Snowboarder Kenny Loose descends See Me at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area on Wednesday. Deep early season snow is pushing many locals out the door and up the slopes with snowshoes, telemark skis and Alpine touring packages.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Snowboarder Kenny Loose descends See Me at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area on Wednesday. Deep early season snow is pushing many locals out the door and up the slopes with snowshoes, telemark skis and Alpine touring packages.

Hiking to ski a popular choice in Steamboat before ski area opens

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What to get

Snowshoes are available for rent at shops throughout Steamboat Springs. Telemark and Alpine touring gear can be rented from many ski shops, as well.

Demos are available at Backdoor Sports in downtown Steamboat Springs and are free for the first day.

A full Telemark setup is available at Ski Haus for $28.50, and skins cost $7. Alpine touring gear will be available to rent soon, for $36.50.

Where to go

Mount Werner is an obvious early season choice. Ski area officials discourage hikers, however, and warn those who do ascend the mountain to be wary of machinery such as snowcats and snowmobiles.

There are many options on Rabbit Ears Pass, particularly from the West Summit parking lot off U.S. Highway 40.

Hahn’s Peak is a popular destination in North Routt, and there are many popular lines in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in South Routt.

What to pack

Be sure to pack emergency gear — avalanche beacons, food, water and maps — before setting out.

Check with local shops, the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (www.caic.org) before heading out into unfamiliar territory, and always let someone know exactly where you’re going and when you plan to be back.

— Someone new to town might think this is the way Mount Werner always looks in November.

Ski lines were visible down the slopes of the mountain as soon as Steamboat Ski Area emerged from the clouds that doused it with snow earlier this week.

“I went up the ski mountain Tuesday. It was … ,” South Routt skier Brad Cooke said, pausing. “It was awesome.”

The reaction has been similar from other eager skier and riders across the county as residents began what will be at least a seven-month assault on local peaks, slopes and powder stashes. Because Steamboat Ski Area still is six full days from opening to pass-holders, the only way down is to find a way up. For many, that means hiking.

It’s not hard to join them.

There are three primary ways to get up a snowy slope without a lift or a snowmobile. For the newly initiated and cost-conscious, all three options can be realized via rental equipment.

The easiest method is strapping on a pair of snowshoes, available for rent at ski and snowboard shops throughout Steamboat for $20 or less. Strap your skis or snowboard to a backpack, grab some poles and get to hiking.

Telemark and Alpine touring ski set-ups are two equally popular options.

Telemark skiing in particular has proven particularly tailored to the Steamboat area and long ago caught on with residents. The free-heel style is perfect for hoofing it up the ski mountain.

“The reason we all Tele ski in Steamboat is because our skiing isn’t all that steep,” said Pete Van De Carr, whose Back­­door Sports in downtown Steamboat Springs is stocked full of back­­country skiing supplies. “Tele skiing gives you the opportunity to hike. Most of the people skiing on the mountain now are Tele skiers.”

Alpine touring, or AT, bindings, meanwhile, have emerged and improved in recent years, offering a viable alternative for those immune to Telemark turns.

AT bindings allow for Telemark-style uphill climbs, free heels and all. The bindings can then be locked down at the top to allow for traditional Alpine downhill skiing.

“It’s more like Alpine skiing and most people come from that background,” Ski Haus rental manager Andrew Stoller said. “It’s easy to get into.”

Some skis come with a fish scale base pattern that allows climbs up modest slopes without anything extra to help you grip the snow. For regular skis, and for any serious slopes, skins that stick to the bottom of your skis are required.

“If you’re going to have a prolonged, full day of hiking, you need full skins,” Van De Carr said.

Full-length skins run about $150. Half-length versions are about $75.

Equipment rentals also are available. Demos without skins are free for the first day at Backdoor Sports. A telemark setup at Ski Haus is $28.50 a day, and skins are $7 to rent. AT setups also should be available to rent from Ski Haus soon.

“For the first time, we’re renting Alpine touring gear. We got enough interest for the first time to bring in a full run of skis,” Stoller said. “We’ve also been selling a lot of AT gear.”

There’s no shortage of places for residents and visitors to go, though even with ample early season snow, not all terrain is ready or safe.

Mount Werner likely is the most popular.

“I went up Monday and we skied Hurricane with snow up to your thigh,” Stoller said.

Ski area officials discourage hiking the mountain and advise those who do to be wary of all the work going on there in preparation for Opening Day.

“We’re encouraging people to stay off the mountain. We have so much going on in anticipation of Opening Day,” ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said. “We have avalanche work and snowmaking going on. Groomers are out and about. We highly encourage people to stay off the trails to avoid mishaps when they encounter machinery.”

Arno Swabey, eager for his first Steamboat Springs winter, logged his first two days telemarking on Rabbit Ears Pass, skiing from the West Summit parking lot on a seven-mile loop.

It left him sweaty, exhausted and eager for more.

“It’s great,” Swabey said. “It’s a good workout. It’s definitely a different kind of hiking.”

Van De Carr, meanwhile, said he has plenty of favorites, from Hahn’s Peak to Sand Mountain. High on his list this year, though, will be an even more traditional hike.

“I always like to go up Emerald, and it should just be fantastic this year,” he said. “They did all that logging up there, so there should be a ton of new terrain to try out.”

Thanks to a steady stream of customers in his shop, the tell-tale streaks on the mountain and good old Steamboat common sense, he was well aware he wouldn’t be alone.

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