Called “The Boat” by locals, Steamboat Springs has famously deep, dry powder, legendary tree skiing, and terrain for all abilities at the Steamboat Ski Resort and in town at Howelsen Hill (opened in 1915). Steamboat has sent more than 100 athletes to the Winter Olympics (starting in 1932) and holds trademarks for both “Ski Town USA” and “Champagne Powder.” An authentic Old West town with more than 50 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, it started as a ranching outpost with streets wide enough for cattle drives and has retained plenty of that cowboy charm. Here’s how to discover it for the first time—or what to check out this season if it’s been a while since your last visit.
Steamboat Ski Resort has more than 3,000 skiable acres and world-renowned glade skiing through big, snow-covered evergreens and a sidetrack of almost perfectly spaced aspen. The front side of the mountain has steep black groomers, but several green runs wrap around the peak. Kids under 12 ski free with parents or grandparents. Because of its elevation, Steamboat typically has an early ski season, making it one of the safer reservations for a holiday ski vacation. A second gondola and an ice-skating rink will open this season. Howelsen Hill debuts a brand-new tubing hill and lift. Howelsen Hill Nordic Center contains 13 miles of scenic Yampa Valley trails that are groomed daily. Fat-tire biking is a newcomer to the winter scene. The city recently awarded first-ever permits for biking on the Emerald Mountain Trail Network. Book with Ride Workshop for fat bikes in winter and mountain bikes in summer. Steamboat Powdercats will take you backcountry touring. Or ride a horse through the snowy landscape: Saddleback Ranch, a fourth-generation working cattle ranch, provides a horse, a guide, and hot chocolate when you return. Elevate your driving skills at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School, the only purpose-built, terrain-based school of its kind in the country, where most of the instructors are former rally drivers. Hot springs are a must. Steamboat was named by early-19th century French trappers who thought they heard a steamboat whistle on the Yampa River. It was, in fact, steam from the town’s natural mineral springs. Old Town has indoor and outdoor pools and waterslides, great for kids. Strawberry Park is more remote (about 30 minutes out of town with no cell service), surrounded by trees and mountains. After dark, it’s adults only and clothing optional. For a little culture, Strings Music Festival hosts principal players from the world’s most renowned orchestras and Grammy-winning artists like Branford Marsalis, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Keb’ Mo’.
To Eat (and Drink):
Before hitting the slopes, have an egg-topped rösti or plate of huevos rancheros at Yampa Valley Kitchen any day, or enjoy a long, lingering Sunday brunch. Featuring a prized dark chocolate mocha latte and Instagrammable interiors. The Periodic Table’s theme changes seasonally. It could be Cape Cod or Argentinian Steak House. If the ribeye with gruyere colcannon is on the menu, order it alongside wine by the glass from a nice selection. Design-forward Sauvage offers three- and six-course, French-inspired tasting menus (Wagyu ravioli in beurre blanc, capon with express-roasted barley, saffron-poached pears), and a thoughtfully assembled wine cellar. Bésame has a long list of hot and cold tapas, traditional or vegetarian paella, and a memorable Cubano. Après ski happy hour at convivial Salt & Lime means $4 tacos—brisket, lamb, bison—washed down with a lip-tingling caliente margarita. Sister restaurant Laundry (in a historic downtown building that, back in the day, was a real laundry) serves small plates like bison carpaccio and beer-battered cauliflower, but perfectly fried chicken is the big draw. Happy hour starts at 4:30 at sleek, minimalist Table 79 Foodbar with a dozen small plates like portabella fries and crispy brussels sprouts. If happy hour turns into dinner, order the duck risotto, elk meatloaf, or jaeger schnitzel—or whatever you fancy on the seasonal menu.
Don’t look for any big-name, five-star brands here. Instead, opt for on-mountain accommodations, nearly all of which offer residential-like amenities. Slope-front Steamboat Grand , a modern iteration of historic national park lodges, has 323 rooms, suites, and one- to four-bedroom condos with fireplaces. It’s a five-minute walk from Steamboat Ski Resort’s gondola where a ski valet looks after your gear. The outdoor pool and hot tubs are magical when it is snowing, plus it offers a free shuttle to downtown. The Porches is a 16-acre private neighborhood of four- and five-bedroom homes at the base of the ski area. Each has multiple fireplaces and a gourmet kitchen plus a 24-hour concierge and all the services of a first-class hotel. Howelsen Place at 7th and Lincoln in the center of historic downtown Steamboat has 42 residences with unique layouts and period details. For an alfresco space to call your own, swing for the generously sized two-bedroom penthouse with a roof terrace. Elk River Guest Ranch, surrounded by the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, has five rustic-cozy log cabins (two-night minimum) and offers horseback-riding adventures, snowmobiling, dogsledding, and a sport-kayaking school. It’s so quiet you can hear elk bugling and wind blowing through the treetops, and the stars feel close enough to touch, just 30 minutes from Steamboat. If you fall in love with Steamboat and want to live here (many Californians have recently been seduced), schedule a showing at Alpine Mountain Ranch & Club, a low-density development set in meadows with undisturbed grasslands, tall pine forests, thick stands of aspen. On one side, the property abuts the Steamboat Ski Resort. Each five-acre homesite offers privacy and spectacular views. Nearly two-thirds of the ranch is a dedicated wildlife preserve, home to bald eagles, fox, moose, and a mature elk herd. It also has the Alpine Mountain Summit Club, located within One Steamboat Place and featuring ski-in/ski-out access, ski valet and lockers, a lounge, restaurant, spa, locker rooms, and more.
Stroll down Lincoln Avenue, the wide main drag through town, stopping at the many small shops and galleries. Standard Western Art is a gallery space, gathering place, and wine bar. Expect photography, paintings of landscapes and longhorns, and steel-and-pearl necklaces; more than two dozen wines by the glass; and charcuterie boards from Laura the Butcher (the owner’s wife), which may include sharp blue from Spanish sheep paired with smoked prosciutto and Basque salami. Duck into artsy Ohana for modern macrame, leather-and-crystal biker-chic bracelets, and locally screen-printed T-shirts, retro hoodies, and totes. Steamboat Hatter makes custom one-of-a-kind hats using traditional techniques and mostly vintage tools. Can be embellished with embroidery and feathers or studded with vintage silver and turquoise. Do well by doing good at The Adorn Co.—full of crafts supporting in-need communities around the world with handmade ceramics by Afghan refugees, coffee from small farms in Honduras, olivewood cooking spoons from Turkey, and much more. Stop by Lyon’s Corner Drug, an old-fashioned drug store and soda fountain, for a chocolate malt and local skin-care products from Little Moon Essentials and Ranch Organics.
Steamboat has a seriously laid-back vibe, so maybe save your Moncler and fur-lined Fendi for the see-and-be-seen ski resorts. Bring waterproof snow pants and jackets (maybe North Face or Marmot) for the slopes, jeans and fleece for in town, and a bathing suit for the hot springs. Warm snow boots with good traction like classic Sorels are always a good idea. If you didn’t pack the right stuff or don’t want to travel with ski gear in tow, stop at Ski Haus for everything from ski and board rentals to jackets, hats, and gloves. For authentic Western wear like cowboy boots, hats, shirts, and jeans, it’s F. M. Light & Sons for an entire wall filled with boots from well-known makers like Lucchese, Ariat, Justin, and Tony Lama, plus a great selection for kids. Buy a Stetson, maybe a handsome Carson 6X. Have it steamed to the perfect shape and style.
During the winter season (December 24 through March 25), United Express has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Yampa Valley Regional Airport (HDN). From there, it’s about 27 miles into town.