Many great things come to those that say yes. ‘Yes‘ is for the external optimist. Those excited by change, adventure and new experiences. It is also the word of successful people like Google’s head honcho Eric Schmidt:
“Find a way to say yes to things. Say yes to invitations to a new country. Say yes to meeting new friends. Say yes to learning a new language, picking up a new sport. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job. Yes is how you find your spouse, and even your kids. Even if it’s a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means you will do something new, meet someone new and make a difference in your life, and likely in others’ lives as well… Yes is a tiny word that can do big things. Say it often.”
So heeding Eric’s advice I said yes when a mutual friend invited me to visit Colorado. In this world, two girls both chasing the dream of one day being a heliski guide need to get to know each other… We are a rare breed, much like unicorns! So when Sydney reached out in a Facebook message and invited me to come ski in home hood of Colorado, I jumped at the chance and jumped on a plane.
I was kicking it in Utah after the first week of my HSUS guide school, waiting for another friend to arrive so we could review the surrounding resorts of Park City and Brighton and head north to Jackson Hole. So when Sydney returned from Colombia after climbing 3 peaks over 12,000ft in three days (she is a badass), I went to meet her in Durango airport (South Colorado, in the San Juan mountains).
Durango and The San Juan Mountains
Drink: Ska Brewery (Durango) and Avalanche Brewing (Silverton)
Eat: Avalanche Brewing, Breakfast burritos at the diner in Durango
The San Juan mountains are part of the Rocky Mountains in the southwest of Colorado. They are a huge rugged range, rising above 14,000ft, home to resorts like Telluride, Purgatory and Silverton, also famous for high-altitude couloir skiing and climbing. Durango is the city in the heart of the San Juans, marked with old-world American charm of ranches, cowboys and saloons with swinging doors. Keeping with that trend, we stayed two nights in an old cabin by a huge frozen-over Electra Lake at 8,160 feet. My mind was blown when I woke up to that view. We spent an afternoon ski touring and splitboarding up above the highway 550 and taking our time digging a snow pit. That’s the cool thing about hanging with other snow nerds, you can nerd out together and that is exactly what Sydney and I did… our snow pitt was 170cm and took the best part of an hour breaking up our ski tour and decent through this old, majestic forest on the side of the highway. We found a worrying layer of facets at 90 so kept things low angle to stay safe.
The drive north through Red Mountain Pass
Eat and drink: Chocolate and great coffee at Moose’s Chocolates & Coffee in Ouray!
The snow up on the pass there was untouched and super light and Sydney and I had the whole place to ourselves. Having got a bit of exercise in and got to know each other a bit better, the next day we jumped in her car and drove the 350 miles north to Steamboat. The first part of the drive was the most stunning, passing through Silverton, Red Mountain Pass and Ouray – the home of the Ouray ice climbing festival and the most beautiful picturesque mountain town. It was a sunny, stunning day and my camera was out the window most of the drive. What a drive though gnarly if there was snow on the road and often closed for avalanche risk. Definitely check the weather and the road status before driving Red Mountain Pass.
Ride: The golf course and the Pony Express
Drink: At the on-slope bar T-Bar at the base of the Christie III chair. Great apres vibes!
Eat: Grab Vietnamese Pho or sushi at Noodles & More Saigon Cafe – a great, tasty and relatively cheap local spot.
Steamboat is Sydney’s old stomping ground and we rocked in town for her friend’s birthday, dress code: 80s prom! Keeping our priorities in check, we got up early to secure our place in the loooooong but high-energy liftline for the weekend’s 20inch powder day. For what Steamboat Springs lacks in steep angle terrain, it makes up for in light powder and awesome tree skiing. It was dumping all day but staying in the trees made it easy to see. Syndey RIPs on her skis and at times I lost her in the thick of all the pow! We skied so hard that day we had to go for a mandatory bloody Mary.
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Steamboat also has the most natural AMAZING hot springs close by, Strawberry Hot Springs (20 minute drive). It was still snowing and the roads were icy when we made our way back to town in the dark. On a hairpin turn we skidded at 2MPH into another car that had slid into the snowbank. Mega bummer after such an awesome day but not enough stress to dampen our spirits!
Ride: The back bowls, blue sky basin and the terrain parks.
Drink: The Vail Ale House has a great selection of beer
Eat: The George Restaurant & Pub is a relatively inexpensive spot with a good mixture of locals and tourists
The Subaru went into the shop to get fixed, so not wanting to stop our Colorado adventure, we rented a car so we could get back on the road to drive the 92 miles to Vail (rent from Enterprise in Steamboat, they upgraded our car for free and gave us a huge discount). Vail is the mothership of Vail Resorts, the super-group of ski resorts that some believe are trying to f**k the ski business and your girlfriend (a hilarious article on TGR, worth a read!). When they brought Perisher Ski Resort in Australia this year, I got given a surprise Vail Epic Pass for free (or $809 US early bird), giving me access to 12 resorts in the US including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Wilmot, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Arapahoe Basin.
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I’ve have always wanted to check out Vail, a institute of American skiing but known in my circles for having a solid snow park and pipe. Like Aspen, it is also where the super-rich rendevous to ski and be seen. No surprise it is full of the super-rich when a day tickets sets you back over $150 USD! The town of Vail is full of real estate, art galleries and designer ski shops. We shared a $10 sandwich and got up and riding for another Colorado powder day. With 193 trails, the crowds were pretty spread out over the many high-speed chairlifts. There were no lines and we were able to find fresh snow late into the afternoon. I hit up the Golden Peak terrain for some solid laps of rails, into jumps into the pipe at the end of the day. The pipe was a solid 22 foot and the home of the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships. There is also the The Bwana and Pride Terrain Parks that contain smaller features like boxes and rollers, super fun!
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Ride: The right hand-side of the mountain from arrowhead village – it’s a bit more low-key that end.
Drink: Coffee at Loaded Joes
Eat: Mexican food at The Coyote cafe
Beaver Creek is another Vail Resort and free to visit on my Vail Epic Pass. Sydney (who is training to summit America’s tallest mountain Denali this summer), opted to go for an uphill run around the resort instead of ski so I ventured off on a solo mission. It was snowing (again) and I couldn’t see too much of where I was going. There was literally no one on the mountain so I got to bomb these huge open pistes all to myself. I found a little snowpark and jibbed some rails while listening to Metallica – pretty much a perfect day for me solo skiing in resort!
I didn’t get to ski the other surrounding Vail Resorts of Breckenridge, Keystone and A-Basin as we had to get back on the road to Utah. Saying that, I loved Colorado so much I decided to return at the end of the season in May when things got too warm to ride safely in Alaska. Colorado in El Nino years (like this one in 2016), typically gets a solid late season dump and this month was no different with 3 feet falling at the end of April. There is s much to see and ski in Colorado (& drink, the beer is so good here!) that a one-week road trip simply isn’t enough time!
Denver International airport is a hub in the United States and a great place to fly into to start your road trip. If you need to rent a car, go see PayLess car rental and ask for Aric – he totally hooked us up when I returned in May giving us a great deal on a Ford Explorer. From Denver you can drive to any of Colorado’s western range mountains like A-Basin. For resorts in the San Juans like Purgatory, Telluride or Silverton, you should fly into Durango and start your trip from there.
A massive thank you to Sydney Duncan for having me and showing me the beautiful state of Colorado x
Editor’s note: If you are after travel insurance for your next snow adventure, Still Stoked recommends World Nomads. Prices are really reasonable and they insure actions sports (including heliskiing!) without charging a mega premium. You can also purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip and extend the trip online during your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel.