Overview of Steamboat, Colorado
Written by Greg and Heather Burke
Looking for snow? Steamboat gets it, upwards of 390 inches of typically dry light Colorado snow. Scenery? Steamboat has that too - beautiful Rocky Mountain peaks and the unspoiled Yampa Valley that stretches out below the slopes. Extensive ski terrain, sure - almost 3,000-acres of well groomed big wide trails, beautiful aspen grove glades, and a few bump runs for fun. A fun après ski town? Steamboat Springs is among the best for authentic western ski towns with a great local vibe and plenty to do après ski from shopping and bar hopping to visiting the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Steamboat also has a convenient slopeside village with everything in walking distance to your lodging, the lifts, restaurants, and lessons. There's a reason Steamboat is Colorado’s award-winning family resort. Steamboat has great deals like kids fly free and rent free equipment with paying parents, often beautiful western blue sky and sunshine, and they trademark their snow as “Champagne Powder.”
Getting to Steamboat you can fly into Hayden Airport (more like an airstrip amid a snow-covered prairie surrounded by the Rocky Mountains) and take a 22-mile shuttle to Steamboat Springs, or fly into Denver and drive the three hours.
We recommend staying at The Steamboat Grand, the bellhops are super nice at the immense 4-star hotel. Modeled after its sister Grand hotels at eastern resorts, but – grander, rising seven stories including a wilderness themed lobby of waterfalls cascading over redwood logs and stones. Ask for a slope view condo suite with a fireplace, the decor is Rocky Mountain elegance with leather couches, tiles, and woodwork.
The Steamboat Grand is a short walk to the resort’s Gondola Square, where you board and launch 2,200-vertical feet to mid-mountain with magnificent valley and mountain vistas along the way. I had heard that Steamboat was tame, family-friendly fall line, and our first runs down Heavenly Daze and High Noon were ego pleasers. Steamboat's snow and frosted aspen trees are spectacular.
You are in for a surprise at how sprawling Steamboat is, 3,668’ vertical, 165 trails encompassing six peaks, and forests of glades. Steamboat’s Maverick is the longest halfpipe on the continent. Whoever told me Steamboat is tame was simply off base (and clearly never ventured off-piste). With Mt Werner's 10,568’ summit elevation and 3,000 acres, you need a week to roam this western resort, the third largest in Colorado.
So that you don’t lose your posse in all this snow-covered space, Steamboat offers “Mountain Tours” - and you can ski in a free clinic with Billy Kidd, 1964 Olympic silver medalist. Kidd grew up skiing Stowe but converted to cowboy hat wearing and Colorado skiing in 1970 – he’s been the director of skiing at Steamboat ever since (his free clinic is at 1 pm almost every day). It was a treat to meet Billy (another reason to go to Steamboat). During photos, we told him we were from back East. Kidd said, “Skiing the Eastern hard pack is great if you want to race in the Olympics and win a Gold medal, but if you want sunshine and great powder snow, you should ski Steamboat.”
Billy gave everyone tips on how to win a Gold medal; he talked about coming within a fraction of a second of Gold in Innsbruck Austria. Kidd said that Steamboat has produced more Olympic skiers than any ski area, 79 and counting, hence the nickname Ski Town USA. “The whole town of Steamboat supports our Olympic tradition,” said Kidd. “Everyone turns out for our Olympic send off ceremony and we light an Olympic torch in town that burns throughout the games.”
Olympic bronze medalist Nelson Carmichael hosts a free bumps clinic at Steamboat, but we chickened out when we saw the monster moguls on Nelson’s Run. The ‘Boat has plenty of bump runs, but we prefer glades (we named our daughter Aspen). Here's the Steamboat secret: “the goods are in the woods.” Steamboat has acres of beautifully-spaced, silvery Aspen groves drenched with delightfully light snow, in every pitch from passive off the Sunshine Express quad, to perfect in Shadows, and precipitous in Christmas Tree Bowl off the summit.
All this skiing and Rocky Mountain altitude work up a rancher-size appetite. Steamboat’s on-mountain dining carves a notch above usual ski area fare. Rendezvous Saddle Lodge serves a sumptuous lunch at Ragnar’s after a few runs on the face of the clock - High Noon to 1-3 o'clock. In the evening, you can take a sleigh here for a gourmet five-course dinner. Hazie’s at the top of the gondola also serves superb cuisine topped with sweeping views of the slopes, the town, and the surrounding mountain ranges, for lunch daily, and dinner by gondola certain nights.
Storm Mountain was the original name of Steamboat, appropriate given that the 10,372’ Storm Peak has its own weather (generally snowy), and its own weather station. Storm Peak was renamed Mt. Werner for Buddy Werner, local Olympian who died in a Swiss avalanche in 1964.
Intrawest manages Steamboat, nearby Winter Park, Stratton and Tremblant on the East Coast.
The name Steamboat Springs dates back to 1865 when fur trappers passing through heard a sound like a steamboat – turns out it was the fizz and gurgle of hot springs. There are 150 geothermal springs in Steamboat, yet another reason to visit this cool – or hot - spot.
We took an afternoon off from riding the Pony Express quad (a favorite stash) to soak in the incredible natural mineral spring baths at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. This is après ski absolute, with steamy waterfalls and pools at 104-degrees, plus polar plunges to refresh you. The serene setting and masonry design of these springs is awe-inspiring and the soak is super at $15 per adult, $5 for kids. At night, things heat up, when the springs are adults-only, suits optional (or so we heard). For après ski on the mountain, Slopeside is a great ski in ski out bar, with music, a huge outdoor space in the afternoon sun, casual pub fare and drinks.
There's night skiing at Steamboat too, Thursday - Monday. We sooner recommend First Tracks, which load you on the gondola at 8:00 am ahead of the public, for exclusive access to Sunshine and South Peak well ahead of the rest - a $39 price tag (with a lift ticket) - on a powder day = priceless.
During our week out west, another reason to go to Steamboat became evident – the people: pleasant raccoon-tanned locals, vibrant vacationers, even friendly cowboys in this authentic ranchers’ settlement.
Steamboat’s downtown (a free 3-mile shuttle from the mountain) has frontier town flavor, flavorful restaurants from Mexican cantinas Irish pubs to Italian bistros, and cowboy coffee cafes. Mahogany Ridge has a great après ski happy hour menu, Carl's is a cool casual place to dine too. There aren’t so many furry boutiques like Vail or Aspen, but there isn’t the swanky ski town attitude either. There are just enough shops and native boutiques - be sure to go to Lee's; you can buy your guy the Steamboat-essential cowboy lid.
We have skied our share of western resorts. Steamboat ranked high, the brilliant blue-sky scenery is sensational, the skiing is wide-ranging, and the folks are genuine in nicknamed “Ski Town USA.” Steamboat is ideal for fall line families, or for ski writers considering a switch to ski bumming (the thought crossed my mind one crystal clear bluebird powder day). Did I mention the snow? You should go.
We took our two older children to their first ski lesson in Steamboat. Very organized, VERY good instructors. By the end of the trip they were able to keep up on the blues and my daughter could do some smooth blacks.
Generally it's very good with enough challenging terrain for good skiiers and plenty of easy stuff for begginers.