“Slow down!” I screamed at my husband when a gust of wind threw another clump of snow at our front window, obscuring the world outside our car. We were driving through a blizzard, and my rhetorical question “Are we there, yet?” no longer reflected boredom but acquired a true urgency. Yet – finally! – our Subaru, loaded with ski clothes, equipment and electronic gadgets (just the number of chargers is unbelievable!) reached Rabbit Ears Pass and began descending to Yampa Valley – the town of Steamboat Springs within it.
Those who’ve never seen the Rocky Mountains in the winter should definitely rethink that (if you live outside the U.S., substitute a mountain region in your country ), for, as far as I’m concerned, the austere beauty of snow-covered peaks and valleys is incomparable with any other natural setting. As for Steamboat Springs, its charm is in preserving the aura of a 19th century miners’ and ranchers’ town, where herds of cattle still run along its wide main drag to the rodeo grounds every 4th of July.
Ranching, of course, is no longer the main occupation there. The thing that puts Steamboat Springs on the map now is outdoor activities: skiing in the winter (mostly downhill but Nordic skiing and snowshoeing as well); biking, whitewater rafting and hiking in the summer; and bathing in hot springs year around. Yet despite new fads and diets, there are establishments in this town that are over 100 years old, where you can order an old-fashioned burger and unabashedly brush peanut shells on to the floor (don’t worry, there are fancy restaurants there, too ). Also, as it was in the past, the town is full of people with faces burnt by the sun, wind and snow, although they are more likely to work in the ski village several miles away than on a ranch.
Since we first came to this area, it has grown considerably, especially the village: new houses and condos have popped up all over the valley, new inns and hotels brighten long winter nights with their perpetual Christmas lights and shops and galleries have spread all over. Yet the village, bustling with activity by day, largely empties by night – some visitors stay put while many drive (or take a shuttle) to the town.
Our first morning started slowly – it’s hard to feel vigorous at 6,900 feet when you have spent most of the year at 758. Besides, the blizzard was still raging, adding low visibility to our almost forgotten skiing abilities (when you ski once a year, your body forgets what it’s supposed to do). When, at the end of the day, a young receptionist asked us where we skied that day (easy runs only), our response didn’t impress him.
“That sure is mellow,” He said condescendingly.
“We’ll see where you’ll be skiing where you’re our age!” I wanted to say, but my husband wouldn’t allow it. My husband is always like that. He never lies (what damage can a couple of white lies cause?), he never cheats on line calls in tennis (we’re not playing for money, so what if I call something out when it is in?!) and he never argues with sales clerks (recently, when he tried on crooked reading glasses, a clerk told him that his face was crooked, and my husband thought that was funny!?).
Our second day was even worse. Without much thought, we took the Storm Peak Express (should the name have told us something?) and found ourselves in a whiteout so dense that we could hardly see each other two feet apart! Yet, as often happens in the mountains, the blizzard retreated as quickly as it came, and on our third morning, the bright sun illuminated the mountains and the surrounding valley, transforming everything into a sparkling-white playground. Seemingly overnight, our bodies found their perfect balance, our skis followed our every move (almost :)) and we no longer fought against the landscape but enjoyed the views, the fresh air and the swift movements. We even had enough energy left for a night on the town: sizzling fajitas and fried ice-cream in a Mexican restaurant, a stroll through local galleries and a photo walk under the starry sky.
The next two days were picture-perfect as well: skiing under the gorgeous blue sky, stopping for lunch at a mountain lodge and watching early afternoon shadows spread their blue wings on the snow – winter days in the mountains are short. At that point, my main task always is not to lose the sight of my husband. The thing is, I have no sense of direction, and left to my own devices, I can easily end up on the other side of the mountain, alone. My husband, however, is always aware of his whereabouts. In our 16 years of skiing together, he lost that ability only once – after a fall that left him so disoriented that he asked me where the base village was. That scared me out of my wits – not because I had no idea where it was, but because it was a sign of something being very wrong with him. Lucky for me, his confusion didn’t last long, and after we got safely down, I made him buy a helmet, so he won’t scare me like that again.
Being directionally challenged, I, however, tend to ski first, ignoring (according to my husband) landscape markers and signs (trust me, I don’t – I just don’t see them!). Once in a while, I stop and wait for his directions, unless – in rare moments of absolute self-assurance, usually visiting me on our last run of the day – I take the wrong turn and hear, “No-o-o! Not there!!!” from my long-suffering ski companion.
A week in the mountains passes too quickly, and soon we were preparing to go home (didn’t we just unpack everything?!). As usual, I wondered — would we enjoy a longer stay more or would it become monotonous? After all, we do the same things every day, and we don’t speak much to anybody. Well, we talk to people in shops and restaurants, and we have short conversations on the chairlifts – this time we mostly met Texans, Australians (where it’s summertime ), college students and several locals. I’ll never know, since we never stay for more than a week.
What I do know is this: it’s great to spend time outdoors, and it’s great to be able to enjoy physical activity while surrounded by natural beauty. And when I watch ski competitions from the Sochi Olympics, I feel that my humble experience allows me to more fully appreciate the spirit of the competitors, the agony of defeat and the colossal efforts of the athletes.
So if, like me, you enjoy watching the 2014 Winter Olympics, remember that you don’t have to be a champion to see what they see and do what they do (well, to some extent:) ). All you need to do is travel!