After a few years of talking about it, five guys from Sweden made a reality of their shared dream of taking a ski trip in the Rockies. We grabbed an Ikon Pass, and hit five iconic ski resorts. And yes, we did find some champagne powder.
We land in Salt Lake City on a warm day that shows all the hallmarks of a relaxing day in the spring, and none of the beginning of an amazing skiing adventure, but have no fear–that’s all about to change! The next morning, all five of us will be brushing a full, heavy foot of freshly fallen snow off of our enormous rental car. We’ve dreamed of going on this ski trip for ages. Sweden and Stockholm feel like they’re a world away, and we’re incredibly fired up and eager to get up on the mountain. As we head up to Deer Valley, with an Ikon Pass each in our pockets, we share plenty of laughs, and it’s almost hard to take in that we’re finally actually here, about to spend the next ten days skiing in some of the most legendary ski resorts in the US. How do you like the sound of Deer Valley, Arapahoe Basin, Aspen, Snowmass, and Steamboat?
An important part of this adventure is the time we’re spending on the open road, driving along jaw-dropping mountain passes in the wonderful winter land of the Rockies. That’s one of the beauties of the Ikon Pass: a single pass grants you the freedom to ski in so many different resorts. We feel like true ski vagabonds.
Park City is just the kind of small town you hope to come across in the Rockies. The fact that we’ve timed our arrival to the Sundance Film Festival also comes with its own set of pros and cons. Pros: plenty of people in town, good vibes in the bars–and less crowded slopes! Cons: the traffic is crazy–fortunately, Park City has arranged free bus services! We grab a bite at the No Name Saloon & Grill and check out some of the movie folks, and then turn in early to save our strength for our first day of skiing.
The next morning, we hit the slopes of Deer Valley early. There aren’t many people around, so the snow isn’t too broken up, and the pistes are long and smooth. The lift staff are very helpful, and give us their own suggestions for where to go. Naturally, we take the lift up to Bald Mountain, the highest peak–and the view is astounding! After some brief deliberations, we decide to take Stein’s Way down to Sultan Express–a little bit of blue to start with, to let us get a feel for our skis, and then black from that point on.
“OK, follow me, and keep a little distance,” says Johan. I feel a brief tingle of anticipation, and then we’re off. The piste is brand new, our skis are great, and it feels terrific! We push on pretty fast, and stop right before the spot where Stein’s way turns black, and rather steep.
“How do you feel?” Björn asks with a smile. He’s the only one of us who’s riding a snowboard, but he’s keeping up with the rest of us, who all went for these great rental skis. The response he receives to this is five expectant faces bursting into massive grins.
“Come on, let’s go!” Johan 2 says, before he dances away down the slope. The rest of us give chase; it’s steep, but the piste is so well-maintained that we can just let go, and it’s hard to put how great it all feels into words.
Deer Valley is a well-kept resort with a lot of variety on offer. The relaxing after-ski joints have a “champagne” vibe to them–this is where the elite from the film festival in Park City gathers, after all. The hotel bars are classy, and there is a great afternoon mood going around as we sip our vin chauds on the terrace of the St Regis Hotel. You can tell that the people here have come to see and be seen, but not in an annoying way–it feels more like a scene from a 70s Bond movie.
We spend a couple of days in Deer Valley in a state of absolute bliss. The slopes, the service, and the quality of the piste-side taverns and after-ski parties are all way beyond what we’re used to from Sweden, but all the same, we have to get back on the road. Colorado is calling us; it’s a six-hour drive to Steamboat, the next stop on our Ikon Pass tour. The time in the car is relaxing; an opportunity to digest your recent experiences. We enjoy lots of laughs, and time flies. Before long, we’re rolling into the legendary ski town.
Steamboat and Champagne Powder
This is what we’ve been dreaming of for more than a year now. We started making plans over dinner, a little over twelve months ago. We talked about going skiing in the states–something none of us had done–and before we knew it, talk turned serious. Johan and Johan booked Ikon Passes and accommodations while I, Torbjörn, and Björn checked out ski rentals, air travel, and restaurants. We’re a group of old friends who have made similar journeys together in the past, so it all came together quite effortlessly.
It didn’t take a lot of research for us to conclude that an Ikon Pass was our best option. The pass opens up 41 destination worldwide. All of these are included in both the Ikon Pass and the Ikon Base Pass, and 33 of them are located in the US and Canada. This would give us plenty of options on top of saving us a lot of money. We also looked forward to the convenience of not having to buy a new pass at each new destination. No hassle, just get on the lift and go! (Read more at: ikonpass.com).
