Welcome to Steamboat, USA, where the cowboys ski and the skiers wrangle. PlanetSKI rides into town for the skiing & some Wild West fun.


Meet Ray Heid, the skiing cowboy.  The 79-year-old made that coat from six elk skins and a beaver pelt.  And he skis almost every day.

Western heritage in this part of Colorado is alive and kicking.

Like Ray Heid who –  just when you’re marvelling at what a remarkable character he is – offers up another surprise.

It turns out he’s a former Olympic ski jumper.  He competed in the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, California, and was a coach to the US team at Innsbruck in 1964.

The ranchman doesn’t launch himself down a ramp anymore.  He spends most days leading horseback treks and elk hunting trips with his son, Perk.

Ray and Perk Heid

Cowboy and son

But Ray still finds time to clip into his bindings.  He says he will ski 100 days this season. And not just downhill.  He’ll skin up the mountains on his private land and then ski down.

Ray Heid's land

Ray’s private ski area

It seems the only lifts cowboys take are the ones with four legs.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a cowboy to ski in Steamboat.

It would be a shame for the rest of us if we were unable to enjoy the light fluffy snow that’s a trademark of the area.

Literally, a trademark.  The Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation has trademarked the term “champagne powder”.

It makes perfect sense to me after a day skiing in the deep snow of Steamboat.

Skiing the deep snow at Steamboat

Skiing the deep snow

They’ve had almost half a metre dump here in the few days before my arrival.  The snowfall is about 140 per cent of what’s normal for the time of year.

There are acres and acres of fresh tracks to be found, the best of it in Steamboat’s famous aspen glades, which seem to be everywhere you look.

Aspen glade, Steamboat

Aspen glade

Aspen glade, Steamboat

Aspen glade

The mountains here are covered in trees, which is very welcome in the cold, snowy conditions. The Sunshine area is not living up to its name today.

Sunshine area, Steamboat

No sunshine at Sunshine

“We have this super-light snow – that champagne powder.  Steamboat sees it more than most,”  David Moon, a ski instructor in Steamboat for 28 years, tells me.

“There is this phenomenon of drier snow.  Between California and here is the inter-continental plain.  It’s a high alpine desert and when the weather front comes in, as it goes over the desert, it dries out the precipitation.  The humidity is very low.”

David Moon, Steamboat Ski instructor

David Moon

In fact, according to climatologists,  the snow that falls on Steamboat has the lowest water content of any snow in the USA.

It must be good. For 15 years Ellis Brigham, the UK snowsports retailer,  has shot its annual ski and snowboard catalogues here.

Steamboat is the northernmost ski resort in Colorado and the third largest – after Vail and Aspen Snowmass – but is said to suffer less from weekend crowds since it’s off the beaten track, 160 miles northwest of Denver.

On the quiet slopes of Steamboat

No crowds here

Challenging tree run

Challenging tree run

Its deep powder and gladed runs are perfect for advanced skiers, but there are also lots of easy trails, and Steamboat prides itself on its family-friendly deals.

For every adult buying a lift pass for 5 or more days, one child under 12 skis free.  The same deal applies to equipment rental.

Kids area, Steamboat

Slopeside sheriff

The youngsters have their own wild west town on the slopes and both children and big kids can ski for free with Billy the Kid.

Sorry, I mean Billy Kidd.  He’s another of Steamboat’s former Winter Olympians.  The town seems to breed them.  There were 88 at the last count.

Off the mountain there’s a lot to do too. Which brings me back to Ray Heid.

He owns Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch in Clark, just outside Steamboat, which is popular with skiers keen to try something a little different.

Del's Triangle 3 Ranch, Clark near Steamboat

At the ranch

The ranch is named after Ray’s late brother Delby, who set up the business in 1962,  and it provides a free minibus shuttle from the ski resort for its horseback trail rides.

So on a bitterly cold, sunny morning I climb into the saddle, incongruously dressed not in chaps and spurs but ski gear, though with a Stetson in place of a helmet.

Horseback trail ride

Saddled up

Don’t be fooled by the smile.  This riding thing is against my better judgment. I am still mentally scarred by the experience of being thrown off a petulant mule as a child during a seaside donkey derby.

Perk shows us the basic signals to drive – my word, not his – our horses.

Perk Heid

Showing how it’s done

Fortunately, I have been given Annie, who is clearly an automatic rather than a manual drive,  and the 1hr 40 minute gentle trek passes off without incident.  It’s surprisingly relaxing.

Horseback trek

Back of the class but still in the saddle

If you want really relaxing, however,  nothing beats a soak in the nearby Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs, particularly after a day in the saddle or pounding the powder.

Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs

Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs

Minus 15 degrees Celsius outside, 40 degrees in the water, it’s an experience not to be missed.

In the Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs

It’s hot in here

A trip to Steamboat resort would not be complete without dropping in on the original long-established town of Steamboat Springs, a couple of miles away.

It’s home to the genuine cowboy store, F. M. Light & Sons, which has been “outfittin’ the west for over 100 years”.

Cowboy boots, F M Light & Sons, Steamboat Springs

Cowboy boots anyone?

Stetson, F M Light & Sons, Steamboat Springs

Stetson anyone?

Everything for the discerning Colorado cowboy can be found here.

Unless, that is, you want to go hunting elks and make your own outfit…..


Read about Jane’s other adventures in Colorado in Fast Train to Winter Park and Skiing by Snowcat.


PlanetSKI’s trip to the USA was provided by the trade organisation Colorado Ski Country

Accommodation was by Moving Mountains at One Steamboat Place 

More information can be found by clicking the links below:

Steamboat ski resort

Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Ellis Brigham Snowsports Retailer