Where the Wild West meets snow sliding aficionados, you’ll find Steamboat Springs Co. Trademarked as Ski Town USA®, Steamboat Springs is one of Colorado’s last genuine western towns. Immersed in cowboy culture, The Boat, as locals call it, is hidden in the Yampa Valley, far from Colorado’s main traffic artery (the I-70) and its traffic jams and urban sprawl.
Home to nearly 13,000 residents, the population increases by about 30 percent during the summer and winter seasons. Thanks to Boat natives, dining and lodging prices remain reasonable for a destination ski town, as locally-owned shops with long-time proprietors and new restaurants opened by passionate, young entrepreneurs gain favoritism over chains, keeping a close-knit community vibe alive and well.
And of course there’s the hot springs for which the town is named, found on a scenic drive north to a riverside canyon.
Why Steamboat Springs Co. is Different
Many ski resorts in Colorado have transformed from mom-and-pop-owned stores to conglomerates of high prices and western facades. Steamboat, on the other hand, has grown in size, but its real western character hasn’t changed from its early days as a tiny trapping and mining village. Today residents earn a living by ranching, working construction and in tourism. Skiing is woven into their way of life, but not for top speed or total season vertical. It’s more about the beauty of their mountain, surroundings and lifestyle, and as visitors frequently state, Steamboat’s “small town, friendly feel.”
During ski season, most guests prefer to stay on the mountain for easy access. Highly recommended base area lodges include The Ptarmigan Inn and The Steamboat Grand. Both offer Stay & Ski packages and are considered ski-in/ski-out locations.
In downtown Steamboat, you can’t miss the historic Rabbit Ears Motel with its giant neon sign. This basic, yet comfortable, pet-friendly motel gains its named from nearby Rabbit Ears Pass and is a Steamboat staple. The Steamboat Hotel is also an in-town affordable option, while couples enjoy a cozy stay at the historic Hotel Bristol. Book either the Pioneer or Heritage Suite for a taste of old-town Steamboat. As for B&Bs, The Victorian is a favorite.
If ski lodging isn’t in your plans, you might invite extended family and friends and book a week at one of the area’s luxurious private dude ranches. Rent one of the rustic yet lavish cabins at Vista Verde. This ranch includes nordic skiing, horseback riding, three gourmet meals per day, guided snowshoe tours, cooking classes, wine tastings, evening entertainment and classic western ambiance.
Use the “Explore Steamboat’s Best Lodging Deals” box above and right to find Steamboat’s best Lodging choices and deals.
Years ago Steamboat coined the term ‘champagne powder,’ claiming it was home to the lightest and fluffiest powder in the west. Today, this still holds true but timing is everything. If you’re coming for the skiing, lodging and lift ticket prices are easier on the wallet during the early or late season when the crowds are smaller as well.
Steamboat isn’t considered a crowded mountain but nearly every skier starts their ascent at the gondola. Your best advice – get in line at least 15 minutes before the gondola starts turning and you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding mile-long lines.
Restaurants and Nightlife
Walkable downtown Steamboat offers more than 100 restaurants and bistros offering everything from BBQ to Southwestern fare. Whether staying on the mountain or outside of town, paying a visit to Carl’s Tavern is a must. Named after the legendary ski jumper who turned Steamboat into a bona fide ski town, Carl’s Tavern is an ode to Carl Howelsen, who “inspired Steamboat to embrace winter, and women to embrace him.” Stop at Carl’s for a tall beer and educate yourself about “the man who could fly.”
Steamboat is proud of its ranching heritage and therefore steaks are always on the menu. Many restaurants offer locally-sourced grass-fed beef and pork at reasonable prices including 8th Street Steakhouse, Steamboat Smokehouse, Truffle Pig, and Saddles Bar & Grill.
The Tap House is an excellent spot to catch a national sports game while a giant arcade room keeps the kids entertained. Step things up a notch and dine at Bistro C.V. All ingredients are locally sourced and the menu changes daily.
If you find yourself on the mountain, rubs elbows with locals at the T-Bar. What used to be a ski patrol shack has been converted into a small bar with plenty of craft beer and homemade dishes that give even upscale restaurants a run for their money. Savor the coconut curry soup before trying your hand at obscure bar games.
Steamboat Springs Co. Lodging
Use the “Explore Steamboat’s Best Ski Lodging Deals” box above and right to find Steamboat Spring’s best Lodging choices and deals.
See Steamboat heritage come to life at the Winter Carnival in early February. On the main drag, cowboys drag daring skiers behind galloping horses as the skiers launch off jumps in what is known as skijoring. Crowd favorites include the ‘Donkey Jump,’ a nighttime terrain park show, and a crazy man who cruises down the mountain with roman candles shooting out of his backpack before a fireworks show.
Steamboat is know as a breeding ground for Olympians (88 Olympians to date), and Howelsen Hill was and still is a training ground for many. When in town, check the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club schedule to see athletes compete in different events such as World Cup races, the Soda Pop Slalom and ski jumping.
Off Mountain Activities
Snowmobile and snowshoe tours are available, but when in Steamboat, try something a bit out of the ordinary like horseback riding or a hot air balloon tour.
Relieve yourself from the chilly Rocky Mountain air and take a dip in the Strawberry Hot Springs. Roughly a 20-minute drive from downtown, the resort has several pools filled with 104-degree natural mineral water. Guests can sit in the springs for a few hours or take advantage of massages and lodging.
Another not-so-typical adventure awaits at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School. The idea of taking a winter driving class might not sound fun, but once you’re behind the wheel, peeling around a windy, ice-covered course, your adrenaline will spike. Many families from Denver travel to learn better driving tactics in winter conditions and a thrill free of stoplights and radar guns.
By Amanda Markert