In the winter of 2020 we weren’t able to continue our travels the way we normally would because of the Coronavirus, but we really wanted to get out and about to travel as much as we could in a responsible way.
After a good bit of planning we were lucky enough to enjoy a 3 month stay in Steamboat Springs, Colorado enjoying the digital nomad lifestyle. As the Coronavirus pandemic raged through the Southeastern United States, we packed our gear and left our small city on a cross country road trip to the open West for some much needed space and fresh air.
Planning Our Winter Trip During Covid
My wife and I love to ski and given the restrictions and dangers of gathering indoors during a pandemic, building our winter trip around our love for skiing seemed like a great idea. You’re outside, largely socially distanced and get to have a great time every day you’re on the mountain!
Where to Go
There are tons of great ski areas and travel destinations in the Rocky Mountain range. Since we’d be staying for roughly 3 months we wanted to have access to a vehicle while we were there. It was just too expensive to stay at the base of any ski area for that long and renting a car for 3 months would be far too expensive so we decided to bring our own car. Since we’d have our own transportation, we would be able to access any ski area.
We wanted to focus on an area that was far enough away from a major airport that we could avoid the tourist crowds. This largely removed the typical Aspen, Colorado area ski resorts and the Salt Lake City ski areas.
Ultimately, we landed on Steamboat Springs, Colorado. My wife has family in the area that we would be able to see and they’d be able to direct us to all of the best activities. Plus, their ski area is massive, they have a cute downtown with lots of amenities and it’s 3 hours from the Denver airport, making it far enough off the beaten path to deter tourists (just not us!).
Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the Winter
After a 3 day cross country road trip out to Colorado we arrived in Steamboat for the winter. Because we were staying for so long, we opted to stay a bit outside of Steamboat in a small town named Hayden (population 2,100). Hayden is a very small, stereotypically western town with one grocery store that also doubles as a hardware store, BUT it is far less expensive than staying directly in Steamboat, is any easy 20 mile drive on empty, flat western roads back to Steamboat and has a charm all its own.
Arriving in what would be our winter home, we were extremely grateful. We knew we wouldn’t be able to travel and explore the way we were used to before Covid, but this would be our first extended digital nomad stint since spending several months in Spain in the fall of 2019.
Over the course of 3 months, we were able to safely experience a number of the attractions in and around Steamboat. Here’s a quick list of our favorites from this trip. For a full list of things to do in Steamboat check out our Steamboat Springs City Guide.
Steamboat Springs Ski Area
As I previously mentioned, my wife and I are avid skiers and snowboarders. Before even planning our trip for the winter we had negotiated some added flexibility to our working hours in order to make time for regular skiing. This year we racked up an impressive 40 days of skiing for our winter total. More than 30 of those days were at Steamboat.
We love the ski area at Mt. Werner (the main Steamboat ski resort) and got a chance this year to do more tree skiing and hike to skiing than we’d ever done before. Touching some areas of the mountain we’d never skied or even seen before in the 4 previous years of going to the resort was exhilarating.
The slopes were far less crowded this year compared to previous years and I believe Covid played a big part in discouraging travelers from coming and staying at the mountain. We appreciated their caution. On the other hand, in a normal year the base area is a great place to hang out and grab a beer or cocktail after a long day on the mountain. This year though, we barely spent any time at the base that wasn’t necessary to limit our time in areas where people congregate.
Uranium Mine Trail Snowshoeing
Due to this year’s Covid restrictions and precautions we were less inclined to enjoy some of the indoor or crowded attractions in Steamboat. But that did inspire us to try out something totally different in snowshoeing! Steamboat and its surrounding areas are known to have excellent hiking options in the summer and we hadn’t previously taken the time to explore the surrounding wilderness areas.
After a bit of research, we settled on the Uranium Mine Trail, packed up our Caribee X-Trek, threw on our Hilx sunglasses and made our way to the trailhead. Snowshoeing was a really fun adventure, and coming from South Carolina it was quite a change from the hiking I was used to. For one, it’s so much work! But the work was worth the effort. It was beautiful and serene standing in a frozen forest covered in snow. Several scenic overlooks and a quick trailside picnic later and we were headed back down to the car.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
We love the Strawberry Hot Springs and enjoy every time we get to visit, but due to Covid restrictions this year we were unable to make it to the springs on a regular basis. This year they required reservations and they were often booked up weeks in advance - but it’s highly recommended when you’re in the area.
Seeing More of the Rocky Mountains
During our stay this year, we were lucky enough to explore a couple of other areas in the Rocky Mountains. As alpine ski enthusiasts, we’re generally drawn to areas with the most snow and the most interesting terrain for skiing.
Exploring Taos, New Mexico
In mid January, the snowfall was limited in Steamboat and conditions were not great in the ski area. We started looking for places that were receiving more snowfall and Taos immediately popped up on our list. The elevation of the Taos ski area forces a lot of the moisture coming over the southwestern plains to be dropped on their mountain and at that elevation the snow is incredibly light and fluffy. When we headed south out of town for our 7 hour trek, Taos was forecasted to receive 24” of snow in the upcoming 3 days.
The forecast didn’t disappoint and neither did the skiing. We enjoyed 3 days of deep powder skiing on the steep and rocky slopes of the Taos ski area. There were almost no lines and we were able to ski until our legs gave out. In the spirit of trying new things, we even hiked off the standard trails accessible from the lifts up to an additional ridge where the views were unbelievable and the ski down was perfect! This short hike out to relatively untouched snow inspired our backcountry skiing trip that we took later in the winter.
