No Place Like Home
12/13/2016 19:26 ● Published by Dan Greeson
Kelly Bastone, a freelance journalist, on assignment at Opus Hut in the San Juan Mountains, one of many trips that periodically take her away from her home in Steamboat Springs. Photo courtesy of Kellyn Wilson.
Standing at the check-in desk at the Salt Lake City airport, I tried hard to make my voice sound cordial. My flight home to Steamboat Springs had been cancelled, which might not have been so inconvenient if I’d been bound for Houston. But my remote mountain town sees a fraction of that air service, and I felt my stomach clench as I waited to hear when I’d actually be delivered.
“You’ll be ticketed on the next available flight, which is this time tomorrow,” said the attendant. My body sagged, my eyes lost focus. And I had to call my husband, Ben, and tell him he’d be on solo-parent duty for yet another day.
As a freelance journalist, I travel fairly frequently. I interview outdoor athletes, test the latest gear, and explore vacation getaways. Those trips would be shorter and easier if I lived in Denver. But I’m stuck on Steamboat – even though this enviable address has made me a temporary exile in airports all over the country.
Getting here is worth the struggle. In fact, I’d say that Steamboat’s out-of-the-way location is precisely what helped it preserve its unique character and community. We’re not engulfed by any mainstream. One must travel great distances to get here, and make concessions to stay. That determination gives us a rare sense of kinship. And pride.
Having skied at resorts across the West, I can confidently say there is no snow like ours (except maybe for that one storm at Taos). It’s a badge of honor to be a Steamboat powder skier, or any participant in this town’s rich skiing heritage. For proof, you need only watch our Winter Carnival, where ranchers teach ski groms how to cowboy up to horses, kids zoom down Howelsen Hill carrying torches, and our ski patrollers fly though a flaming hoop. It’s real, and rad. My daughter Simone cried with joy when she learned she’d get to join that brigade as a 6-year-old this winter.
She skis a lot, and that’s another thing I love about living here. She’s absorbing the sport the way a plant drinks in drip irrigation: in small, low-pressure doses. An hour today, three hours tomorrow, and if she’s not in the mood it’s no big deal. We can (and will) click into skis again next week.
The easy access not just to skiing, but to all outdoor pursuits, is another thing that keeps me here. Alpine and Nordic skiing, fly-fishing, mountain biking, running – it’s all right outside my door, requiring virtually no commute. That definitely makes it easier to balance play, job and family, because if I had to drive to the ski hill as my friends in Bozeman do, I’d probably become a Saturday-only skier. The horror!
Of course, other mountain towns offer fast access to fun. In Aspen, I rode my mountain bike beneath jagged peaks and heard Midori perform for free on the music tent lawn. Telluride’s summits are even more stunning. Sun Valley’s smorgasbord of sports trumps ours – except for deep-snow skiing – and prices are lower. We could actually afford a house there, Ben and I realized as we browsed real estate listings on our last trip to Idaho. We could become those people with “Idahome” on their bumper stickers. But we won’t.
Because something about Steamboat appeals to the native-born Pittsburgher in me that’s accustomed to jolly back-slapping and an immediate “yes” to any request for a helping hand. We have an annual block party. Neighbors pause at the ends of their driveways to swap stories about skiing, or Simone, or their trip to the Big City. Parents linger for a chat after the school bus takes our kids. And I’ve been taking my boards to the same brilliant ski technician for nearly 15 years. It’d be hard to switch now.
So yeah, there could be better places than Steamboat. They just don’t feel like home.