I shed my skis at the top of the gondola on Mount Werner in the Colorado mountain town of Steamboat Springs and scoop up a handful of the stuff they call champagne powder. The snow is so light, so lacking in moisture it’s barely there. Trying to make even a snowball would be like trying to fashion a sandcastle out of the finest, driest sand. Instead, I open my hands, bring them to my lips and blow the powder away. I feel I should make a wish, but as I look around at the freshly groomed trails flowing down the mountain, the fat blue sky above and the morning mist laid like a blanket over the sleeping Yampa Valley town below, I realise there’s nothing more I could possibly want. With one breath the champagne powder disperses into the air like a dandelion.

As theatrical as the snow may be, we’re really here to ski the legendary Steamboat trees. The pine, spruce and aspens that sprout like thick stubble over the mountain’s many faces appear almost ornamental, like they’ve been plucked off a model railway diorama. But however comely trees may appear there’s no escaping the fact they are resolutely unyielding should you plough into them at speed. Easing myself into a black diamond run called Biscuits, I’m hoping I don’t end up as crumbs.

I needn’t worry. It’s gorgeous in the glades. The slope is benign enough to carve a choose-your-own-adventure course, the terrain rising and falling like a rollercoaster. I stop to take it all in, hoping that by pausing this moment it will somehow sink in deeper, so I’ll always have it with me. Maybe it’s a premonition of what’s about to come, with a global pandemic just around the next turn. None of us suspected at the time how the privilege of international travel would be snatched away so quickly. I take out a handful of nuts to snack on while waiting for the chairlift, and a native grey jay bird swoops down from a tree and snatches the nuts from my hand, as if trying to tell me something. Just like that, all gone.

While some ski resorts dazzle with a contrived glitz, Steamboat Springs is no-fuss American wild west authenticity. It was a town long before it was a ski resort, before skiing even became a recreational activity, first inhabited by the native American Yampatika Utes, who camped beside the mineral springs from which the town gets its name. The” Steamboat” part is because early settlers thought the sound of the hot water bubbling to the surface sounded like a Mississippi steamboat inexplicably making its way down the boulder-filled Yampa River. The cattle industry developed in the mid 1800s and it’s still very much a ranching town…

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