Reviewed by Eugene Buchanan
Nov 06, 2008
Just 25 miles north of the historic mining town of Durango, Colorado.
Unlike many resorts in the area, enjoy free parking and a shuttle to the base of the hill. Get there early for first tracks—the bus runs starting at 6:30 a.m.
Mary Jane—named for a mining-era lady of the night—and its sister area, Winter Park, offer plenty of prospects for good skiing, including bumps and powder-filled bowls. Forming one of the closest major resorts to Denver, the two areas spread across five mountains and 3,078 acres. Add 3,060 feet of vertical, 30 feet of snowfall, and a direct train from Denver and it’s no wonder why the Front Range packs the place on Saturdays.
The term “champagne powder” was coined in Steamboat Springs, and the town boasts more Winter Olympians (63) than anywhere else in the country. Coincidence? No, sirree. The two big hills (Mount Werner and Storm Peak) gather some of the fluffiest, most consistent snowfall in the state, like this year’s 105 inches in 11 days. Sure, few slopes plunge steeper than 30 degrees, but the whole resort is far enough from the Front Range to discourage Denver day-trippers, and the mountain’s aspen and pine groves offer some of the world’s best tree skiing.
Must Hit: From the top of the Morningside lift, point ’em down Chute 1, a 30-degree, 40-foot-wide funnel with a natural tabletop jump at bottom left. Afterward, booty-shake through the sparse trees of Flying Z, or traverse skier’s left to Tornado.
The Stash: Upper and Lower Valley View let you beeline from the top of the gondola to the base. Link GS turns above the winding Yampa River—one of the last free-flowing tributaries of the Colorado. —2,000 feet below.
Thigh-deep: Hike five minutes from the top of Storm Peak lift to west- and north-facing Gates A through D, which, at 30-plus degrees, offer the steepest and deepest (often thigh-deep) lines on the mountain.
Breakfast: Stuff one of Gondola Joe’s gargantuan egg burritos in your pocket; then snack on the ride up before your first run. You’ll have nine minutes to eat and digest.
Local’s Tip: The fish creek sneak. Follow a local leader into Fish Creek, but be prepared for a 25-minute sidestep out. Thankfully, a new track lets you avoid roller-coaster-bumpy Whoopee Ridge, spitting you out on BC Skiway.
Strip and soak: Not into the party scene? Get naked (after dark) at Strawberry Park Hot Springs ($10; strawberryhotsprings.com), seven miles north of town.
Powder Day: From the gondola, traverse east to White Out and warm up on low-angle powder bumps before riding the Storm Peak Express to the summit. Head to Closet (pines) and Shadows (aspens), dropping 2,000 powdery feet.
Three Days Later: Triangle 3, off the Storm Peak lift, gets pleasantly wind-loaded. Milk the moderate, double-fall-line pitch back toward the lift, and then hit the trees between Twister and Hurricane.
Park and Pipe: Detune your edges in the entry-level Sobe Terrain Park, 12 acres of jibs and airs below the Bashor lift. Then boost over Mavericks, North America’s longest superpipe.
Backcountry Access: The Fish Creek area, accessible via Gate D at the top of the Pony Express lift, offers 2,500 vertical of north-facing steepness—like the 100-foot-high cliffs in Boulder Garden and the gaping drainage of Endless Gully. Check out
geosurvey.state.co.us/avalanche/ for conditions.
Weather: Fluff-loaded systems from the Pacific bump against Steamboat, dump, and then funnel up Fish Creek, where they unleash more pent-up powder. Follow the weather in the Northwest, and come when it’s storming there.
Après: Binge like a local on half-price nachos ($3.50) and beer at Dos Amigos, near the Christie Lift in Ski Times Square.
Fuel: Grab the first gondola (be there by 8:15), then down a Bloody Mary or mocha and an egg burrito at The Stoker, a few steps from the loading dock, before your first run.
Up All Night: Check out the free Bud Light Concert Series, held Saturdays from February 5 through March 25 at the base of the gondola.
Digs: The Snow Flower Lodge, adjacent to the base, has studio condos starting at $185 (snowflower.net). Otherwise, stay off-mountain at the Western-kitsch-heavy Ranch on nearby Ranch Road ($275; three-night minimum; ranch-steamboat.com).