So this ski season’s adventure found us sampling snow in four states, and at 5 different ski areas. For the most part we did it on the cheap in our 34 year old Alaskan Cabover camper. We would have extended our ski adventure had it not been for some necessary repairs, namely brakes, (and Paul’s back) that needed to be repaired/replaced.
We began this new year (literally) at our home mountain, Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes California. We were spoiled with blue bird days and wide open runs, devoid of crowds. The coverage was not at its zenith, but it would do as a “warm up” and to break in Paul’s new skis (Rustler 10).
With the exception of a “kindling” incident, wherein I nearly severed a significant portion of my thumb, this 8 day thigh burner was excellent.
The St. George “Vortex”
Our plan was to return home, stock up the camper and head for Utah. Numerous and necessary snow storms delayed our leaving till the beginning of February. This timing proved perfect, as by chance, friends from Florida were going to be skiing for a week at Park City the same time we expected to be up there, skiing at Deer Valley. Of course, we had to make it through what we now call the “St. George Vortex”. I swear, eververy time we travel through the St. George Utah area something obscure befalls our vehicle…and always just after the sun has set. It is the Bermuda Triangle of auto repair for us. Last year it was the relay switch for the headlights failing…at dark, in the middle of the Virgin Gorge area. This past Fall, on our way to our Wyoming deer hunt, we had another part failure. This happened while driving on a Forest Service road, looking for a place to camp just as the sun was setting…again, just outside of St. George. This time it was the oil pressure sensor.
Skating our way along
As we drove through St. George, we held our breath. To our great surprise we made it through, unscathed. We wondered if our “luck” had changed. NOPE! In fact, just outside of Provo, as we weaved our way towards Heber City, we had a “close encounter” with a ditch and center divider. As “luck” would have it, and just after the sun had set, it began to snow as we wound our way up highway 189 toward the Deer Creek reservoir.
Cars were racing past us as we meandered at a gingerly 40mph on the now increasingly slick roadway. Suddenly, having just come out of a relatively benign curve, all four tires broke free from any form of traction. We found ourselves drifting toward the center divider. Paul tapped the brakes and turned us ever so slightly away from the divider. Our truck corrected and then reoriented our trajectory towards the mountain bank, which was preferable, until I saw that unless we came to a stop, we were destined to drop off into a 3 foot deep ditch…crushing my side. “NO, Not the ditch!”, I yelled. Paul then yanked the wheel to the left. Phew! No ditch, but now were headed once again directly into the center divider. Our slide’s speed had yet to change, which meant that a head on collision into the center divider was NOT going to be pretty, especially if our impact protruded into the opposite direction’s traffic lanes. Paul tapped the brakes again. This changed our orientation and put us now parallel to the center divider, but now facing oncoming traffic with my door now headed for impact with the center divider. As we (me) braced for impact, the truck miraculously came to halt, a mere two inches from the guard rail of the center divider. We breathed a momentary sigh of relief, only to realize that we were now fully stopped, in the fast lane, facing the WRONG direction!
We already know that for the most part, our guardian angles (we need two…or more) have to work waaay too hard. This time was NO exception. Throughout this “skating” interlude, that played in slow motion for us, not a single car (in either direction) was on the inky dark roadway. Just previous to this event, the road was packed for the most part. No sooner did we pull off to the right (our left now), but traffic repopulated the roadway. Of course they must have been somewhat perplexed seeing a truck on the side of the road with its headlights pointed in the wrong direction. We, on the other hand, were cognizant of the miracle that had just occurred. We gave appropriate thanks and after several minutes, reoriented the truck in the proper direction. So, maybe its not St George. It’s Utah that is our “vortex”.
Three years ago when we skied Deer Valley, we were able to camp at Jordanelle State Park. That option dried up this year not because of Covid restrictions, but because the year’s previous campers had abused the facilities and it just wasn’t worth to the staff to keep it open anymore for winter en route camping by the boat launch. Not to fear, as there were two private campground/RV parks still available at relatively low rates. We had previously stayed at the Mountain Valley RV park just outside of Heber City, but chose the River’s Edge RV Park and Campground, as it was closer to our destination of Park City. Again our luck carried us through as we got their last site! For $25, we had electricity, with a bathroom (complete with hot showers) nearby. We stayed there for two nights, until we discovered that you can get away with parking overnight at the Park City Walmart. (Shhhhhhh. Be very very quiet.)
