Steamboat's unique location, on the eastern of a high desert, means that the resort averages more snow per winter than resorts that sit 3,000 feet higher. Steamboat's relatively low base elevation makes it an ideal choice for those who suffer from altitude sickness or generally prefer to breathe easy.
For those who think Colorado skiing is all Aspen and Vail, think again. Steamboat, the next largest ski area, is nestled in the Routt National Forest. It is a complete mountain range with six peaks: Mount Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Christie Peak and Pioneer Ridge. Mount Werner is named after native son Buddy Werner, who conquered the Hahenkamm at Kitzbühel in 1957 (the first American man to win a major European downhill title). At 10,568 feet (3,221 m) it's the highest peak of the six, and the main access to plenty of backcountry stashes with double black diamond chutes at East Face and North St. Pat's, plus lots of other challenging runs.
Pioneer Ridge opened in 1998 with the Pony Express-a high-speed quad chairlift allowing skiers and riders to easily explore 260 acres (105 ha) of gladed terrain that Steamboat locals have loved for years. Steamboat is large: there's 2,965 acres (1,200 ha) of permitted terrain with a diversity of 65 miles (105 km) of trails. That translates into 64 trails and 3,668 vertical feet (1,118 m) for all ability levels. Ropes, signs, placards, gates and access points are used throughout the area to mark closures, ski area boundaries and access points for the backcounty terrain.
Take your pick: from late November through to mid-April you can ski beautiful gladed areas or groomed cruisers, or go for the bumps, steeps and open meadows with champagne powder in the trees for the most avid powder hounds. In fact, the term "champagne powder" was coined here and there's plenty of it, with an average snowfall of nearly 30 feet every season. Steamboat's snowmaking systems cover 333 acres (135 ha) of terrain, from the base area through mid-mountain to the top of Storm Peak. Night skiing is available at historic Howelsen Hill, located in downtown Steamboat Springs. This ski area dates back to the early 1900s and is the oldest continuously operating ski area in Colorado. Night tubing is also available at the Steamboat ski area. There are snowcat-drawn sleigh-ride dinners in the evenings and the gondola is open at night for dinner atop the mountain.
The Steamboat Ski Area is serviced by 20 lifts, including an eight-passenger gondola and four high-speed quad chairlifts. Thunderhead Express, a high-speed quad chairlift, enables skiers and riders to access more than 720 acres (291 ha) of terrain for all ability levels on Thunderhead Mountain. In 1998, Pony Express, a high-speed quad, was installed providing access to 260 acres (105 ha) of gladed terrain in Pioneer Ridge. Approval has been given for the installation of a high-speed detachable quad and trails for a second phase of development there that will open up a further 510 acres (206 ha).
Lift capacity is 32,158 skiers per hour and opening times are 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. The only time that waiting in line can become a real problem is on big powder days. During busy times (Christmas and President's Day) there may be a slight wait at the gondola when it first opens, but there are other options beside the gondola to get to mid-mountain, including a high-speed quad.
There are a number of specially priced "lift-with-lodgings" options offered by Steamboat Central Reservations,. Check the website for the most current details. Individual lift tickets can be quite pricy and the resort is notorious for not offering discounts. The best deals on lift tickets are available by booking lodging directly through the resort. Expect to pay the window price if you decide not to book through Steamboat directly.
Steamboat has an excellent Kids Ski Free deal, which enables children aged 12 and under to ski free when their parents or grandparents purchase a minimum 5-day lift ticket. Proof of age is required and it's only one child per ticket. A lower mountain ticket is available at reduced rates, which allows skiers and riders access to nearly all of the resort's beginner terrain on three chairlifts.
Certain tickets and lift passes require photo ID and/or proof of age. Lift tickets can be bought at the ski area, or purchased before arrival by internet, phone, fax or mail.
For a resort as family friendly as Steamboat, it comes as a surprise to many that the resort’s beginner terrain is generally subpar. The majority of green runs are located near the base of the mountain and beginners can sometimes feel hemmed in. As beginners begin to progress beyond the slopes immediately surrounding the base area, they are met by a rather serpentine set of green trails that force them to pay close attention to the trail map. Often, when riding up a new chair beginners find there is only one green way down. While that takes some of the difficulty out of decision making, it also forces beginners to constantly move from pod to pod to avoid getting bored. Many beginners lament that they feel like they spend all day looking for a place to ski.
In reponse of this oft-heard criticism, Steamboat recently reshaped its beginner terrain, improving the grade of the slope and fall line of several main arteries. This terrain, located at the base of the mountain, allows beginner skiers and riders to gain confidence before taking the gondola to enjoy Why Not, the resort's longest beginner trail-over three miles (4.8 km) in length on Thunderhead. Spur Run, also on Thunderhead, is a great beginner run off the top of the gondola. The Sunshine lift area is groomed for beginners and low intermediate skiers and riders.
