Dec 9, 2021 • 1HR 17M

Podcast #66: Steamboat President and COO & Alterra Central Region COO Rob Perlman

Behind the $200 million investment that will transform Steamboat into Colorado’s second-largest ski area

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Stuart Winchester
Everyone’s searching for skiing’s soul. I’m trying to find its brains.
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Who

Rob Perlman, President and Chief Operating Officer of Steamboat Resort, and Regional Chief Operating Officer for Alterra Mountain Company’s Central Region

Perlman. Photo courtesy of Steamboat ski resort.

Recorded on

Dec. 6, 2021

Why I interviewed him

Because there aren’t many like this: big, snowy, sprawling, accessible, parked above an actual downtown-centered town still animated by its cowboy past. Like Telluride or Crested Butte, Steamboat is a major resort tucked away from the interstate, giving it a different vibe from its I-70 cousins. That’s not to say it can’t get crowded, tracked out, or backed up – it’s an Ikon Pass headliner after all, a true destination. But it’s an extra step past everything, Denver and Summit County and Vail and Beaver Creek and Winter Park. You have to understand why it’s worth it. And that brings a different crowd, somehow. Not better or worse – just slightly more self-aware and humble. And the skiing itself is everything that most of us could want skiing to be. Big and approachable and varied and interesting and just confusing enough to feel like an immersive videogame, an RPG in which you ride three boats and take a horse over the pass and suddenly you’re in a very exotic land from which you must somehow extract yourself. And in the midst of this vastness you can shuck the crowds and be, somehow, alone in a forest in the mountains. It’s amazing and it happens every time I’m there. Bursting lines, the rat-a-tat energy of the base, the hypersonic chairlifts, and then quiet. Absolutely no one. Bird chirps and snowmelt dripping off the pines. And I just stop and sit with that, on a mountain in Colorado, pretty happy at that moment with all that there is.

Steamboat moved the base of its gondola last summer as the first step in a major resort refresh. Photo courtesy of Steamboat ski resort.

What we talked about

Perlman’s new role overseeing Alterra’s Utah and Colorado resorts; thoughts on who may be the next leader at Deer Valley; why the Ikon Pass is not Alterra-owned Deer Valley’s season pass; working under industry legend and now-author Chris Diamond; the power of positivity; lots of Alterra stoke; Steamboat’s massive and transformative master plan; the titanic effort of moving the Steamboat gondola last summer; the wild line over lifts and glade terrain that the multi-station, 3.1-mile-long Wild Blue gondola will take up the mountain; the new mid-mountain “Greenhorn Ranch” beginner area; the logic of terminating the second gondola on Sunshine Peak; 650 acres of new expert and advanced gladed terrain on Pioneer Ridge and what kind of lift may serve it; why it was time to remove the Priest Creek double chair; the fate of the chairs and Steamboat’s philanthropic spirit; thoughts on eventual replacements for the Storm Peak, Sunshine, and Thunderhead lifts; could we see an eight-pack at Steamboat?; a potential gondola connection between the resort and the town; the eventual Sunshine II pod skier’s left of the current Sunshine trails; how we got to $269 walk-up day tickets; drawing a better line between walk-up prices and Ikon Passes; how the Ikon and Epic Passes have re-energized the skier market; what the extra skier traffic means for Steamboat; why Steamboat has always been limited to five days on the Ikon Base Pass; Steamboat’s partnership with Wyoming’s Snowy Range ski area; Howelsen Hill; the resort’s relationship with the town it sits above; and how the housing shortage is playing out in Steamboat and what the resort is doing to address it.

Full Steam Ahead, visualized: The Pioneer Ridge terrain is the shaded green area left (skier’s right) of the existing Pony Express pod. The red line from the base shows the long line the Wild Blue Gondola would take to Sunshine Peak, passing over two existing lifts and The Closet glades. The resort removed the Priest Creek lift, parallel to Sundown Express, this past summer. Image courtesty of Steamboat ski resort.

Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview

Steamboat spent the summer, as Perlman said, “liberating” their central plaza by demolishing the massive gondola terminal and moving the lift’s base onto the slopes. That’s step one. What comes next is the aggressive and dizzyingly expensive Full Steam Ahead project, a $200 million subset of the resort’s long-term master plan that will transform Steamboat into the second-largest ski area in Colorado. That new terrain – a 650-acre gladed wilderness of advanced and expert runs – will drop 2,000 vertical feet of feisty white-knucklers onto a resort that largely lacks them. But the centerpiece of the project is a megalift serving the existing terrain: the 3.16-mile, 10-passenger, two-stage Wild Blue gondola, which shifts the beginner center to mid-mountain à la Jackson Hole and skips the long terrestrial commute over to Sunshine Peak in favor of a direct flight. It’s one of the most aggressive reorientations of skier traffic any U.S. resort has attempted in a long time, and it underscores Alterra’s commitment to modernizing and turbocharging its resort portfolio. Full steam ahead.

What I got wrong

I referred to the Wildhorse Gondola as a line between the parking lot and the resort base, when it in fact transports skiers up from down-mountain housing units.

Why you should ski Steamboat

Because no matter who you are, you can. Seriously. It’s one of the most approachable big mountains in North America. The snow is plentiful and light. The greens are long and winding. The blues are unintimidating. The blacks are manageable, and once you need more than manageable, Steamboat leaves bumps everywhere. Beyond that are the glades, often touted as the best in the country. I won’t claim that for certain, but I will say that if you’re trying to amp up your glade game, this is the spot to do it. Nicely pitched, well-spaced trees, not much competition (good as the glades are, 95 percent of the skiers never leave the piste here, just like anywhere else). Meander over to Sundown Express, lap the Closets and Shadows all day long. You’ll come out a different skier. And that’s just the start. Almost the whole joint is skiable, the trees tighter as they shed official trail names. Get lost. Have fun. Then go down to town and live the night. There are plenty of good ski towns in America, and a few great ones. This is one of the great ones. Go.

More Steamboat

  • Lift Blog’s inventory of Steamboat’s lift fleet

  • Historic Steamboat trailmaps on skimap.org

  • More on Full Steam Ahead:

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