Weekend in Steamboat Springs

This past weekend we visited Steamboat Springs, about a 3 hour drive from Denver (our new home). The season’s first big snowstorm hit just as we were driving, and by the time we arrived in Steamboat, the town was socked in and blanketed in fresh snow. Beautiful. We had no plans whatsoever, we just wanted to explore the town organically and see what we could find. Below is a photo essay of our favorite things in Steamboat.

Emerald Mountain Trail System

We had our dogs with us, so we needed to find a place where they could run around, preferably off-leash. Our local friend suggested the Emerald Mountain Trail System, which is a super quick drive from 5th street in town. The system is an amazing 24 miles of non-motorized recreational trails owned by the city. It is frequently used by equestrians, bicyclists, dog walkers, and day hikers. We ran into a handful of AT skiers as well as fat tire bikers enjoying the trails. Our pups were psyched to zoom around in the snow in the below-freezing temps! Here is some info on the trail systems in Steamboat.

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Freshies Restaurant

What is better than a bloody and some eggs benny on a Saturday morning? Pretty much nothing as far as we are concerned. Freshies is a locals favorite that prides itself on fresh ingredients and dishes made from scratch (they also have a full bar). The place was jam packed when we showed up at 9 a.m. Justin sampled the Florentine Benny with grits, and I tried the delicious Croque on sourdough with grits. Yum.

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IMG_1591.JPGWe decided that when a local paper has little else to discuss than a guy riding his bike in the snow and the local food truck’s parking troubles, it’s a good town to live in.

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Dinner at Mambo Italiano

We got a recommendation to do dinner at Mambo Italiano, and man, was it good! We started off with hot mulled wine (weather was well below zero at that point!) and the Crostini Di Giorno (roasted red peppers and goat cheese, I believe).

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IMG_1628.JPGBlack Kale Salad, to share.

IMG_1630.JPGJustin won the Best Dinner Award with his Portobella Mushroom and Spinach Crespelle, an unbelievably delicious crepe stuffed with spinach and portobella mushrooms, then baked in a tomato cream sauce.

Rocket Fizz

I love cool, unique little shops, and this has got to be one of the best I’ve ever seen (it’s actually a chain – oh well). Located right on Lincoln Avenue, this shop is virtually exploding with every type of weird candy and soda you can imagine. They also have pretty awesome horse masks.

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The BARley

If you find yourself thirsty in Steamboat, definitely don’t miss The BARley. When we visited they had 30 beers on tap, including a surprising Chardonnay barrel aged farmhouse brew that was seriously awesome. Check out their lengthy beer menu here. If the proprietor, Chris, is behind the bar, don’t miss the chance to meet him. He may just let you sample one of his kitchen concoctions (we got to sample his barbeque pulled pork mac and cheese).

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Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

As a self-proclaimed chocolate snob, I nearly jumped out of a moving vehicle when I spotted this shop. Also located right on Lincoln Ave., the shop has fantastic little treats like truffles, peanut butter buckets, chocolate dipped potato chips and 16 flavors of ice cream (and obviously tons and tons of handmade chocolates).

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Aspen Botanicals

Justin randomly saw that there was an oil infusion class being taught on Saturday evening at an herb shop. So, naturally, we went. If you’ve never been to an apothecary shop, you are missing out on a whole lot of herby, oily amazingness. Suzanne Tully is the shop queen, a certified nutritional herbalist and homebirth midwife. For about two hours we talked about carrier oils, essential oils, edible oils, and made concoctions like massage oils, facial oils and herb infused olive oils. It was bliss, basically.

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Creekside Cafe & Grill

On Sunday morning, we met up with our friend Paige and her hubby for breakfast. The Creekside Cafe & Grill is a sweet little (and I mean little) joint located in 11th street beside a cute mini river running through town. Like all the sweet spots in Steamboat, this place was jammed at 9:30 (always a positive sign). We stocked up on some more eggs benny and coffee and left happy.

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Strawberry Hot Springs

This is hands down the best thing about Steamboat (besides maybe the skiing). Strawberry Hot Springs is a remote, totally unspoiled, and seriously spectacular mineral hot springs with minimal build-up. To get there in the winter, you will need a pretty hearty vehicle, as it’s located up a steep and windy snow-packed road. But man is it worth it.

