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Sunday, August 30, 2015

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Shabbat dinner and ski biking in Steamboat Springs

Tags: Travel
Getting ready to ski bike. [Lauren Kramer photo]

It’s Friday night in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and I’m feeling grateful as I open the doors of the Anglican United Church, clutching a chocolate cake. It’s not hymns I’ve come for but a potluck Shabbat dinner with some of the members of Har Mishpacha, the Jewish community of Steamboat.

With a population of 12,000, I hardly expected to find Jews in this small alpine city when I Googled. Yet one by one, they arrived at the church that night bringing challah and a random assortment of food that collectively made a delicious Shabbat dinner.

 “We’re the wandering Jews – we have no official home of our own,” joked Stacey Kramer, one of the town’s Jewish residents. Past meeting places for the community had been other church halls, the library and the entertainment rooms of various residential complexes in town. Rabbi Stephen Booth-Nadav, a Denverite who drives to Steamboat once a month for services, introduced himself with a broad smile, taking the kids downstairs for some Shabbat songs while the adults mingled. 

I always feel heartache when I travel on Shabbat, missing my family and the meal we share on a Friday night. Finding a Jewish community in the places I visit and sharing a Sabbath meal with them alleviates that ache somewhat, comforting me with the knowledge that however far from home I may be, when I’m around other Jews and shared traditions, I’m among my own people.

I came to the ’boat, as Steamboat Springs is fondly known, to explore ski alternatives in a ski-focused town. There are lots of us out there, folks who are either terrified to ski, don’t care to learn, or have a physical injury that prevents them from skiing. Here’s a tip for the ski resort operators: we want more than spas, shopping, restaurants and fitness centres. We want to experience the mountain, feel its snow and inhale its fresh air. Just not on skis.

At Steamboat, this crowd is amply catered to with options like horseback riding, snowshoeing and ski biking. An avid road biker, I figured I’d throw caution to the wind and give ski biking a try. But the truth is, the two sports couldn’t be less similar.

 “It’s actually a lot like skiing,” said my instructor, Josh Berkowitz, as he strapped apparatus that looked like mini skis to my feet. “In both you use your body and gravity to determine where you want to go and the speed at which you want to travel.”

I hopped on cautiously, noting the absence of breaks, a feature I’d been secretly hoping for. My ski bike boasted a saddle and handlebars, sure. But that’s all the two sports have in common. I quickly learned you don’t need a sense of balance on a ski bike, because both feet are firmly planted on the ground. All you have to do is turn your head sharply in the direction you want to travel, and like an obedient dog, the ski bike moves in a series of graceful S-curves however fast or slow you choose.

Within an hour, I’d acquired the skills to steer and stop the bike, the prerequisites for tackling a hill larger than the bunny slope, where skiers and snowboarders taking lessons alongside me were still wiping out. The ski bike offered the comfort of balance coupled with the knowledge that I could stop at any moment, simply by turning my head. Once I relaxed into the sport, I noticed how exhilarating it was to be on the mountain, appreciating the deep silence of a snow-coated wilderness broken only by the whoosh of a passing skier.

Later, to soothe tired muscles, I headed to Strawberry Park hot springs, one of the 75 active hot springs in Steamboat. Only two swimming holes remain, and the more popular of the two, Old Town Hot Springs, one is located smack dab in the ’boat’s downtown core, on the verge of the highway.

Strawberry Park is situated off a dirt road a few miles from town, a privately owned springs consisting of rock pools of varying temperatures. With snow dusting the ground and tree limbs, it felt nothing short of decadent to peel my clothes off and climb into the hot mineral water. Lie in any one of them and you get a view of the springs themselves, gushing water from deep inside the earth into the pools. 

Spend any time at all in the ’boat, as Steamboat Springs is fondly known, and you can’t help notice the warmth and sincerity of its locals. “This is a town that just happens to have a great mountain,” explains Loryn Kasten, my tour guide. There’s no pretentiousness here.


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