We hadn’t planned it. But, as we made our way back to our hotel room from dinner, walking towards the base of Colorado’s Steamboat Ski Resort, we stumbled onto a crowd staring up at the mountain, music pumping.
Suddenly, a peloton of skiers holding torches came cresting over the top of the mountain, zig-zagging down the main ski run towards us like a lilting amoeba of glowing embers in the dark. We’d caught the pinnacle moment of the town’s Torchlight Parade—a family-friendly St. Patrick’s Day celebration that pulls in locals and tourists alike—just before fireworks took over the sky. Our 7-month-old daughter was entranced.
Steamboat is full of moments that feel cinematic. My husband, daughter and I had come to town for five days to explore everything Steamboat Springs has to offer, beyond the usual swooshing on the ski hill. So far, I’d postmarked the aesthetic beauty of the area several times in my mind: a view of the valley framed perfectly by a giant boulder on a last ski run; a dip in riverside hot springs that turned magazine-worthy purple-pink in the evening’s fading light.
The town itself is situated in the idyllic Yampa Valley, a 3.5-hour drive from Denver and just far enough off I-70 (the main thoroughfare through the Rockies) to keep it harbored from the “bro-rado”-style weekend-warriors that churn up at some of its more accessible resorts like Vail and Breckenridge. The Western-style town, complete with spur-clad cowboys, covered walkways fronting saloons, and barn-inspired architecture, is at the end of Highway 40, a beautiful winding country road that crests Rabbit Ears Pass and spills into the lush Yampa River valley studded with horse ranches.
While Steamboat has historically been one of the more remote resorts in Colorado, that’s not the case any longer. Yampa Valley Regional Airport, 30 minutes from Steamboat, recently welcomed 11 new nonstop flights from major cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and the list goes on. And with 350″ of snow per year, easy lift access from dozens of hotels, and a variety of terrain, it’s hard to imagine why anyone looking for a ski-vacation paradise would look anywhere else. Outdoor brands like SmartWool, Big Agnes, Honey Stinger and Boa call this place home; by the end of our trip, we were starting to think we should, too.
Here’s how to make the most of time away from the desk in Steamboat Springs, Colorado:
Hit the Slopes
Steamboat’s ski resort leads a charmed life—storms coming in from the south cap out over the town, while northern storms also tend to stall here, dropping an average of 350″ of “champagne powder” on the resort annually. Our guide, Rick, a resident of Steamboat for 36 years (and who bucked a TV for the outdoors eons ago), pointed out views into Wyoming from the resort’s highest point (at over 10,300 feet). He also led us to his favorite stash off the Bar-UE chairlift, where locals hang for steep chutes and bumps. While the mid-50-degree weather didn’t warrant a powder skirt, we were still hooting and hollering as we descended through the trees.
Of the resort’s 2,965 acres of terrain, most falls in the intermediate and expert categories. For families, amenities include the Little Red Wagon program at the base area, which provides free Radio Flyer-like wagons for schlepping gear (and kids) around, and, our biggest highlight, the Kids’ Vacation Center. Our daughter, who had never gone to daycare, spent hours happily playing with the caregivers at the Kiddie Corral program, making our job of exploring Steamboat that much easier.
Steamboat has exploded onto the culinary scene in the last five years, with over 40 new restaurants. While good food can be had all over town, there is a concentration of it on Yampa Street, between Steamboat’s main drag and the Yampa River. What was once a funky dirt road along the river is now a bonafide weekend hotspot, lined with chef-helmed restaurants serving local lamb and herb-infused cocktails.
Ever been to Steamboat in the winter? Please share your Steamboat tips in the comments below.