by Tamsin Venn, originally published in seniorskiing.com, March 14, 2017
On one of those perfect bluebird Colorado days, I rode up the Gondola at Steamboat (www.Steamboat.com) with a group of women from the Indianapolis Ski Club (www.indyskiclub.org), who thought I was one of them. All us skiers look alike in our goggles and helmets.
They were spending a week here and were on their way to join Mountain Masters, a program at Steamboat for skiers and riders 50 years and over that meets daily at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. right outside Thunderhead Lodge at the top of the Gondola. Mountain Masters replaced the long-standing Over the Hill Gang when Steamboat wished to consolidate senior programs.
Mountain Masters is the only program of its kind in the U.S. that offers free all-day, guided skiing for seniors, according to one guide. You just need to sign a waiver, then head out and join a group: The “mellows” ski intermediate groomed runs, the middle group, the groomed blues and blacks, and the top group, bumps and powder. My new friends, Janet and Marilyn, with whom I buddied up, had been skiing groomed blue all week and wanted to up their game with someone leading the way.
For fledgling Steamboaters, Mountain Masters takes the guesswork out of where to ski on this mountain with 168 trails and 16 lifts spread over nearly 3,000 acres. But the program is also very popular with locals and many vacationers actually return to Steamboat because of it.
Take Anne Keddie from Dundee, Scotland. Each year, she and her husband spend four weeks at Steamboat, in part because of the program. He snowboards on the gnarly tree runs like Closets and Shadows, while she likes to rip down the groomed blacks.
Why is this so wildly popular?
As one participant said, no one wants to ski alone. Whether you’ve skied the mountain before or haven’t, it’s nice to have someone lead you to the uncrowded spots according to the day’s traffic, plus follow the grooming and sun across the mountain.
And the anecdotes and tips are fun and useful. Don’t try to outrun a moose you see on the trail (“Moose Don’t Shoo”). A bear hibernates off the Hurricane trail. Here’s where the champagne powder is stashed. Get up speed for the connector ahead. Use the Burgess Creek lift when Storm Peak Express is too crowded. Head for the Pony Express first thing in the morning to rip the groomed blacks, or else sunny Sunshine Peak. The north facing Norther keeps good snow on its bumps. Cyclone is the easiest black on the mountain. Four Points has the best food. For luck, touch the shoulder of Buddy Werner’s bust before jetting down Buddy’s Run. That is all invaluable for the first time and regular Steamboat skier alike.
Steve Cozette is our guide today, a very personable, experienced, and knowledgeable skier. He leads our large group with the assurance of a cowboy taking his herd to pasture.
No reservations needed. Just show up. You should be able to comfortably ski blue runs. Group size varies from one or two people to eight or more. Rest breaks for hot chocolate and stops to enjoy the scenery, or to perhaps hear a little local history, are all part of the experience.
Base: 6,900 feet
Mt. Werner Elevation: 10,568 feet
Vertical Rise: 3,668 feet
Permitted Acres: 2,965 acres
Trails: 165 named trails
Trail Classification: 14% Beginner 42% Intermediate 44% Advanced
Total Lifts: 16
Annual Snowfall: 349
Snowmaking: 375 acres