As you mosey into Steamboat, Colorado, passing ranch after ranch, the western heritage lassoes you into a downtown flanked by historic buildings dating back to the pioneer days. The best way to appreciate the local history is at the interactive Tread of Pioneers Museum, set in a 1908 Queen Anne-style Victorian home. Once you’ve got that in, there are so many ways to do Steamboat. Here are a few favorites my son and I rustled up over an action-packed spring break:
First stop: dress the part
First stop, F.M. Light & Sons Western Wear. The aroma of leather and tanner seduces you the instant you walk in. I only wished we’d had saloon doors to bust through as we emerged, donning a new Stetson hat for me and a Justin one for my son, Ames.
Skiing at Steamboat: on champagne powder
Legend has it that a rancher in the 1950s coined the term to describe Steamboat resort’s light, smooth snow. The expression was later trademarked, exclusive to Steamboat. And like champagne, the powder here has an added sparkle, glistening on a blue-bird sky spring day. It beckons you to glide through it and we found several ways to do just that atop skis, saddles, inner tubes, and snowmobiles.
For green/blue runs, stick to the right side of the mountain. More seasoned skiers will find challenging blues, blacks and expert runs to the left and backside of the mountain. The latter being our favorite, we also found it less crowded off the Pony Express and Four Points lifts. The Aspen Groves’ white barked trees and snow-covered pine trees looked frosted in white icing from recent snow storms. Our skis were sticking a bit in the spring snow so we were delighted to find the heated 9080 Yurt offering $10 hot wax ski treatments just off the gondola. The smartest ten bucks we spent on our trip!
Horseback riding: giddy up
Iconic Steamboat ads feature horses galloping through fresh powder. Even with my mild equinophobia, I was content to clop along on a walk in the deep snow. Ames and I climbed atop Smokey and Sonny at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch for a two-hour trail ride through the Aspen Groves in (a horse’s) knee-high powder. Our guide Perk pointed out that early spring is typically the quietest as birds are still south, there are no leaves to rustle in the wind, horse footsteps’ sounds are buffered by the snow, and insects are peacefully hibernating. All we heard was the occasional nicker of my horse, Sonny as if to say, “Isn’t this the life?”
Snowmobiling: rocketing through the snow
For a faster dash through the snow, we joined Steamboat Snowmobile Tours through the Routt National Forest with stunning views of Rabbit Ears Pass. Over the meadows and through the aspen groves we came upon a few meadows where we were allowed to unleash on full throttle, leaning one buttcheek off the seat into the turns in search of untouched powder. What a thrill!
Hot air ballooning: up, up, and away
We arrived at sunrise to watch the balloon being unbagged, rolled out, and filled up—first with two giant fans then hot air from propane tanks. After watching the first flight of Wild West Balloon Adventures take off and land successfully, it was our turn to climb aboard the wicker basket and gently lift up, up, and away in a big multi-colored hot air balloon. I’ve been at 2,300 feet in an airplane, sky diving, perhaps a little lower in altitude to paraglide and bungee jump, but nothing so peacefully airborne as this. Bucket-list checked and well worth the chance to float like an unclasped helium balloon.
Hot springs: fun plus history
Steamboat Springs derives its name from the sound of its plentiful hot springs gurgling like steam-engine boats chugging up the river. Old Town Hot Springs are naturally fed with what the Ute Indians dubbed “medicine springs” for their mineral-healing affects. In 103º water and with no chlorine in the main pools, your skin and muscles will lap up the benefits. And if you have kids with boundless energy, send them to the rock climbing aquatic wall where if they don’t make it quite to the top to ring the bell, they can fall back into the warm water. My son summited the 230-foot waterslide 30 times. Talk about a great cross-training workout for skiing!
Tubing: totally tubular
Tubing Steamboat on Howelson Hill is the most convenient tubing spot to downtown. Let them spin you dizzy down one of two inner tube tracks, and then careen down the hill smashing into safety bags before being they slingshot you back up. It’s a little like being in a head-on collision complete with airbag deployment but without any permanent scratches and exhilaratingly fun. You’ll leave hoarse from screaming.
Food: good grub
The Ore House at Pine Grove serves up some of the best steaks in town. Surf met turf on my plate with the signature “Steak Ore House,” a bacon-wrapped filet topped with crab meat and Béarnaise. Coupled with the all-you-can-eat salad bar, it hit the spot.
Where to stay
Moving Mountains private luxury homes offer a catered chalet program (complete with private chef and personal assistant option if you book ahead) for your indulgent side. Before you shy away thinking this is solely for the more affluent one-percenters: If you do the math and determine what a large multi-general family or big group of friends might spend on individual hotel rooms, a Moving Mountains chalet can be a more cost-conscious way to go, especially given the well-outfitted kitchens (so you don’t have to pay for going out to eat).
Their Trails Edge Lodge, a 6,000-square-foot, ski-in/ski-out, seven-bedroom, newly renovated (to the tune of $500K) sleeps 16 comfortably. Very comfortably. The lodge comes complete with a game room (foosball, pool or ping-pong, anyone?), a hot tub with views of night skiers slopeside, a sauna, and a media room just to list a few of the ample amenities. We invited a few friends to share in the fun. The grand master bedroom’s (not to be confused with the guest master bedroom) fireplace was programmed to turn on at 6 am to toast the room before we got up to ski. And the Madeline-like “dorm room” has five twin beds all in a row and darling Holstein-print chairs to lounge on while you play XBox.
The second half of our trip we moved on up to a de-luxe apartment on the Penthouse floor of One Steamboat Place’s Cedar Mountain (four bedrooms, sleeps 10). Hospitality on overdrive here looks like this: opening your personalized ski locker (steps from the ski valet) to find hand warmer packets to slip in your gloves, anti-fog goggle cloths, and energizing Honey Stinger treats for your ski jacket pocket. When the valet brought our car up to head to the hot springs, a lovely keepsake burlap bag full of water bottles and big fluffy pool towels were waiting on the passenger seat. The kitchen in our place could have been lifted from the pages of Town & Country, Viking appliances and the freezer was stocked with Häagen-Dazs (how could they know Strawberry and Rocky Road were my son’s favorites?).
The spa: buh-bye dry lizard skin
The first thing you notice at altitude in the Rocky Mountains (apart from gasping for air) is that your body can’t get enough hydration. Your Rx is at One Steamboat Place’s Spa in the 2.5-hour Zents Replenish Package. From the dry split-ends on my head to my peeling toenails, I was salt-scrubbed, exfoliated, Epsom salt-soaked, Shea butter-slathered and -cocooned, kneaded, and moisturized. Relaxed and replenished doesn’t begin to describe the aftermath. I slept better than I ever have and woke up for once not from the itch of dry skin.
We left Steamboat feeling there’s so much more we wanted to do but rest assured, we’ll load the wagon up for a return again real soon.
For more on Steamboat resort, Colorado, visit steamboat.com.
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