Steamboat is known as primarily and intermediate's mountain. Fifty-six percent of the trails in Steamboat are given over to intermediate skiers and boarders. Solid intermediate skiers will find little they can't tackle and no pods of trails, save the hike-to terrain that will be off limits. We recommend the Sunshine Express on the extreme right of the trail map. There, intermediates will find long blue cruisers serviced by an express quad. Blue skiers will also appreciate the Morningside lift on the backside of the mountain. While the trails aren't particularly long or steep, they have a "Back Bowls" type feel and many skiers enjoy skiing over the top with long views of the pristine wilderness beyond.
Steamboat's longest trail is Tomahawk at two miles (3.2 km). Heavenly Daze (the Women's World Cup downhill run) is one of the most challenging intermediate trails in the ski area. It is a steep trail-descending nearly 1,000 ft (300 m)-that winds under the gondola and provides views of the entire Yampa Valley. Intermediate skiers and riders will also enjoy skiing the trails accessed by Storm Peak Express or Sundown Express lifts on the upper mountain. The lift lines can really build at the lower mountain (particularly the gondola) so it is advisable to remain in the upper mountain areas where the lines are generally shorter.
Expert skiers will find Steamboat lacking in truly diverse expert terrain. Most of the black diamond runs are on the easier end of the spectrum and intermediates will find many of the blue/black runs to be eminently within their capabilities.
The gladed areas of Priest Creek, including the resort's legendary Shadows and Closets trails, are a favorite among experts. The toughest skiing comes courtesy of The Chutes, East Face, St. Pat's, The Ridge, White Out, Three O'Clock, Nelson's, Shadows, Closets, Twilight, Priest Creek Lift Line, Triangle 3, and areas within Pioneer Ridge with moguls and steep, deep couloirs. The hike-to terrain is accessible via a short, 5-minute walk or pole/skate from the top of the Morningside Peak Lift. However, the average drop on these fun but short chutes is only about 750 ft.
For powder, the gladed areas of Pioneer Ridge, Sunshine and Storm Peak are Steamboat's particular claims to fame, with Champagne Powder in the trees for the most avid powder hounds. To test your skiing, ride up the gondola then down White Out to the Storm Peak lift and then up to the top of Storm Peak. Drop down the backside of the mountain into Morningside Park, head down the Ridge, Chutes or East Face to Pony Express. Then ride up Pony Express and ski the gladed areas of Pioneer Ridge. There's a multitude of bumps, trees and steeps for advanced skiers and riders. The hardwood glades of Shadows and Closets are Steamboat's most famous runs and should not be missed on a powder day.
Skiers and riders are only allowed to enter backcountry areas from the ski area through designated access points. Again, The Chutes and terrain such as East Face and North St. Pat's will keep expert skiers pumping adrenaline. In addition, the mogul trails of White Out, Nelson's and Three O'Clock are favorites with expert skiers.
The Mavericks Superpipe is claimed to be the longest on the continent-it has 15-foot (4.6-m) walls, is 48 feet (14.6 m) wide and is 650 feet (198 m) long. As if that wasn't enough, there's a 50-foot (15.2-m) quarterpipe at the end. The terrain park, SoBE, is spread accross 11.8 acres (4.8 hectares), is serviced by its own chairlift and has an outdoor sound system. A 250-foot (76-m) beginner pipe, Mini Mav, is located here along with rails and jumps for intermediates and experts.
Away from the park, the well-groomed open pistes at Mount Werner down to Sunshine Peak have a variety of trails to tempt carvers. Start with the Morningside Lift to the Morningside Bowl and head off from there-there are several demanding black diamond and intermediate trails. This is also the exit point via an access gate to backcountry options with steep north-facing slopes and quite open terrain. Steamboat has plenty of north-facing slopes that provide good, high-speed, tree-lined trails. With limited catwalks and one base area, Steamboat ski area is easy for snowboarders to get around.
Steamboat is also one of a handful of resorts which rents Snowbikes. At first glance, the contraptions look like death traps, but after a few minutes with an instructor to show you the ropes, they're surprisingly simple and fun. Steamboat allows the bikes everywhere except the terrain parks.
There is a handful of restaurants on the mountain, including a coffee and snack bar, cafeteria, Western-style buffet and two fine-dining restaurants that open for dinner as well as lunch. The latter includes Hazie's, named for Hazie Werner, mother of three Olympians; this alpine bistro at Thunderbird mid-station offers the perfect setting to enjoy a special Continental dinner while enjoying the sparkling lights of the Yampa Valley below. There's à la carte dining Thursday through Saturday nights and additional holidays.