As we expected, skiing at Deer Valley, even in snowy conditions was fabulous. The runs, with a sensuous coating of perfect snow, made for near effortless skiing. The beauty of Deer Valley is the absence of snowboarders, the perfectly groomed runs and the helpful and cheery staff. Here we skied for 2 days with our son and his newly proposed to, fiancé. We also dined and watched the Super Bowl with our friends Josh and April, who were out from Florida. We would have liked to have stayed longer, but Big Sky Montana was calling, and besides we needed to save a couple days at Deer Valley when Josh and April were back in another month with their kids.
Hotel prices and camping during the apex of Winter in Montana, specifically at Big Sky prohibited us from staying specifically in Big Sky. Instead, we met our son and his soon to be bride in the ridiculously cold town of Bozeman Montana. Interestingly enough, it is the “fastest growing Micropolitan Statistical Area in the United States”. This means that for the last three years, people have purposely been moving to Bozeman. With the exception of the cold, I can see why people would move here. You have skiing, hiking, fishing, hunting, river rafting and several National Parks nearby. Everything an outdoorsman craves. On top of that you have a quaint downtown area and one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at in a long time (and Not because of COvid). Sidewinders American Grill had the atmosphere, the food and libations, all modestly priced. It is a must visit for anyone traveling through/to Bozeman. Where else in the world can you find perfectly cooked bacon wrapped (local beef) meatloaf?
Did I mention how cold this place was? For the four of us, this was the coldest we have ever experienced. One night it got down to -22°. Even the insulation of our Alaskan camper could not protect my coveted Frescas and a stowed bottle of wine from escaping their sealed aluminum and glass containers. (The Frescas exploded and the wine froze into a slushy that forced the cork out of the bottle…and oozed all over the bottom of our pantry)
Our lodging in Bozeman was 45 miles southwest of Big Sky and required a little over an hour daily drive to and from Big Sky via the US 191 (Gallatin Rd.). This two lane, well maintained, road parallels the Gallatin River. With our son driving his 4WD truck, this allowed us to sip our coffee and enjoy the view in its wintery splendor from the comforts of the back seat…provided we didn’t fog up and ice over our passenger windows whilst staring too close to the glass.
When they say Big Sky, they mean Big Sky. The 250 runs spanned a multitude of crested mountains (three to be exact) within nearly 6,000 skiable acres. The days averaged single digits…but it was beautiful! We lucked out with our first two days of skiing in mostly bluebird conditions. Colder than I ever thought I would willingly tolerate, but probably the best snow and terrain I have EVER skied. The staff at the Big Sky Resort was great, and was the only ski area (this year) that allowed its patrons inside to warm up…masked up, of course. It didn’t hurt that the main high speed lift, the RAMCHARGER, had heated seats, either! We would have stayed longer, but our third day was SO Brutally cold (-11° and that was the “high” for the day…without the wind chill factor), that we, and most everybody only lasted a couple hours before we couldn’t keep ourselves warm enough to enjoy the snow.
Had there not been another polar vortex mega snow storm pegged to arrive the next afternoon, we would have stayed a couple more days to finish out our 5 days of access with our Ikon Base Passes. Ideally we would have liked to have head back to Utah and ski the Cottonwood Canyon areas (Snowbird/Alta/Brighton/Solitude) but the vortex was specifically headed there. Turns out it was a good decision as avalanche conditions did not dissipate for several days following that artic blast.
We, instead escaped to Buffalo Wyoming, and hid from the storm and “cold” for a day and a half. It is here that we also came across a quaint, extremely busy and fantastic coffee shop, appropriately named “The Fix“. If you are ever in/near Buffalo Wyoming, and “jonesing” for good coffee and/or a specialty drink, this is the place to visit. From there we headed to Colorado. Steamboat Springs to be specific.
Martha is a Bitch
For some reason my route mapping app (we “lovingly” call Martha) likes to send us off in obscure and circuitous routes that often portend “white knuckle” adventures while driving. Our “prescribed” route from Buffalo Wyoming to Steamboat Springs was no exception. Martha initially prescribed a very “direct” route. The I-25 South towards Casper with a turn off on State Hwy 257 to State Hwy 220 that intersects with US-287 South, which then takes you to Rawlins. From Rawlins head West on I-80 with a turn onto WY-789 S that becomes CO-13 once you cross the Colorado border, which takes you to the I-40 east and into Steamboat Springs. This was supposed to be a 6 hour drive. 14 hours later, we were NOT in Steamboat Springs.
