bashor terrain park has yet to open, groomers have done wonders to create three separate areas to get your huck on. The first, Lil' Rodeo, off Stampede near the resort's base, consists of a medley of small-scale boxes, ramps and rails, culminating in a mini-pipe. It's as good as it's ever been and the perfect place for Dad to sample the grinding goods with his kids (BYO ACL).
Groomers also have pulled a rabbit out of their snow hats to sculpt the Rabbit Ears terrain park at Big Foot at the bottom of Vertigo. Keep your speed to clear the tabletops. Note: The giant picnic table box slide at the bottom isn't as scary as it looks. While as firm, steep and intimidating as ever, the Mavericks Superpipe also opened recently for those wishing to graduate. A bonus this year is a new family-friendly skier-cross course at the bottom of Giggle Gulch, with big banks for sibling schussing.
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