Taos was a great resort and I would highly recommend it. The terrain can be incredibly challenging, but they also have a good mix of beginner and intermediate trails that, as far as I can tell, are almost always covered in powder during the winter. Additionally, the little ski area at the base is nowhere near as developed as the Steamboat ski area, but it does have a couple of great restaurants and bars to enjoy a drink after a great day of skiing.
While at Taos we even had the opportunity to see the Rio Grande Gorge just outside of town. The Rio Grande Gorge Landmark Bridge makes it extremely easy to park just off the bridge and walk down to the scenic lookout points for gorgeous views of the river and the canyon that it has cut into the landscape.
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
After skiing 30+ days at the Steamboat ski resort, we were ready to try out some different skiing this year. We chose A-Basin because it was relatively close (only 3 hours compared to the 7 hours to Taos), was expected to have good snowfall and had plenty of affordable lodging options nearby.
The skiing at A-Basin similarly, did not disappoint. The ski area felt huge and sprawling with plenty of trails and terrain that we were interested in.
In addition to the A-Basin ski area, there are plenty of other attractions in the area. It’s proximity to Keystone resort and Dillon, Colorado mean that this area is relatively developed and has lots of lodging, restaurants, bars and entertainment. This is generally not the case so close to ski areas. Additionally, there are several other outdoor activities to check out including the Colorado Ice Castles and the Continental Divide (where you can stand in 4 states at once). Or if you’re visiting during the warmer months you can enjoy activities out on the Dillon Reservoir, a 26 mile shoreline, man-made lake nestled 14,000 feet up in the mountains that plays host to boating, fishing, hiking and outdoor concerts.
Our First Backcountry Skiing Expedition
After experiencing three different ski resorts for the winter, we decided to try out a totally new adventure this year and go on a backcountry skiing expedition. We already wrote a detailed article on this trip, but to cut to the chase, skiing in the backcountry is unmatched. You cannot get the same conditions in a resort. But given the nature of backcountry skiing, newcomers should know that it will be strenuous to make the hikes, conditions can be dangerous and varying so a guide is always a good idea, and your equipment can make or break your trip so make sure you get good quality gear and exactly what you need.
Notable Gear for Our 3 Months in Colorado
Speaking of gear, I won’t go into a full digital nomad packing list here, but a few pieces of gear made our winter trip go much more smoothly.
Caribee X-Trek Backpack
When we were planning to get outdoors and wanted to bring any gear with us, we always reached for the Caribee X-Trek 28 liter backpack. The versatile and durable hiking backpack was perfect for all of our adventures including our snowshoeing, long ski days and downtown explorations. The bag is tough, and the back panel made it a pleasure to carry around with us even on the longest days out and about.
Compression Packing Cubes
I’m sure we’re beginning to sound like a broken record, but our Tripped Travel Compression Packing Cubes kept our gear organized and allowed us to pack in 1 bag for all of our road trips and weekend adventures. When we got to the hotel for the night, we’d leave 90% of our gear in the car and only bring in a single travel backpack packed with our cubes. In the morning, we’d pack back into our cubes, throw them in the bag and get right back on the road.
Onli Travel Modular Venture Pack
Speaking of our travel backpack, on our road trip home, we had the pleasure of utilizing the Onli Travel Venture Pack. This pack was PERFECT leaving Colorado as we spent our last morning skiing, before getting straight on the road out of Colorado. That meant that all of our ski clothes, boots, etc. were not packed away with the rest of the items that we wouldn’t need for the trip. No problem! When we arrived at our first hotel we brought in the full Venture pack and took off all of our ski clothes for the night. In the morning, we packed the ski clothes into the center rolling suitcase portion and zipped the two other packs together to create our weekender backpack for the rest of our cubes and toiletries. The rest of the trip the suitcase stayed in the car and we only brought in the weekender backpack.
Hilx Folding Sunglasses
On and off the slopes Hilx folding sunglasses made it incredibly easy to keep our shades accessible without being a nuisance. Truly pocketable sunglasses are just incredibly difficult to find, but Hilx's innovative folding design makes it easy to store the durable and stylish sunglasses into your jacket or pants pocket when you’re hiking, skiing or stepping into the ski shop. Sun blindness is a real thing, but we never had to worry about being without our sunglasses with the Hilx Unfold and Switchblades.
Naztech Laptop Power Bank
The digital nomad lifestyle requires that you’re constantly connected. That isn’t quite so easy out in the open west where cell phone reception can be extremely spotty. “Searching for signal” drains your battery and when my cell phone (and hotspot) were dying the Naztech Laptop Power Bank consistently had the charge I needed to keep working while on the go.
Digital Nomad in the Rockies During Covid
We’ve traveled as digital nomads for the past 5 years, and we’ve stayed in Steamboat Springs for extended periods, but this trip was definitely different. Because of Covid our plans were restricted, planning activities required months of forethought because of a backlog of reservations, and traveling to new places to explore new towns or ski areas was stressful. But we worked around the restrictions, traveled safely to see a handful of new places like Taos and A-Basin, and got to try out several totally new adventures like snowshoeing and backcountry skiing. The pandemic may have kept us from doing SOME of what we would normally have done, but it opened us up to some totally new adventures and challenged us to take on new things that were more Covid friendly.
About the Author
|Stephen Gary is the co-founder of Flashpacker Co. He’s been a digital nomad for the past 5 years traveling all across the globe exploring new cities, languages and new passions. Find more from him over on our travel blog.