“Steamboat!” Torbjörn is getting excited, and the rest of us laugh. This is Steamboat, the place where the phrase champagne powder was coined. As we roll up through the majestic mountains, our minds are filled with visions of swooshing down between aspens, up to our waists in powdery snow. When we arrive at Steamboat, a light rain is falling. Our spirits are low.
“What do we do now?” It’s a good question. We decide to head over to the lifts to have a chat with whoever is working them.
“Head on up, guys! It’s all fresh snow up there–powder!” Steve, who is working the lift, informs us. His words are like music to our ears. Our mood picks up quickly when we get up above the fog and see the snow fall gently at just over 3,000 meters above sea level. Steamboat’s most famous native son, Billy Kidd, an Olympic silver medalist and an American skier so iconic there’s even a statue of him in his Stetson hat over by the lifts, still loves to ski on the powder snow, and we’re right on his heels this morning.
We may not be up to our waists in snow, exactly, but there are a good couple of feet, and we take swooping, quiet turns between the trees. Suddenly, somebody appears to the right, only to disappear off again, and then, Björn soars past just a few feet ahead of me. I kneel down into the snow, and enjoy the moment: this is exactly, exactly what I imagined it would be like to ski here.
“Stop!” It’s Johan, who I’ve drifted a little too close to. He can’t stop in time, and sits down, laughing, in a little hollow in the snow. I manage to at least try to brake, but end up on my ass, with my back against a spruce, and we both laugh so hard at how incredible difficult it is for us to get back to our feet.
Sunshine peak is 3,165 meters above sea level, and nested between the Three O’clock and Two O’clock slopes is Twilight – a perfect slice of skier’s heaven. We ski almost exclusively off-piste; the snow is incredible, and it’s all everything we dreamed of. In the end, we take the gondola back down. It’s still raining when we walk past the statue of Billy Kidd, and we all give the old ace a nod of respect. We have a beer in the bar in front of the Sheraton. There’s a band playing, and the place is lively–but of course, we find the bar where the locals go: T Bar, not far from the lifts. This place has that genuine American Ski Bum vibe: simple, but great times. We’ve soon made friends with most of the people at the bar. Steamboat is a little more oriented towards this kind of vibe than Deer Valley, but they both offer excellent skiing and varied after-ski options.
Arapahoe Basin: Classic Skiing
The next day, we’re back in the car, roaring through a fascinating landscape. Two hours and a bunch of winding roads later, we arrive at the Arapahoe basin, which, apart from having the coolest name of any ski resort ever, has plenty of history and a good deal of genuine adventure skiing to offer. The resort is centered on two locations, one on each side of a mountain ridge: Montezuma Bowl is on the back, on the slope down to the parking lot, and on the other side is the great, steep off-piste skiing of Steep Gullies.
There’s a strong wind blowing at the peak, and we quickly head down below the tree line–it’s steep, but good skiing! We ski all day and finish off with some mogul skiing – I’m a terrible mogul skier, but that only seems to make it all the more enjoyable for my friends. I reward myself with a beer in the sun while the rest of the guys give it another go. “Mogul Schmogul,” I think to myself as my nose gradually turns a shade too red–from the sun, of course!
Aspen: Good Times, Glitzy Vibes
Later that same day, we head on for glamorous Aspen, where we’ve rented an apartment at the no less glamorous Gant. It’s only a two-and-a-half-hour drive, and thanks to my poor mogul skiing and excellent beer drinking, I’m off driving duty. We drive into the beautiful town of Aspen late that evening. Our apartment is large, and very nice. We play rock-paper-scissors for the rooms; I win a great one, which fills me with a healthy dose of bro glee. We cook our own dinner and then spend the evening making plans for the next day over a game of cards.
Aspen has four nearby resorts: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass, all four of which are excellent, wonderfully steep mountains. The latter two are larger, and offer more varied slopes, while the first two have plenty of excitement on offer with all their steep, narrow runs mixed in with more relaxed, wider pistes.
We wake with great expectations, and are greeted by a bright blue sky. On our way to the lifts at Aspen Highlands, we drive through the town, and it’s immediately clear to us why this place is so famous: gorgeous little brick buildings, wooden houses, cafes, breweries, and bars–we can’t wait to go! We’re among the first to reach the peak, and the slopes are covered with 8 inches of untouched snow. We take long, smooth turns, and I hear squeals of delight all around me. Torbjörn swishes past, following what looks like a smooth line, so I tag along, and we swoop down the mountainside in parallel, big curves, not stopping until we reach the bottom. We look at each other, catching our breath, and burst out laughing. There’s simply no need for any words.
