Steamboat Springs The Yampa Valley boasts a half-dozen vital well-groomed cross country touring centers, from Vista Verde Guest Ranch in the north to Catamount Ranch and Club 10 miles south of Steamboat Springs.
The otherwise private club at Catamount welcomes the public to ski the gentle trails for a daily trail fee of $10. This might be the premium spot in the valley for novice skate skiers to practice their skills; the perfectly flat Heritage loop traces oxbows through a big hay meadow next to Routt County Road 18.
On a balmy Jan. 31, the snow was remarkably fast, allowing skiers to build their momentum and glide 10 feet with every stride.
The million-dollar estate lots that ring the lake might make Catamount seem imposing from a distance, but the atmosphere around the Outfitters Center is decidedly low key, and club outfitter Dave McAtee likes it that way. He's hoping more and more local residents will discover the trail system.
"We're really laid back -- we're on the honor system," McAtee said. "Times when no one's in the outfitters center we'll leave envelopes on the door. People can put their $10 in an envelope and slide it under the door."
Public skiers help defray the cost of grooming -- it costs at least $50 every time they fire up the Bombardier -- but there's more to it than that, McAtee said.
"I don't want to go out and groom it for nothing," McAtee said. "It's a great place to learn, and everyone who comes out here absolutely loves it.
"The more people who come, the more our members are starting to get involved. It's also good will toward the community."
McAtee installed the original trail network several years ago, but he credits colleague Kevin Kopischke with tweaking the design and buffing out the trails to make them what they are today.
"Each year, Kevin has added little loops and cutoffs," McAtee said.
The Outfitters Center at Catamount isn't really set up like a full-service touring center along the lines of Steamboat Ski Touring Center, but the public is welcome to wax their skis on the tuning bench. There are a limited number of rental skis available, with two pairs of boots in each size range.
"We're not really set up to rent skis to groups of 15 or 20," McAtee said.
The Heritage Loop is a good warmup route measuring 6.6 kilometers (about 4 miles), but most of Catamount's skiing is on the west side of C.R. 18. Skiers can head for the 2.9-kilometer Dry Creek Loop, and the truly ambitious can set out along the twists and turns of the Elk Crossing loop, which totals 12.8 kilometers.
The public is also welcome to warm up and enjoy a meal in the recently opened Lake House Restaurant. The restaurant is closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Skiers can enjoy hot soup and a salad during lunch hours Friday through Sunday. Dinner is served Thursday, Friday and Saturday.