Steamboat Springs, CO, Mar. 19, 2001--The powder was knee-high, the sky was a deep Colorado blue and the Volant fat skis made it incredibly easy to handle the rolling terrain of Buffalo Pass Wilderness.
At the end of the run, one of 18 I would manage that day, awaited a heated snowcat outfitted with bottled water, power bars and R.E.M. pumping over the stereo. A relentlessly friendly driver and two guides loaded my skis and those of my eight fellow skiers and riders, who ranged in age from 11 to 50. The sun shone through the skylight cab of the snowcat, a refreshing change from the claustrophobic cats of old. Then we were off, heading for the next stash of powder in the 10,000 acre Medicine Bow National Forest at Buffalo Pass Wilderness, which reputedly has the largest snowfall in Colorado, close to 600 inches a year.
Welcome to Blue Sky West, snowcat skiing brought into the 21st century just 20 minutes from Steamboat Springs, CO.
Two years ago, a young entrepreneur named Toby Hemmerling took over the old-time snowcat operation of Jupiter Jones, who'd been running snowcats in the Steamboat area for years. Hemmerling bought some modern heated cats, hired personable guides who were expert backcountry skiers and PSIA certified, and introduced a four-level ability system of snowcat ski trips.
"We're one of the only snowcat operations that caters to high intermediates," Hemmerling says. There's usually three cats out every day and that four level system means that beginners aren't holding anyone up. Mine was a level one trip and typically, a level one skier is a blue/black skier who's not comfortable with trees. Level two, which comprises the largest number of clients, takes skiers to gladed areas. Level three brings tight trees. Level four skiers, says Hemmerling, "should be able to jump 30-footers." So although there's plenty of skiing for the triple-A high testosterone bunch, my recent trip emphasized fun, not scoring points.
With safety paramount, BSW equipped each of us with an avalanche beacon, a shovel and a probe. But the company specializes in service akin to that found at Aspen or Beaver Creek. Lunch is no exception, guests enjoy a multi-course sit-down meal in a charming mountain cabin that Hemmerling renovated.
Hemmerling recently took stewardship of Stagecoach Mountain, 30 minutes from Steamboat. This moribund ski mountain with a variety of cut trails is quickly evolving into a dedicated snowcat mountain. In limited use this season, Hemmerling plans to have Stagecoach running snowcat ski and snowshoe trips with a cabin available for meals and overnight lodging.
Normally, Blue Sky West comes with a price tag of $300 per person per day. But this spring brings a deal when Blue Sky West pairs up with Moving Mountains Chalet, a full-service European-style catered chalet on the mountain at Steamboat Springs. Run by two Brits and an American, Robin and Heather Craigen and Kevin West, the six-bedroom home offers a hot tub and most meals. Heather, trained at Cordon Bleu in London, prepares delicious family style meals like grilled duck a la Kevin, with sage, thyme and goat cheese served on polenta cakes.
The package, available from April 16-30, includes a three-night stay at Moving Mountains Chalet, two dinners, three breakfasts and ground transportation from Hayden Airport. The skiing/boarding consists of two days of backcountry spring skiing by snowcat with Blue Sky West, including the gourmet lunch served at the mid-mountain cabin. The package includes the use of backcountry safety equipment and Volant Powder skis or B-Line Snowboards. Based on a minimum of four people, double occupancy, the rates begin at $595 per person.
Blue Sky West
Moving Mountains Chalet
For an apres ski massage or Watsu (floating water massage) Call:
Strawberry Park Hot Springs