By Tess Weaver Strokes
All ski season, we’ve been telling ourselves how lucky we are. We live in a Colorado town at 8,000 feet with four ski areas that have remained open through this pandemic-plagued winter. My first grader has mostly been in school, and in ski club most Sundays. We have skied almost every Saturday, teacher work day and early release day. And we’ve felt grateful for each lift-accessed run. But after four months of skiing the same tree trails, launching the same jumps and lapping the same groomers, we’re ready for a change of scenery.
A Mom-Son Adventure
Granted a short school week, we planned a mid-week mom-son ski trip to a Colorado resort we had never visited in winter: Steamboat. My son Hagen invited his lifelong buddy, Henry (and I invited Henry’s mom, Layne). We packed the SUV with alpine skis, Nordic skis, a cooler of kid-friendly food, board games, and important stuff, like a jump rope and a pogo stick. The boys were beyond excited to be in booster seats within arm shot of each other, leaving familiarity and routine behind. We left right after school (and rapid-result COVID-19 tests), drove through scenic Glenwood Canyon and some of Colorado’s picturesque ranching land, arriving in Steamboat Springs before a beautiful sunset.
We pulled into the Steamboat Grand, filled a luggage cart, and the boys raced to push the elevator button then fought over who would open the room with the magic card. Our condo connected two rooms with a common living area and offered plenty of space to play, a cozy gas fireplace and a full kitchen. We were grateful for the dinner (and wine) we packed, which meant we didn’t have to leave our new home away from home—or change into anything other than pajamas. We cooked up a condo feast, dined at the large dining table and enjoyed a relaxing start to the trip.
Kid-Friendly Runs at Steamboat
The following morning was a perfect, bluebird Colorado day. We walked across the street to the base area, and, thanks to our Ikon Passes, hopped right in line, avoiding the ticket window. We loaded the Christie Peak Express, where the boys immediately scoped the Lil’ Rodeo Park, Steamboat’s entry-level park with small boxes, jumps, and the Mini Mav’s Pipe (and the Outlaw Mountain Coaster—yep, we rode it, and it was awesome). Of course, we had to nab first tracks in the park before moving on.
We worked our way looker’s left, climbing sub peaks on our way to the top of Morningside Park, a 200-acre bowl-like area of intermediate cruisers and tree-skiing terrain on the backside of Mt. Werner (accessible from the top of Sunshine Peak or Storm Peak). After unloading off Morningside Lift, our brave seven-year-olds dropped into the steep chutes on the frontside, navigating the trees and rocks like pros.
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Next, we made our way up Storm Peak and over to Sunshine Peak. News to me, Steamboat is a complete mountain range comprised of Mount Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Pioneer Ridge, and Christie Peak. In all, 2,965 acres of terrain. Would we get to it all in three days?
We knew we had to hit Rolex today, a steep groomer recommended to us by a local. The runs on Sunshine Peak are named for the hour of the day when they receive sun (High Noon, One O’Clock, Two O’Clock and Three O’Clock). But Rolex is named for its high-quality, fall-line pitch. We would end up skiing the run every day in every condition, from perfect corduroy to seven inches of fresh snow. Back on Thunderhead Peak, we found the ideal trail for the day’s last lap: Heavenly Daze—a football-field wide running straight under the gondola, then the mini race course adjacent to Maverick’s Halfpipe.
Post-Ski Day Relaxation
Our après-ski adventure was a trip to Strawberry Hot Springs, one of the springs for which the town is named (one spring once sounded like a steamboat steam engine). The boys ran through mud puddles as we approached the idyllic setting: rustic thermal pools (ranging from 101-106 degrees) built from stone and surrounded by aspen and fir trees. I immediately fell in love with the place, as did the boys. After the bizarre school year and ski season, soaking in that therapeutic water truly offered a moment of pure bliss.
Visiting a Steamboat Legend
We were on our way to downtown Steamboat for our one dinner out (delicious Mexican food at Salt and Lime), but we got a hot tip from a local ski coach that 30 minutes remained of junior ski jump practice. My “Eddie the Eagle” fan was thrilled. We beelined it to Howelsen Hill Ski Area, the oldest continuously operated ski area in North America that has sent more skiers to international competition than any other area in North America and the home of the continent’s most complete natural ski jumping complex.
At 5:45 p.m., the high-powered lights showcased a winter sports paradise. The best young alpine skiers in the country competed in a slalom race, the Nordic team raced by on the track, the freestyle skiers practiced with the airbag, the snowboarders sessioned a mini park and pint-sized ski jumpers flew off jumps of varying size. It’s no wonder they call this place Ski Town, U.S.A.
Raising Powder Hounds
The following morning a storm moved in. We decided to let the snowflakes stack up, teaching the boys the art of the afternoon storm shred. We drove down the road to the Haymaker Nordic Center for a loop on the golf course turned cross-country ski area. The snow was falling harder, and it was time to go powder skiing.
After lunch, we enjoyed walk-on gondolas and boot-deep powder turns until last chair. The trees to the right of High Noon were a Henry-and-Hagen favorite, as was aptly named White Out, under the Burgess Creek lift. We finished the day on Why Not, a three-mile-long green run that meanders through the forest and offers fun short cuts between switchbacks. That night we enjoyed the pool at the Steamboat Grand, ordered pizza from Brick and challenged each other at chess.
Taking it All In
You couldn’t have dreamed up a better ski day for our final day. Blue skies in every direction, fresh snow and not a breath of wind. Even the boys knew we were incredibly lucky.
We headed straight to Bashor, the double chair that accesses everything a seven-year-old skier could want: a mogul course, a halfpipe, a race course, an untouched face of fresh boot-top powder, a “cliff” with a perfect landing and an outdoor pizza restaurant at the base of it all. We scored three laps before we saw anyone’s tracks but our own. It felt like our own private ski area. The boys reveled in their independence, loading the double chair on their own and choosing their own adventure each lap.
Sure, Steamboat might be one of the top five biggest ski areas in Colorado (with plans of a 355-acre expansion), but we found everything we needed right here. When you ski with kids who are enjoying themselves so thoroughly, it really is as good as scoring powder turns for yourself. At one point, Henry exclaimed: “This is the best day of my life!”
A Steamboat Mom-Son Trip to Remember
On the drive home, I looked back at the boys shuffling through a stack of tourist brochures they took from the hotel lobby, swapping stories about Steamboat like they were longtime locals. They loved the place so much, they asked us if Steamboat had a college. I thought back on the three days we shared and couldn’t believe how much we’d experienced, shared and bonded. After almost a year of socially distanced life, it felt incredibly satisfying to share a condo, meals and chairlifts. I wasn’t sure what I’d remember most fondly: the boys’ palpable stoke while discovering a new mountain, the relaxing soak in healing waters, hearing the whoops of both moms and kids on a powder run, watching my son’s eyes light up seeing ski jumpers his age fly into the air or enjoying cozy condo time and board games by the fire.
Ski trips with kids feel special every ski season, but especially so this year. There’s no better sport for bringing together friends and family, enjoying time outside and reconnecting while building lasting memories. We can’t wait to plan our next mom-son Ikon adventure, though next year we might have a hard time keeping up.
About the Author: Tess Weaver Strokes is part of the Ikon Pass content team. She is a freelance writer and editor based in Aspen, Colorado. A former Powder editor, Tess has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Outside, Deseret News, Backcountry, SKI, Surfer and more.