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Durango & Silverton

 

A glass of Champagne at the Strater is a nice way to jump start your stay

Last weekend: Durango. Historic Old West undercurrent, vibrant downtown, dramatic views, delicious food, friendly locals, great skiing, and multiple breweries – need we say more? Gold prospectors began flocking to this beautiful area nestled in southwest Colorado’s San Juan mountains in 1860 and by 1881 it had become an official city and tourist destination. Today, the town’s historic roots are still very much a part of everyday life, right alongside the surprisingly cosmopolitan shops, restaurants and activities. The combination makes for a pretty remarkable vacation. Careful: You might end up wanting to pack it up and move there.

Our favorite things:

  • The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs year-round (half the route in winter) through the dramatic San Juans along the Animas River to the very cool, tiny mining town of Silverton. This coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive is not only for history geeks and train aficionados: the historic and breathtaking tour was named one of the world’s top ten train rides in 2009 by the Society of American Travel Writers. Check the schedule and look for seasonal specials, such as the Valentine Special Train and the Snowdown Balloon Rally Train.
  • Durango Mountain Resort, better known by its much cooler and much-more-menacing-than-necessary alias, Purgatory, sits about 20-30 minutes north of Durango on Hwy 550. This is a great mostly-intermediate mountain with lots of long, lazy blues and greens. Coupled with Durango’s 300+ days of sunshine and the outdoor seating at Purgy’s, this place is heaven for families and those who prefer a less-aggressive ski day that includes equal parts beer drinking and skiing (we’ve all had those days). Don’t be too fooled by DMR’s laid-back veneer, though: when it dumps, head over to the steep, newly-opened expert terrain off the Legends Lift (8), you won’t be too sad that you didn’t join your buddies at Silverton, I promise. There’s a limited amount of expert terrain, but they are nice long fall-line shots that, under a foot of fresh, absolutely demand your attention. There is a lot of traversing necessary to get yourself over to Lift 8 and the northwest part of the resort, so get there quick: Start with the high speed, 6-person Chair 1, not the inanely slow two person Chair 4, even though it looks more direct.
  • Expert skier or rider? Chances are you’ve heard of Silverton. Do not—repeat, do NOT—miss a chance to ski this mountain in full-winter or powder conditions. It’s pricey—$100 a day for about six laps on the 1-chairlift mountain, but you won’t stop grinning until July. In early winter, and late seasons, you can go without a guide for $50 a day, but once the mountain really fills in with snow, you’ll need to go in guided groups, so if you think you’re really slow and like to fiddle with your boots a lot, or have a hard time staying on your feet, you’ll probably be better off practicing those turns at Purgatory. The guides pretty quickly split people up into groups according to ability (and ski width). If it’s deep, bring ‘em as fat as you’ve got ‘em. 115 millimeters underfoot seems to be about average.
  • Whether you took the train in the summer or came for the skiing in the winter, stick around the breathtakingly beautiful town of Silverton (9,318 ft). There is one (literally, one) paved road, lined with historic Victorian mansions, old time saloons, curio shops and coffee shops. Not to miss: The Tasting Room at Montanya Rum Distillery on Notorious Blair Street. It’s not only the coolest hangout in town—it’s one of the top rum distilleries in North America, with a slate of sophisticated cocktails served up in a cozy, colorful (and very sweet smelling) tasting rooms that’s pretty much full of locals on any winter night. Try the Hot Montoddy – a unique twist on the classic hot buttered rum.
  • Not up for a day ripping big mountain powder? Even adults go sledding at the mellow, kid-friendly Kendall Mountain. They rent out sleds (get the Mountain Boy) for $10 per person and have a steep-as-hell track right on the ski hill, complete with a roller that can launch you clear of the track if you’re not careful. This is adult-approved sledding, and a stop at Montanya is highly recommended afterward.
  • There are lots of choices for lodging in Durango and surrounding areas, and I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that you’re absolutely bat shit crazy if you don’t stay at the Strater Hotel on Main Ave in Durango. Built at the apex of Victorian extravagance in 1887, it still stands as Durango’s most prominent downtown landmark. The authentic mahogany antique Victorian furniture is impressive to say the least – the Strater Hotel houses one of the world’s largest and finest collections of Victorian antiques in the world. Take a walk around the hotel’s elaborate hallways with a glass of wine and it’s like being in an extremely comfortable and unpretentious museum. The young staff is very friendly and helpful, although you get the distinct feeling that they would probably would rather be skiing. (That’s not a bad thing: they don’t pester you with service the way they do at other hotels; if you want to walk around the hotel hallways with a drink, checking out the amazing collection of antique photos and Western paraphernalia, they won’t hassle you). If you need a post-ski soak, be sure to reserve a spot in the hotel’s one private Jacuzzi before you get an après cocktail at the Diamond Belle Saloon downstairs, or the Office Spiritorium. I won’t go as far as to declare that the hotel is haunted, but if you have a weak heart you may want to steer clear of room 227. Just a fair warning. Though if you’d like an intimate play-by-play of the previous guests of your room, curl up and read the honeymooners, anniversary-goers, and tell-alls boasting of their lurid and laughable exploits in the rooms’ guest journals.

