A Ski Holiday To Colorado and Touring In Utah, March 2001 Part 1
By John and Trudy Lymer
Skiing in America is something we like to do every other year. A fortnight there costs about the same as two separate weeks in Europe and accommodation and service tends to be much better. By European standards, lift tickets have got very pricey though, at around $56 per day (about £210 for 6 days).
We'd fancied Winter Park in Colorado for a while; it's 70-odd miles from Denver, so easier than many resorts to get to. We combined it with Steamboat Springs, where we'd skied 10 years ago, at the same time as a Club trip there, but unlike previous trips, we settled on a bit of touring in Utah, to round off the holiday after the skiing was done. The following is a bit of information about the skiing, which may help if you're planning a similar trip and another article will follow about the touring round.
We booked the holiday through a small company who are very helpful in tailoring holidays to your needs, without necessarily costing a packet. Flights, car hire and 10 nights accommodation in ski resorts were all pre-booked, but not the last 4 nights stay.
We flew Manchester to Chicago and then on to Denver. A delay to the first flight stretched the already long door-to-door journey time from 19 to 22 hours. Although close to Denver, Winter Park requires you to negotiate the 11,300 feet Berthoud Pass, which lies between (there's skiing at Berthoud Pass as well as Winter Park, but we didn't manage to sample it). Not ideal in a snowstorm, in the dark, driving an automatic on the right and all after 22 hours travelling! To add to that, the first 30 miles of inter-state from the airport has about 40 junctions, which is something else we wouldn't have expected compared to our motorways. Somehow we coped, but arrived after midnight when the streets were deserted. Finding the accommodation was harder still, but we won't go into that!
Winter Park, which is unique in being owned by the city of Denver, is rather spread out, but has a population of only a few thousand. There are enough bars and restaurants for variety during a short stay, but not very many shops. The skiing is about 3 miles away by free shuttle bus that runs often. Various bus routes ensure service close to all accommodation. You can also drive and park quite close.
We were surprised to find that any runs harder than blue didn't seem to be pisted, so these were nearly all moguls. The same seemed to be true in Steamboat Springs, though we couldn't recall it being like that from our previous trip. Mile after mile of moguls is heaven to me, but may be hell to some ..... and maybe my knees would agree with that for a little while yet! Several double black diamond runs require a long traverse from the top of the system and when I set my mind to doing them the chair was always shut through high wind. The other remaining double blacks were also shut, because of rocks, but this was probably over-cautious. The high elevation ensured light snow (and sunshine and cloud, but never really poor visibility) every day or two, which kept conditions good, especially on the bowl at the top, or amongst the trees. The base snow depth was reckoned to be 78" and the Instructor for Trudy's "bumps"; lesson alleged that ice is unheard of - nice if it's true. If you're minded to tick runs off one by one, you could probably do most of what you'd want in Winter Park after about 4 days, but it does offer a good range for intermediates and advanced alike. If you dislike moguls, you'd be limited to mostly blues and greens and may be a bit disappointed. We weren't. Uphill transport is all chair lifts, mostly quad and fairly quick. Mountain restaurants are good and lunch is typically £5 to £7, but probably for more than you get in France.
Steamboat Springs is 100 miles from Winter Park. This was an easy 2-hour drive and after checking into the next hotel, we were on the slopes by 11.00am the same day.
The lower elevation meant more typical spring skiing conditions than the better snow we'd had at Winter Park, but not unexpected for the last week in March. "Spring Break" (half-term) in America varies from area to area, but some, including Denver, have the 3rd week in March. Most are later, so a trip starting 2nd week in March may be a good time. Again, Steamboat can be skied out in perhaps 3 days, if you're minded to. This ski area is a bit smaller than Winter Park (despite the statistics), but the town is larger, nicer and not just a resort - originally more of a cowboy town. Downtown is 3 miles from the skiing, but shuttle buses are frequent and queues are orderly - a revelation if you're used to skiing in Europe and have never tried the States. Steamboat has one gondola and all other lifts are chairs. The double-black "chutes" are quite steep and vary from sheer to very mogully.
We'd purposefully chosen a "full-size" car, so we didn't have to pay a daily extra for a ski rack. As it turned out, no "full-size" cars with folding rear seats were available and we settled for a "mid-size" and a refund. "Mid-size" turned out to be a Pontiac Grand Am 2.4 litre, which is a bit bigger than a Ford Cougar/Mondeo, so no great squeeze! A lot of car for £90 per week. With petrol at £1.25 a gallon, our 1100 miles cost less than £45 and it was about £14 to fill up.
Motels in America can be excellent quality and value, with large double rooms typically costing $40 to $50, especially if you phone ahead using "toll-free" numbers. That way you're in a stronger bargaining position. En-suite facilities and TV are standard and many at these prices have heated pools as well.
We followed the skiing at Steamboat with a 6-hour drive to Moab in South East Utah for some sightseeing and a bike ride. More of that in another issue ......
Cont/d ....(next issue)