Back Into the Ski of Things..

by : Asher Mcshane

Blurred vision, a sense of disorientation, and a serious loss of equilibrium... in spite of the symptoms, I hadn't spent an extended session warming a barstool, I was simply drunk on snow. My senses were not clouded by booze, but by some seriously un-Colorado-like weather.

Touted as a destination which offers 300 days of sunshine per year, it seemed just my luck that I managed to arrive in the small ski town of Crested Butte on one of the 65 'snow dump' days.

And dump it really does. I had arrived in the midst of one of the storms which gives the ski area its legendary powder snow. Up on the peaks, the winds picked up to freak speeds of up to 60mph, the white stuff zipped across the slopes horizontally, and it was cold. Bitterly cold.

But none of that matters when you are used to winters in the north of England, especially when there is acre upon acre of untouched powder just begging to swallow up a set of skis. With little more than a clack of my poles and a swoosh lost among the raging winds I was off - enjoying the best snow conditions that North America has to offer.

This was my first ski trip for about six years, so my confidence was a bit on the shaky side. 'Don't worry' everyone kept telling me. 'It's like riding a bike'. Having skied after a prolonged gap, I can emphatically state that skiing is nothing like riding a bike. Six years is plenty of time to forget how to ski.

A leisurely morning ski had me panting like a St. Bernard and sweating profusely under my long-johns. Thankfully, Crested Butte's slopes were close to deserted, making them ideal for re-acclimatising at my own pace.

However, a couple of days is all it takes to get back into the swing of skiing and pretty soon I was starting to find my legs. It's remarkable how fast confidence comes and goes on the slopes.

To ease the physical burden on the unaccustomed skier, resorts in the 'States have apres-ski down to a fine art. Crested Butte in particular offers ski-in, ski-out hotels with the cosiest of bars, friendliest of waitresses, and on the town's sweet snowdrift-lined high street - more restaurants than you could eat at in a month.

After a tough day of skiing you find yourself longing for those endless coffees, cokes and snowboard-sized steaks that the Americans pride themselves with, so the apres-ski options in Crested Butte really hit the mark.

Celestial timing has never been more perfect than when it was time for me to leave the resort. Ever at the mercy of sod's law, moments after returning my rental skis and checking out of the hotel, the grey skies swept away and were replaced by the clearest and most beautiful day I have seen in quite a while. For the first time, I could see the real reason why this little known resort is such a hit with ski-savvy Americans. It's astonishingly pretty.

Steamboat, while not as attractive at base level as Crested Butte, benefits from a much larger ski area which seems to open up more and more the higher you climb. Because of this, there is a great deal more variety in the terrain, and it caters superbly for beginners.

The resort itself is arguably more user-friendly than Crested Butte. There are more shops and services, and it's easier to reach. BA already flies three times a day to Denver and from there its just a short hop to Steamboat.

From the 31st of March United Airlines will also fly direct - quick tip: avoid US public holidays and you should beat the brunt of the crowds.

Once you are up the mountain, close to 3,000 acres of pistes await and there are several lodges to choose from, serving everything from diner-style American fare to much posher, sit-down nosh.

The scenery and skiing in Steamboat are as good as it gets. While not as dramatic as the peaks in the Alps, the mountains in Colorado roll away endlessly to form the perfect background to compliment the superb skiing.

My Steamboat experience was made even more enjoyable by going on their 'first tracks' programme. Pay extra (about ?20) and you can get up the mountain for half an hour's skiing before the crowds arrive. Accompanied by a guide, you can ski some freshly pisted runs or carve your own path through the most recent snowfall. It's a treat that's definitely worth the extra cash.

For non-skiers, there's also plenty on offer. In Crested Butte, I had a snowmobile trek lined up, but that had to be cancelled due to avalanche danger (an occupational hazard, apparently). My other non-ski activity, a trip to Strawberry Park hot springs outside Steamboat, was in equal measure revitalizing and bracing. And, owing to the 'clothing optional after dark' policy - mildly disturbing.

The evening trip to the hot springs cost $35 including hotel pick up and was a great way of perking up my legs after a tiring day's skiing and recharge me fully in advance of my flight back to the UK.

Skiing in Colorado was such a joy that I'm heading back as soon as I can. It's nice to be greeted every morning by genuinely friendly and helpful lift staff. It's nice to be able to ski without fighting your way through crowds just to get a place on the lift. It's nice to have my coffee re-filled without having to catch the eye of a listless waiter who doesn't want to be there.

Having skied a lot of Europe when I was younger and very little of North America, I'm officially a convert. The customer is key in skiing and in the USA they know it. For ski service with a smile and not a scowl, head to Colorado.

Travel facts

United Airlines will be offering a daily service to Denver from London Heathrow starting 31 March 2008. The airline also serves Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco daily from London Heathrow. For the latest everyday low fares, visit or call 0845 8 444 777.

Asher McShane stayed at Elevation Hotel & Spa at Mt. Crested Butte, For more information on Crested Butte Mountain Resort visit

In Steamboat Springs, Asher stayed at Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel, For more information on Steamboat Springs visit

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