Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado is famous for its "champagne powder" – a term that the resort has actually trademarked. But this world-class ski hill also offers visitors the chance to get off the beaten path and test their skills on more challenging routes as well. Weaving through trees and on ungroomed trails can provide the experience of backcountry outings in a much more controlled and safe environment.
No one knows the inbounds backcountry-style extreme terrain at the resort better than Johnny Sawyer, the Ski Patrol’s supervisor who has worked at the mountain for more than 30 years. Recently, we had the chance to catch up with Johnny to get his take on skiing and snowboarding in this unique setting. Here's what he had to say.
What are the best inbound backcountry skiing/riding locations at Steamboat?
Sawyer says, "The area that stands out in my mind – and is often unknown – is from Chute III across Christmas Tree Bowl to North St. Pats along the East Face. Most of this area of the mountain is primarily north facing, so the snow tends to be more abundant, drier and able to be skied longer from storm to storm."
What’s special about these areas?
"Over the last three years, a small crew has gone into this dense forest area, particularly Christmas Tree Bowl and No Name Chutes, to open up this extreme, double black diamond terrain. This area was so densely treed, that the goal was to keep the natural setting, while opening the entry to the gladed areas and natural lines. This ongoing effort, by hand and chainsaws, has helped tremendously allowing skiers and riders to pick nearly a dozen natural lines through this gladed area."
What’s the best time of the season/day to hit these areas?
"Snow definitely drives when patrol can open this area. Traditionally, with its rock bands and steepness, we look for several feet of settled snow as well as stability before opening this zone. In addition, ongoing avalanche control work will also dictate what can be opened on a daily basis. With that said, since this area is north facing, the snow stays in good condition all day long and throughout the entire season."
What are You Favorite Lines at Steamboat?
"My two favorites are the Johnny Chutes and Nailers. Both are not on the trail map, so you’ll have to do some investigative work but it will be well worth it. The Johnny Chutes, which lie in the heart of Christmas Tree Bowl, and Nailers, which was thinned a few years ago, are skiing and riding in the true sense of the way a gladed area should. Nice long lines with consistent steep pitch that makes you feel like you’re the only one on the mountain."
Tips for venturing into this extreme terrrain?
"Since this is double black diamond, extreme terrain, always ski or ride with a buddy in case something happens. Know where you are going or don’t go. Have the proper equipment. No matter how tempting, observe closures because there is always a good reason for one. In this area, avalanche control work plays a key element with the open or closed status."
Terrain Choices for Skiers and Riders Not Ready or Skilled Enough for This Extreme Terrain
"For those skiers or riders that want to practice or experience this type of area, but don’t believe they are ready, I would recommend Pioneer Ridge. Pioneer Ridge is not as steep or technical at what we've discussed, but offers long, natural gladed terrain and holds the snow very well. In addition, this area does not see the volume of some our other trails like Shadows or Closets. Pioneer Ridge/Pony Express Lift give you the feel of gladed, back country terrain and is something very different from traditional cut trails at many resorts."
Where to Get More Information About Steamboat
To learn more about skiing and snowboarding at Steamboat, Colorado visit the Steamboat website. There you'll discover more about the nearly 3000 acres of skiable area, 160+ individual runs, the lifts system, terrain parks, and much more. You'll also be able to purchase lift tickets and book accommodations of course as well.
Patrollers & Locals Disclose the Best Inbounds Extreme Skiing & Snowboarding at Their Resorts
Want to learn about other places for backcountry skiing? Check out our picks for the Top Resorts With Inbounds Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Terrain to find more destinations for expert skiers and snowboarders.
Before venturing out of bounds, either at Steamboat or any other ski area, it helps to have plenty of experience and the knowledge of how to handle emergency situations. Our Guide for how to survive an avalanche might be helpful for instance. It is also a good idea to check snow conditions for whatever destination you'll be visiting.
Winter safety starts with having the right gear, including knowing how to use a proper layering system. Be sure to bring extra gear for those "just-in-case" moments and let others known where you are going and when you'll be back. Safety is a major concern when it comes to backcountry outings.