We ski all day, and that evening, we have dinner at the classic Red Onion, complete with an iconic ski rack outside. The bar first opened back in 1892, in the days of the Colorado Silver Boom, and after spending all day on the slopes we’re feeling about a century old ourselves, but some good food and drink soon sets us right again. We finish our night at the famous, classic J-Bar at Hotel Jerome.
Snowmass is larger than–and quite different to–Aspen Highlands; it’s more developed, and the after-ski bar is really busy. We ski all day in the dazzling sunshine, and hang out in the bar by the lifts in the afternoon. There’s a good crowd, and spirits are high. After another round of rock-paper-scissors, I end up having to drive four happy boys back to the apartment.
The next day, we’re back in Aspen Highlands. We’re got some serious skiing planned for today: we’ve studied the piste charts, and found a bunch of black slopes we want to try. Highland bowl seems challenging: there aren’t any lifts running up to the peak of the bowl-shaped valley, and it’s all black pistes–pitch black! I’m secretly harboring some doubts. We take the lift up to Loge peak, and enjoy some amazing runs down the pistes, which are quite narrow but great trails, and gaze over at the bowl. While we’re all pretty keen to give it a go, it does look challenging and it is quite a long walk, and we’re not seeing anybody walk back… which suggests that there’s no turning back.
We decide to have lunch at Cloud Nine–high up on the mountain, next to the lift it’s named after. As it turns out, a compatriot of ours, Tommy Tollesson, runs the place. He sits down at our table, and we begin to pepper him with questions while we enjoy what turns out to be a great lunch. NN tells us he’s skied the bowl before, but that it’s insanely steep. In the end, we decide to give it a pass: we’ve been recommended some other steep, great runs that the lifts can get us to, and reason prevails.
“Come back around 2pm, we’ll be drinking some champagne! If you drink too much, you can always take the snowmobile down,” Tommy laughs. Their record is 140 bottles of Champagne sold in a day, and Cloud Nine sells more Veuve Clicquot than any other restaurant in the USA–even though it’s only open four months each year!
We make our way back to Loge peak and zigzag down a slope that gives a whole new meaning to the word steep. Being the least experienced skier among us, I can feel my whole body freeze up when I take a peek over the edge. I’ve never tried skiing anywhere near as steep as this. I look over at the others, who aren’t exactly looking super cool about it either, and that only makes me feel worse.
“What about it, guys? Shall we give it a try?” I laugh nervously, secretly praying that somebody is going to come to their senses.
“I say we go for it!” says Johan, and the others all nod. I swallow hard. Then, we drop over the edge. One turn–all good. Two turns–I’m falling more than gliding, as I try to keep to the turns without leaning back too much. Three turns–I’m doing OK, but it’s exciting and terrifying all at once. Four turns… my weight distribution is off, and this mountain isn’t the type to suffer fools. I tumble, my skies trigger, I’m trying to stop and I’m just so happy right now that I’m wearing a helmet and back protector. Eventually, I come to a stop. I hear good-natured shouts from above:
“How are you?”“
Are you OK?”
“Get up and get back at it!”
Naturally, I had to take the mother of all falls right below the lift, but Americans are a friendly and warm people, and they make me feel OK about it. Shaken up, but happy, I make my way down to the lift, where I declare that I’m done with steep slopes for the day. I ski down the piste a few times, just to relax. I’m proud that I gave it a go and stayed upright for three or four turns. Practice makes perfect!
Sunshine peak is 3,165 meters above sea level, and nested between the Three O’clock and Two O’clock slopes is Twilight – a perfect slice of skiers heaven. We ski almost exclusively off-piste; the snow is incredible, and it’s all everything we dreamed of.
We all gather at Cloud Nine, 3,300 meters above sea level, our faces red and happy and every muscle sore, to enjoy some champagne and take in the view. To make sure we won’t end up riding the snowmobile back down, we make a point of sipping our champagne slowly. Although we have a day’s worth of skiing left in Aspen, we’ve already decided that this isn’t going to be the last time we enjoy the ski vagabond lifestyle in the USA. We’ll definitely be back for another ski tour soon, and we’ll have the Ikon Pass to guide us again. There are at least 28 destinations left on the pass for us to check out!
Learn more: ikonpass.com