x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ask the Expert: Steamboat Springs is the place to ski in the US

A UAE ski enthusiast wanting to celebrate a birthday wants to know where the best snow in the United States can be found.

Q: I have a birthday early next year that involves a number ending in a zero so it's time for a big trip to celebrate, or at least to take my mind off it. Despite living in the UAE, I'm still a pretty good skier so I'm thinking of a snow holiday in the US. Where should I go and what should I consider to be unmissable?

A: If you're flying all the way from the UAE, there's only one place to go in the United States: the Rockies. The higher elevations and colder temperatures make for a high chance of powder snow. In California, by contrast, the locals use the term "Sierra cement" to describe the wet snow they often have to deal with. You're spoiled for choice for really good resorts but our favourite is Steamboat Springs in northern Colorado because it's a real town that has existed since long before there was a ski resort here. And powder? A local rancher in the 1950s coined the term "champagne powder" and the ski resort literally copyrighted the phrase.

If this is really a spoil-yourself holiday - and birthdays-that-end-in-a-zero justify that - this is a good place to do it. If there's new snow overnight, sign up for a scheme called First Tracks, where for an extra $29 (Dh107) on top of your lift pass, you get on the ski field an hour before everyone else. Not that there are many queues even on weekends but the chance to ski powder-laden slopes unbesmirched by any other tracks is one of the great privileges of life.

Chances are your skiing could do with a tune-up if you've been in based in the UAE for a while so splash out on a three-hour private lesson with one of the excellent ski instructors who'll serve both as a guide to the best-kept-secrets on the mountain as well as to hone your technique. This costs from $351 (Dh1,289) and the unhurried pace makes it a luxurious option. There are significant discounts for booking in advance on www.steamboat.com.

Besides being a real town, the best aspect of Steamboat is the tree skiing. The pine and aspen forests reach almost to the summit of Mount Werner, the highest point of the ski area. The lodgepole pine forests here have been ravaged by pine beetles so the trees are now widely spaced and very user friendly, although it's always wise to ski the trees with a buddy. Apart from being exhilarating, the powder snow tends to stay in better condition for longer in the shade of the trees. Our secret spot is the black-diamond terrain either side of Morningside lift, tucked away on the far side of the mountain.

For apres ski, ignore the area at the bottom of the ski field and head downtown, a place of 19th century buildings where the locals are more likely to be wearing cowboy boots than ski boots. There are lots of excellent cafes and restaurants. For fine dining, try the Cottonwood Grill (www.cottonwoodgrill.com; 001 970 879 2229), which sits on a site overlooking the river. For a classic American diner, the Shack Cafe (740 Lincoln Avenue; 001 970 879 9975) is worth the trip to the US on its own.

The top of the ski area is more than 3,200m so as a sea-level-dwelling UAE resident, it pays to spend a couple of days adjusting to the thin air before really going for it on the slopes. One last thing: happy birthday.

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