Outside the Strater Hotel

Standard room at the Strater

antique furniture

Suite at the Strater

Suite at the Strater

Strater lobby

Friendly staff at the Strater

Lounge area in the Strater lobby

Definitely check out the on-site Office Spiritorium (with a name like that, you’ve got to deliver) for a glass of good scotch; if you’re staying at the Strater, park yourself in the fireside leather couch and throw back a few while listening to live acoustic Johnny Cash covers. Here you can take in the eclectic mix of tourists and locals, ranging from aloof ski-bum types to extremely intoxicated 70+ year-old men with cowboy hats and moustaches. The Diamond Belle Saloon, located across the lobby from the Spiritorium, has a fantastic five-piece bluegrass band that plays every Sunday nights and the waitresses wear old timey getups that hardly cover their bums. A more lively atmosphere, especially on Saturday night.
more on the history of the Strater Hotel

The Office Spiritorium

 

Wine bar at Jean-Pierre's

Bakery and restaurant at Jean-Pierre's

Outside the Cosmo

  • Guys: Even if you don’t need a haircut, you must, must stop in and get your ears lowered at Tucson’s Barber & Styling. The always endearing proprietor, Tucson, has been there for over 30 years and has been dubbed the unofficial “Mayor of Main Street”. Have him to play a song for you on his twelve-string guitar or ask about his refurbished old Ford truck and you’ll make a new friend for life.

Tucson and his sidekick in the barbershop

Tucson singing us a song

  • Ska Brewing, located off Hwy 550 just outside of the city proper, has got to be one off the coolest breweries in existence (they just celebrated their 15th birthday). Half the charm is that it’s extremely unpretentious. It’s tiny (about 40 employees total), so don’t come with too many grand expectations. Just get a beer in the tasting room (we recommend the Ten Pin Porter, Modus Hoperandi for hops lovers, or try one of their creative seasonal concoctions), talk to the employees, and get a half-assed tour of the brewing facilities. The brew room literally smells like an animal shelter (lots of malt, hops and a floor is drenched in beer), and the scruffy staff are jamming out to some pretty obscure tunes, but the pure, unadulterated coolness of the place will win you over. So much so that you might be convinced after a beer or two that YOU could open your own brewery. Lip up, Fatty!

Ska Brewery's kick ass mailbox

The goods

The tasting room at Ska Brewery

There's beer in there

Justin and Leah sampling the latest crop

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Breckenridge

Among the ski towns along the I-70 corridor, Breckenridge is unique. It’s still feels most like an authentic Colorado town—with 150-year-old Victorians and Crafstman homes lining Main Street—and has more of a locals vibe than most other big resort towns. It has a kind of split personality — half mega-resort, half laid back ski bum retreat. Most of the skiers seem like locals—especially out back by the new Imperial chair—and many have evening jobs in town, judging by how empty the slopes get around 2 p.m. The town is the one place in the area besides Vail where you can find nightlife.

In December, downtown is on fire. Main Street is completely covered in Christmas lights, lending the snow-packed street and its perfectly made-up Victorian shops the feel of an oasis after a long drive. Half the town—Main Street—is an authentic hold-out against the forces of big resortdom—small shops, friendly locals, post-card-perfect streets, and character. The other half, up Ski Hill Road, feels like the full-scale full-convenience resorts that Vail Corporation specializes in. The two go well together – walking on Main Street still feels like a walk through small-town, old-time Colorado, and the North Face, Patagonia, and Spyder concept stores don’t feel that out of place.

One thing the town is noticeably lacking in town is good mid-range food. There are a number of high-end restaurants (Modis, Relish, etc), a few grungy or sportsbar-slash-ski-bum spots (Rasta Pasta, the always bustling Eric’s pizza and sports bar, and a few others). But we walked the length of Main Street several times looking for a spot with good energy, good food, and good dark beer. We found it at the Breckenridge Brewery & Pub. Full rack of baby back ribs, with the dry rub and a side of BBQ sauce, plus an Outmeal Stout and a Christmas Ale….perfect. (Also recommended: The Diablo Chicken – perfectly panfried chicken with cheese and sautéed onions over creamy penne.).

