36 Hours in Steamboat Springs


About 70 miles north of the I-70 corridor that feeds Colorado’s busiest ski areas, Steamboat Springs seems removed from the usual luxury designer shops and rampant condo development so often seen in ski towns these days. Local craftsmen, artists, brewers and restaurant owners lend indie flare to the town’s main street, lined mostly with early-20th-century buildings. Supplementing Steamboat’s “champagne powder” and Western appeal, improvements at Steamboat Ski Resort by its owner, Alterra Mountain Company — which also owns Deer Valley in Utah, and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in California in its 14-resort portfolio — include a new gondola that shortens the ride from 12 to less than 10 minutes and boosts capacity 38 percent to 3,600 people an hour. Given Steamboat’s in-town diversions, hot springs and variety of winter sports (including snowshoeing and biking), many visitors come without Alpine ambitions. The town makes it easy even for those without a car — free buses circulate nearly every 10 minutes in winter between downtown and the ski resort, supplemented by ride-sharing services.

To adjust to the climate and altitude, take in the stunning surroundings with a snowshoe hike on the trails around Fish Creek Falls about four miles east of town. Rent a pair of snowshoes from downtown’s Straightline Sports ($10) and head out to watch the ice climbers at the frozen falls before ascending the steep trails shared by local dog walkers and trail runners. If you’re in the mood for skiing, wait until darkness falls. Visitors landing early at Yampa Valley Regional Airport can night-ski for free at Steamboat Ski Resort by showing their airline boarding pass at the ticket window.

Steamboat Springs calls itself Bike Town USA, largely for road, mountain and commuter biking in the snowless months. In the winter, cyclists turn to fat-tire bikes that grip the snow. Test your balance, your quads and your lungs fat biking, as it is known, at the Haymaker Nordic Center, a seasonal golf course that turns into a groomed cross-country ski area in the winter. Haymaker also grooms 10 kilometers of single-track trails specifically for fat biking, which allows cyclists to stay atop the compacted routes or risk a soft landing in deep powder (two-hour bike rental $19; trail pass $20 to $22).

Native Americans came to the Yampa Valley for its mineral springs long before the early 19th-century French trappers who, according to legend, mistook the gurgling water for a chugging ship and named the area Steamboat Springs. The most natural setting for a spa, Strawberry Park Hot Springs, about a 40-minute drive from downtown, dams up several naturally fed pools, whose temperatures range from about 101 to 105 degrees (admission from $15). For chills, bathers jump into the icy river adjoining the pools or roll in snowbanks. Be aware that the springs are adult-only and clothing optional after dark. Since the mountainous road requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle, take a shuttle with Sweet Pea Tours ($45, including transportation and springs admission). If you’re a lap-swimmer or traveling with children, hit the newly expanded Old Town Hot Springs, which has 25-yard lanes and, in a separate pool, water slides, all heated by the downtown Heart Spring (admission $18).

Don’t leave town without dining at one of the popular Rex’s Family of Restaurants, which masters a portfolio of cooking styles, from convivial Mexican at Salt & Lime to Mediterranean small plates at the romantic Laundry Kitchen & Cocktails. For pre-ski sustenance, hit Rex’s downtown Creekside Café, a cozy breakfast and lunch spot where the servers are quick with coffee refills. The kitchen specializes in eggs Benedict, offering seven varieties. including the BAT, with bacon, avocado and tomatoes ($15), alongside filling breakfast burritos ($13.29) and chile- or bacon-infused Bloody Marys ($9).

At 2,965 acres spread over six peaks, with runs nearly split between intermediate (42 percent) and advanced (44 percent), Steamboat Ski Resort is an explorer’s destination known for powder stashes in its glades (lift tickets from $115). Wherever you ski, by 11 a.m. take a break and make your way to the Taco Beast, a snowcat-cum-food-truck (check @TacoBeastSBT on Twitter for its location). The menu of four taco varieties includes elk chorizo and beef barbacoa ($5 each). Save room for esquites, roast corn mixed with sour cream,, queso fresco and spices ($5). Eat to the beats broadcast over speakers at the pop-up patio in the snow, furnished with picnic tables and camp chairs. The kitchen shuts down when the tacos sell out, usually around 1 p.m., when thirsty crowds ski down to T Bar at Steamboat, a self-described “dive bar” at the base of the mountain.

Across the street from the Old Town Hot Springs, next to a bus stop for the ski base and within walking distance of all the shops, restaurants and parks downtown, the Rabbit Ears Motel caters to the car-free as much as the budget-tight. Breakfast is included, which guests frequently supplement with groceries from the coop next door. Rooms from $119; rabbitearsmotel.com.

Those who prefer to stay at the ski base have a range of options, including the slope-front Steamboat Grand, home to a generous pool and two hot tubs (rooms from $97; steamboatgrand.com). There are also many rental condos here listed on Airbnb, including a one-bedroom condo near a gondola that delivers guests to the mountain base, three hot tubs, a pool and fire pits ($329; airbnb.com).


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