Holbrook: Of hardcore skiers and laid-back soakers (column)
April 19, 2017
The other night, Alan and I met some friends for a drink at a local bar in Breckenridge. It was the day after a big spring snowstorm and that morning Summit County residents had, apparently, abandoned en masse whatever else they should have been doing and raced to the ski slopes. As we ordered our drinks, the talk was punctuated with excited hyperbole about the "Awesomely Deep Powder!" which quickly escalated to breathless claims as to who "Got First Tracks!" on which slopes.
All of which I found rather annoying. I ordered another martini and settled into feeling sorry for myself. About six weeks ago I had hurt my leg. And while everyone else (or so it seemed) had been skiing, I had been diligently doing my sets of 10 leg lifts and other tedious P/T exercises, and hobbling around the neighborhood on slow walks with my dog. Phooey.
"Why don't we go to Taos for a few days?" Alan suggested the next morning. "A soak in the hot springs at Ojo Caliente would probably be perfect for your leg." And while I suspected that Alan had been carefully studying OpenSnow.com to make sure we were not going to miss any late spring snowstorms if we left town for a few days, I was grateful for the offer to get out of Dodge. The thought of submerging myself, and my stiff, achey leg, in a steaming mineral pool beneath the ancient red rock cliffs in New Mexico was extremely appealing.
When I moved to Colorado I was surprised to discover that side-by-side with the adrenaline-fueled lifestyle of "cat" skiing and of waking up at 4 a.m. to "skin" up the high peaks was this other, decidedly sybaritic, culture of hot spring dunking. From Steamboat Springs to Pagosa Springs, Colorado is filled with naturally occurring, hot, mineral-rich pools and a dedicated contingent of enthusiasts who enjoy them. I wondered if, in a certain way, the laid-back soakers were the counter-culture response to the hardcore skiers, skinners and shredders.
Probably the best-known hot springs within a reasonable distance to Summit are those in Glenwood Springs. Since the late 19th century, those seeking the health benefits of the sulphur-infused waters have come for rest, rejuvenation and a good soak to Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. Today, Iron Mountain Hot Springs is another, slightly more modern, series of mineral pools along the river. Closer to Summit is one of my favorites, Hot Sulphur Springs, that is about an hour north of Silverthorne. In this low-key '70s style resort, the soaking pools are tucked into a hillside with picturesque views of the river and old train tracks.
As skiers have their own off the grid, out-of-bounds favorite slopes, hot spring enthusiasts have their favorite secret soaking spots too. Radium, a naturally occurring underground spring of hot water that bubbles up in a "secret" location along the Colorado River, is one such spot and is free for all, if you can find it.
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There are certain hazards with hot springs soaking, I discovered, just as there are with the skiing. For example, in the same way that I have learned to be leery of the ski buddy who absolutely reassured me that a particular expert slope was a "piece of cake, you'll love it!" — only to find myself at the top of an icy, rock-strewn plunge — I am equally cautious of the friend who suggested a great gem of a pool that later turned out to be a "Naked Hot Spring" — that is, a clothing optional group marinade.
Ojo Caliente is about an hour from Taos, in a lovely setting of rolling, sagebrush-dotted hillsides. The pools are located just beneath a dramatic sandstone formation, and are varying temperatures of mineral-laced water and mud. Unlike skiing, where all of us are attractively packaged in our stylish gear, the hot spring is a much more intimate, egalitarian, and at times startling, experience of the full range of the human form and of humanity in general.
After a few hours of lazy soaking in each of the various pools — from iron to arsenic to mud — my leg pains had all but vanished. Alan and I showered, changed back into our cloths and strolled through the fragrant herb garden outside the springs. Back in Taos, we stopped at the Guadalajara Grill for margaritas and giant plates of tortillas, enchiladas, rice and beans.
As dinner was wrapping up, Alan surreptitiously pulled out his iPhone. "What are you checking?" I asked. "It looks like there's going to be one more snowstorm in Breck next week," he answered. "Maybe one or two more powder days!"
It might have been the soothing effects of the hot minerals springs — or maybe it was the margarita. Possibly it was the benefit of this mellow end-of-winter getaway. I was feeling more relaxed, and no longer noticed any pain in my right leg. I was looking forward to getting back to Breckenridge. Maybe I'd be up for just one more day of skiing before the season came to an end.
Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge.
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