Steamboat Ski Area celebrates 50th anniversary
In many ways, the first 50 years of Steamboat Ski Area can be distilled to a collection of memorable days spent skiing deep powder.
Glorious days spent carving up perfectly packed snow in the sunshine are uplifting, but aren’t the days that find a permanent place in the frontal cortex of our brains the really big powder days?
Tom Barr, better known locally as T Barr, is easily the most photographed skier in the first 50 years of Steamboat Ski Area. A veteran ski instructor who also taught the first-ever snowboard lesson at Steamboat, T Barr also is one of the most stylish skiers you’ll ever see.
His most memorable powder day was spent on a snowboard, and it was a short one — the powder day, not the board. After one screaming run down Tornado in January 1996, T Barr shut it down because he knew it never could get any better.
“It’s not about quantity,” Barr said. “It’s about quality.”
Some monster powder days are just that — one-day events that sneak up on skiers and riders. Take, for example, Feb. 20, 2012, when the all-time record 24-hour snowfall of 27 inches was burned into the minds of everyone who was free to ski on that Monday in an otherwise forgettable snow year.
However, many of the biggest powder days of the past 50 years came in the midst of multiday storms, when the snow was piling up faster that skiers and groomers could do anything about it. It’s at that point that the skiing, and the snow, begins to feel bottomless.
Just last month, Steamboat Ski Area enjoyed a very productive storm cycle. In the four-day stretch of Dec. 16 to 19, 37 inches accumulated at midmountain and 47 inches piled up on Storm Peak. But there have been longer storm cycles — storms that seemed like they never would end.
For anyone around in the early 1980s, November and December 1983 never can be forgotten. That was the season of 40 days and 40 nights, when measurable snow fell in every 12-hour period. Yes, that was a storm cycle that would have caused Noah to take action. When the sun finally came out during the first week of January, the spruce trees above 9,500 feet on Mount Werner looked like druids wearing white cloaks.
However, the greatest snow cycle of all, at least in the past 20 years, lasted virtually the entire month of January 1996, when Steamboat set its all-time monthly snow total of 216.5 inches. There were days that month when certain black diamond runs were not steep enough to ski on the narrow sticks relied upon in those days.
T Barr was smart enough to be snowboarding on the day of days.
“That one day, I can still remember it,” Barr said. “It was the fourth day in a string of five double-digit power days. I got up there early enough to get one of the first three or four chairs on Storm Peak.
“There was nothing to do but strap it on and go straight down underneath the lift line, and people were hooting and hollering at me. I get to the bottom of Tornado, and it was so good, I said, ‘I’m going back to work.’”
An hour later, he had a brush in his hand and was painting a house — with a big, snow-eating grin on his face.