The August sky was a pure blue and the clouds giant and puffy. The river was a mite cold as our large group floated in huge individual plastic inner tubes down the Yampa. The shores of the river were lined with thick patches of green brush and trees. The Yampa River runs through the skiing town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The altitude in Steamboat Springs is 8000 ft and being that high in the mountains made for the crystal clear very light blue sky.
River tubing is relaxing and turns the mind inward. It creates almost a Zen like mood except for the occasional excited yelp from one of the dozen eleven year old boys or a couple of their sisters. The rest of our group were grandparents, moms and dads. We were the Kings Baseball team of Carlsbad, California and we were in Colorado to compete in a tournament.
A unique time for families to find a time to escape the pressures of day to day life in a pristine country with pure air, eye popping scenery and a group goal. And maybe, just maybe to win some games.
When you think of a ski resort, thoughts turn to winter and seeing alpine scenes with snow covered lodges and hotels, chair lifts and ski jumps. You most likely donít think of other seasons, when the mountains are a rich green and the activities that go on in the summer days.
Just like the astro turf ski jump we saw during our stay, with skiers flying down the five hundred foot or more run, gliding through the air to land gracefully on their skis and right in the foreground, our team playing a baseball game.
Many bicyclists and hikers enjoyed the pure air and postcard scenery and here we were, floating down a river. Some of the group tried horseback riding through the beautiful country. While all the while we were surrounded with spectacular deep blue green mountain peaks and more of those picture perfect clouds.
The float was so peaceful and if one became too calm you would be brought back to reality very quickly when you bounced over a large river rock or were pushed by the currents into the brush on the side of the river.
Our hotel for the stay was the Steamboat Grand, a large resort hotel with pine covered walls and the feeling of a large ski lodge, large windows to view the mountains, rooms were very large and came with full kitchens, and even large family sized tables to seat eight or more. There was something very welcoming about the rooms; it was very easy to imagine the high season of winter when the hotels spaces would be full of skiers just off the slopes all bundled in ski clothing and hats with steam coming from noses and mouths in the cold air. But here we were in shorts and short sleeve shirts with temperatures in the high seventies. Ski lifts and gondolas were operating so if you wanted to explore the slopes without snow; it was possible to circuit the hill tops for a view of the town.
There are restaurants in the hotel and a short walk away, a complex with three or four pubs, and even an upscale place or two. But with tournament games that would sometimes last late, and with the rather limited tastes that eleven year old boys have, we usually ended up with the featured $6 pizza at in the nearby pub or even sandwiches which were easy to fix in the full kitchens in the hotel rooms. There is nothing like a dozen boys with older and younger sisters and brothers filling the large pool on the hotels first floor, being reminded not to run on the slick concrete by adults who were becoming more like an extended family hour by hour.
Back to food, if a visitor has a hunger for something more sophisticated, there are a number of good restaurants in the town. Italian, steak houses, bars by the river and lots of live music. Steamboat is a great place for adults, when they are on their own. But we stuck to kid friendly places on this trip.
Visiting a ski resort during off season has many benefits. No place is crowded, accommodations are priced lower and generally the pace is less frantic, rather than in winter, jostling with a group of skiers who have paid a lot of money to ski and are eager to spend all their time in the snow.
For us, the off season visit was a chance to enjoy a more relaxed pace and a chance to build some memories with boys who would in a summer or two be more interested in girls than in baseball and certainly, as they would be teenagers, be less interested in spending time with parents. A time that we would all treasure.
Some of our group had driven from southern California, over a thousand miles, some had flown to Denverís distinctly white tent peaked terminal, then taken a shuttle bus for the four hour ride, cross the continental divide and at one point seeing the vast plain from the mountains that extends to four states and the great prairies. The shuttle trip offered some great vistas and many ohs and ahs as we drove through the mountains and over rushing streams. It is also possible to fly to the local airport, Hayden, Colorado, with service from many parts of the US.
The land is rugged, and the views are unforgettable. The stars are sharp points in the night sky; the enormous clouds are awe inspiring and make you realize just what small potatoes we all are. But donít get too philosophical, you have a group of kids who can bring even the most serious thoughts back to more immediate needs of a bunch of pre teens.
Never spending much time at a ski resort, I hadnít been prepared for the beauty, the pristine country, the air and clouds. And even enjoying the occasional summer lightening strike, with gagged white hot bolts hitting the ground and greeting us with an enormous crack.
Steamboat Springs does have hot springs also, a large more natural setting a couple of miles north of town, with parking and several pools, a spot that becomes adults only after dark but very PG when our group visited one afternoon. Again the setting was beautiful enough in the summer , but covered in snow, it would be even more beautiful and a great place to soak muscles after skiing.
In town, there is a hot springs and water park that some of the boys tried and reports were positive as the boys reported in excited voices of their adventures in the water slides.
Steamboat Springs is an ideal family destination and from what I saw during the summer, it must be an ideal spot to enjoy winter sports during the ski season. Steamboat has plenty of facilities to make a skiing vacation complete and a setting to remember always. Worth a trip during the winter to really enjoy snow in the beautiful mountains and the resorts and restaurants.
I know I will always remember my eleven year old grandson, not just for his great pitching and catching, but mostly for his laugh as he scrambled from the river and his father, my son as he and I floated in the river and chuckled at our good fortune, to be here at this time and this day. Our team finished out of the running but my time with son and grandson was better than any championship trophy could ever be.
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