for snow? Steamboat gets
it, upwards of 390 inches and still shoveling. Our family was experiencing
serious snow withdrawal this winter here in Maine. Symptoms included my daughter
wearing summer clothes to school, and my son playing golf in the backyard. We
needed a snow fix and a trip to Colorado’s award-winning family resort in
Steamboat Springs was just the elixir.
We were the only Steamboat “first-timers” on our flight full off excited skiers
landing at Hayden Airport (more like an airstrip amid a snow-covered prairie
surrounded by Rocky Mountains). During our 22-mile shuttle to Steamboat Springs,
we gleaned why Steamboat has such a return rate. First, kids fly free and rent
free equipment with paying parents (the first ski resort to do so two decades
ago). Second, there’s snow and beautiful Colorado sunshine. The resort even
registered their trademark “Champagne Powder.”
Arriving at The
Steamboat Grand, the bellhops could not have been nicer 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.
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. The
natural snow beneath our boards sounded heavenly (making no sound at all –
unlike eastern manmade). The deep snow and frosted trees were quickly curing our
brown ground Eastern epidemic.
I was not prepared for how sprawling Steamboat is, 3,668’ vertical, 164 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 a 10,568’ summit elevation
and 3,000 acres, I was glad we had a week to roam this western resort, the third
largest in Colorado.
So that you don’t loose your posse in all this snow-covered space, Steamboat
offers “Mountain Watches” - wristband tracking devices worn to locate family
members by scanning your watch at kiosks strategically placed about the resort
(there’s little Johnny in Giggle Gulch). This Star Trek meets Steamboat service
is free to families enrolled in their exceptional learn to ski and ride
programs, otherwise its $25 for the week.
two kids are beyond ski school, but we couldn’t pass up the 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 1pm almost
every day). It was a treat to meet Billy (another reasons 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
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 and discussed Bode Miller.
Kidd said that Steamboat has produced more Olympic skiers than any ski area, 56
and counting. “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
(maybe next trip). The ‘Boat has plenty of bump runs, but my daughter prefers
glades (ironic given her name Aspen). We discovered the Steamboat secret: “the
goods are in the woods.” We scored acres of beautifully-spaced, silvery Aspen
groves drenched with delightfully light snow, in ever 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 works up a rancher-size appetite.
Steamboat’s on-mountain dining carves a notch above usual ski area fare. At
Rendezvous Saddle Lodge, we were served a sumptuous lunch at Ragnar’s by our
early morning gondola companion (you know its good when local’s slip in runs
before their shift). 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’ 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 sold Steamboat to Sandestin, they also divested from Copper and Tremblant.
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 family favorite)
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 $10 per adult,
$3-5 for kids. At night, things heat up, when the springs are adults-only, suits
optional (or so we heard).
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, and flavorful restaurants from cantinas to Italian bistros, and cowboy
coffee cafes. There aren’t so many furry boutiques like Vail or Aspen, but there
isn’t the swanky ski town ‘tude either. There are just enough shops and native
boutiques; you can buy your guy the Steamboat-essential cowboy lid.
Our family has 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. View More Steamboat Photos and Ski Images