Everything was flowing smoothly…until we turned off the I-25. State Hwy 257 was two-lane, but well traveled. We expected the same for the WY-220 and the US-287, both of which we have traveled upon before. Problem was, even though the sun was shining brightly, it was winter and the wind was blowing like, well, Wyoming. Within 20 minutes of being on WY-220 patches and stretches of iced over road became more frequent, which resulted in “white knuckle” driving. We had already survived one “skating” adventure, and in this more remote part of the country we did not want a repeat of that, and test our luck…again. With another 2 hours left on this road, we turned around, back to the I-25 and a reroute. Martha was “pissed”. The I-80 West was closed from Cheyenne to Rawlins, because of an accident. Cars were “parked” on the I-80 for miles. When we pulled into the Sinclair in Kaycee to fill up and ask if there was any “work-around” to Rawlins, we were told, “You could take the 220 to the 287, but no one with half a mind takes the 220 this time of the year”. Like I said, Martha is a bitch.
Our only path to Steamboat Springs, now entailed continuing on I-25 to Colorado’s scenic Hwy 14 (Poudre Canyon Rd). This 40 mile twisty-serpentine, scenic canyon drive, while beautiful, was exhausting. Add snow and a setting sun with a max speed of 40mph, and you have a never ending drive. But according to Martha, we would be in Steamboat Springs in less than two hours. Everything was progressing smoothly, with an 8pm arrival to our reserved hotel room in Steamboat Springs, until…it began to snow…ever so lightly.
This was NOT supposed to happen till the next day. WTF! No worries, we were a mere 26 miles to the I-40, that would take us into Steamboat. The snowfall increased, and we found ourselves driving in 6 inches of fresh snow. With the visibility morphing towards a white-out, and the snow getting deeper, once again, we turned around. Another two hours later, we found ourselves in Fort Collins, at a Best Western under renovations, smelling of fresh paint. Did I mention that the heater in our truck had stopped working? Fun times.
From Fort Collins, (even though Martha wanted to route us via the 14-(Poudre Canyon)… again), we took the I-25 to the I-70 that ran us into the I-40. I was an easy and uneventful drive. We were glad to do it during daylight hours, and were glad of our decision to turn around once we saw the snow/ice on the I-40 into Steamboat.
I one thing about Steamboat, is that the ability to “stealth” camp and/or park at their Walmart parking lot, or any lot for that matter with a full-size truck/camper is a non-starter. For one, it is NOT allowed. And two, who wants to drive in the snow? Hence our reservation at the Quality Inn.
I gotta say, Steamboat Springs is a well oiled machine. They have got public transportation, especially to the mountain, down to a science. Why would anyone ever try and drive up to the resort (proper) and park?
We hit the early bus, that just happened to stop just outside the Quality Inn (of which we were staying) and drop us off at the front steps of the Steamboat Resort. Somehow, however, I thought the mountain would be bigger. Maybe it was because of all the stories of, and pictures I had seen about skiing Steamboat.
It felt like we were at Disneyland or something. Color-coded bus stops. People bustling about. Visitors carrying bags filled with Steamboat embolized gear. And CROWDS! Yes. Crowds! One would have thought we had arrived during a holiday or spring break. Nope it was just COVID, and not a single kid was in school, or adult was at work. Unlike Big Sky, Steamboat did not have any place to retreat to warm up. They had even turned off the warm hand dryers in the restrooms…to apparently keep germs from “circulating”. This didn’t dissuade people from storming the mountain to ski though. We were amazed at how many rental skis were on the mountain.
We were glad we hit the mountain early, for as the day progressed, the weather continued to degrade, but the crowds continued to grow. The runs however, were awesome until a cloud descended and made visibility as dangerous as driving in the fog on a busy highway. We skied three days here, and made sure to hit the mountain first thing in the morning. This is unusual for us, in that we normally wait till later in the morning to ski our home mountain (Mammoth) so that those “early birds” can soften up the frozen crust of our “Sierra Cement”.
Not necessary here in wonderful Colorado where the snow is GLORIOUS! Sparkly, champagne, dry and lofty snow. Even though a cloud descended on the mountain each day…and it snowed, we skied each day until we had had “enough”. By the time we were “gassed”, the crowds had gotten to the point of annoyance, and trying to rewarm ourselves had become futile. All in all it was an enjoyable few days.
Along with Big Sky, Steamboat is on our return list for next season. Hopefully everyone will be back at work, and kids will be in school.
Where to Next?
In Colorado we had four other ski areas to choose from with our Ikon Base Pass. Where to ski next was an impossible decision, until we heard that one of our hunting buddies (Kenny) was going to be skiing in Breckenridge for the week. While we weren’t going to ski Breckenridge, we could ski nearby Copper Mountain, and meet up with him for dinner.
To be continued…IKON-ic 2021 (Part 2)