BREAKFAST:

Quick stop: Go to Daylight Donuts, which serves quick breakfast fare (sausage, breakfast bagels, etc) a short walk from the base of the Gondola. Get it to go: You can eat on the Gondola on the way up the tram to save time for an extra lap.

For an organic, veggie, or vegan breakfast, hit Amazing Grace on the corner of French and Lincoln.

APRES

The T-Bar on Peak 8, which goes until 5 p.m.

Mi Casa – Mexican. Good tacos, nachos and drink specials on the Blue River.

Modis – good vibe, down on Main Street

DINNER

Relish – a second floor wine bar / bistro on South Main Street

GEAR SHOPS

Some locals recommendations: Carvers on Main Street for snowboards, Pup’s Glide Shop on Ski Hill Road for a tune up. For a good on-mountain option, Breckenridge Sports at the Maggie in the Village.

LODGING: MOUNTAIN THUNDER LODGE

In the strata of ski lodges, The Mountain Thunder Lodge is upper-middle class—not the fanciest, but an extremely comfortable, convenient batch of condominiums situated a five minute walk (or 1 minute shuttle ride) to the new gondola serving the mountain’s main chairlifts at peaks 7 (lots of intermediate runs) and 8 (the main access to the expert terrain).

The condos are nice—a stone fireplace, solid wood furniture, mid-range appliances (an electric Kenmore stove and full-size fridge, and stainless steel Moen sink), generic hotel art, and small tube TVs that are probably from the mid-1990s. It’s not as fancy as it looks in photos—there’s no bellman, pillow chocolates, room service, or newspaper lying at your door in the morning. What there is is a welcoming atmosphere, a friendly young ski-town receptionists, several mostly vacant hot tubs and a pool (that close at 10 p.m.), and a lot of convenience—all night shuttles to get into town (maybe a four minute trip). But the point is not to stay in and savor the lodge all day. It’s to give you a comfortable, welcoming place to relax after a day of skiing and walking around town.

Internet is free for the first hour, but $8 a day after that. There’s no convenience bar, nothing to plug your iPod into, no pay per view. For caffeine addicts, there’s packaged Starbucks drip coffee or (just two) packets of Tazo tea—Earl Grey and Wild Sweet Orange—to start your morning. They may or may not be refreshed in the morning. The resort has an eager eco-program—they leave a trashbag for you on the counter for your bottles and paper, etc., and loan you a reusable shopping bag for any grocery runs.

HOW TO SKI BRECKENRIDGE

As an advanced skier, Breckenridge can be underwhelming if you don’t ski it right. Yes, there’s more above treeline terrain than any other Vail resort (722 acres), but there’s only a few chairs that can get you there, and a few circuits you can lap. The new Imperial Express Chair is the key—it opened up the top of Peak 8 (which sits just shy of 13,000 feet and can be skied on two aspects—North Bowl and Imperial Bowl—depending on where conditions are best or what time of the day it is. Take the Colorado Summit Chair to  the middle of Peak 8, and ski the short traverse over to Chair 6, which will take you to the Imperial Chair. If there’s a long lift line at Imperial Chair, just lap the broad chutes and glades around Chair 6. At the top of Peak 8, you can hike the ridge to the Lake Chutes, which are short and just worth the effort if the snow is nice—snowboarders stay left or you can get mired in the lake basin below the chutes.

If the north side is in shape, get off at the top of Imperial and go around the corner to the North Bowl or Peak 7 Bowl for the most sustained, natural terrain runs on the mountain. At the bottom, go hard right and aim for the T-Bar, which will let you lap most of it or drop back onto the Imperial Chair side again. Yes, if the snow is nice, you’ll be competing with a lot of locals and skis much fatter than your own, and the lines will get long.

If the snow is old or the crowds are too heavy, decamp for Peak 10. It’s much quieter, and covered in blacks and double blacks. It takes a while to get out there, and back, but it’s worth it for an escape if you’ve covered everything on Peak 8.

Avoid the temptation to run it out on the groomed runs toward the Peak 8 base—you’ll end up at the back of a really long line, and series of lifts to get you back to where you want to ski.

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Welcome to our brain dump

We’ve been trying to come up with a good way to share some of the best things we’ve seen, done, and learned about on our travels around the southwest—especially Colorado and New Mexico. Consider this our secret stash. We hope you enjoy what you read here. If you do, spread the word!

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Big snows in Colorado

Heading to Breckenridge this weekend to check out the snow in central Colorado. It sounds like most of the La Nina snowfall pattern is hitting the I-70 area and north, leaving modest snowfall in the southern part of the state, and just a dusting so far in New Mexico. Expect a full report.

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