Another mid-mountain venue, via the Steamboat gondola and then on a waiting sleigh that draws you underneath starry skies, is Ragnar's at Rendezvous Saddle. Enjoy a five-course Continental dinner with a Scandinavian flavor and excellent live acoustic entertainment here. Ragnar's Sleigh-Ride Dinners are offered on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and additional holidays only.
Moving downscale, at both the Thunderbird and Rendezvous Saddle mid-mountain stations you will also find self-service with sundecks and barbecues, while at the base area Gondola Joe's is convenient for breakfast or lunch snacks. The Four Points Hut at the top of the Four Points lift keeps you warm with chili, hot dogs, soups and cappuccino.
Seven thousand feet (2,134 m) up in the Colorado Rockies, nestled at the foot of Rabbit Ears Pass below one of the largest ski mountains in North America, is a small ranching community that sits happily side by side with a thriving ski resort. Never far from its ranching roots-cattle are still reared in this genuine cow town-Steamboat remains firmly linked to a Western tradition that sets it apart from other ski resorts.
Steamboat Springs lies three miles (5 km) from the purpose-built ski base area, and has both the look and feel of an old Western town: its long main street (dominated now by Dodges and S.U.V.s rather than horses and stagecoaches) is lined with frontier and Victorian architecture. It's a small, bustling town that 9,000 people call home. In fact, long before people strapped on skis for fun, Steamboat residents in the late 1800s were using skis and snowshoes in their daily lives. No visit to Steamboat would be complete with a stroll down the town's authentic Main Street. Be sure to stop at F.M. Light & Sons. This old-time wild west store first opened its doors in 1905 and has been a local landmark ever since.
The base area "Mountain Village" is a typicall purpose-built development, dominated by the Steamboat Grand Resort & Conference Center and also the site for condo-style lodgings, the ski school meeting area, ski rental and sports accessories stores, and the Bear River Bar & Grill and Gondola base complex. New for 2010, One Steamboat Place raises the bar for slopeside luxury at Steamboat. Located adjacent at the top terminus of the new Wildhorse pulse gondola and a short walk from the main gondola, this new mixed unit development has rejuvenated the slopeside village.
With over 80 restaurants and 20 lively bars to choose from, Steamboat's night-time scene has something for everyone. Steamboat Brewery & Tavern offers microbrews and food specials, with a non-smoking happy hour, while the Old Town Pub (non-smoking) bar and restaurant has live music and a Western atmosphere. Tugboat is a good bar in which to listen to live music and dance the night away. Levelz is Steamboat's premier nightclub for the younger crowd.
There are plenty of more down-to-earth steakhouses in downtown Steamboat Springs, as well as restaurants and bars. A few of our favorites are The Cabin at the Steamboat Grand and the Steamboat Smokehouse downtown.
However, by far our favorite bar is the Boathouse, where on Wednesdays you can play Rock, Paper, Scissor against the bartender for your drinks. Win and the drinks are free; lose or tie and you pay up. Truly the best skitown bar promotion we've ever seen. Call ahead to check the days and time.
Steamboat's apres-ski scene has something for everyone, with over 100 bars and restaurants.
The Bear River Bar & Grill is always busy after a great day on the slopes. It's located at the base of the ski area, as close to the slopes as you can be. Live daily entertainment happens on the outdoor deck, with comedy shows on the weekends. The Comedy Club attracts nationally renowned stand-up comedians. Slopeside is a big hit, featuring afternoon specials and a location where you can ski right up to have a drink.
The minimum age for consuming alcohol is 21; proof of age required. Children can accompany parents in bars and other places serving alcohol unless the establishment has a minimum entry age, but this is not usually the case until later in the evening. Bars close at 2:00 am.
Steamboat "Ski Town U.S.A." has lots to offer aside from great alpine skiing and riding. You can cross-country ski over 75 miles (120 km) of groomed trails, or explore the backcountry on guided snowshoe tours. Snowmobiling tours are also available, and Blue Sky West offers powdercat guided tours on Buffalo Pass. Other outdoor options include fly-fishing, horseback riding, hot-air ballooning, and rock and ice climbing.
Alternatively, after a hard day's skiing you can relax in the local natural hot springs at Strawberry Park or in downtown Steamboat-the waters are said to help ease rheumatism and skin complaints. We suggest you leave the driving to the professionals if you wish to venture up to Strawberry Park. The road is winding, unpaved and barely marked. Sweet Pea Tours is your best bet for door-to-door service. (www.sweetpeatours.com)
Indoor activities include ice-skating at an Olympic-sized rink, indoor tennis, heated pools and a water slide, as well as a fully equipped fitness center and an indoor climbing gym. More leisurely pursuits on offer are movies and museums, art galleries and a wide variety of stores.