They call it Ski Town USA, and for good reason.
Steamboat Springs has been the home base/training ground for 89 Winter Olympics athletes, the largest contingent of American Olympians — Summer or Winter — from any community in the country.
And it’s also the home of Champagne Powder, some of the lightest fluff you’ll find anywhere in North America … and beyond.
Hardly a coincidence.
From its earliest days as a ranching and mining town of the late 19th century, playing around in the snow has been part and parcel of Steamboat Springs’s DNA, and it’s little wonder that a world-class winter sports town has risen at the base of Storm Peak.
Steamboat Springs is a sweet place to while away the winter, whether on holiday or for good. And here are five of the many reasons why:
Steamboat Ski Resort
Spread across 2,965 acres of wooded Colorado terrain, Steamboat has a little bit of everything for most skiers and snowboarders.
You want hard bump runs and some steeps? Head over to the Pony Express and Storm Peak express lifts.
Interested in long, fun cruisers? The trails off the Sunshine and Sundown express lifts can satisfy you.
Like to play in the park? Steamboat has six terrain parks, including the monster Mavericks Superpipe.
And for those just trying out their ski legs? There’s a 3-mile long green run called Why Not that will have many beginners doing laps on the gondola.
And don’t forget that Champagne stuff. When Steamboat gets a nice portion of its 400 annual inches of powder, there’s an entire mountain waiting for you to lap it up.
Back when the town of Steamboat Springs was just starting out, a Norwegian immigrant named Carl Howelsen was jonesing for his native country’s national pastime: skiing.
So in 1917, he built a modest jumping hill and cross-country track on the banks of the the Yampa river just across from downtown Steamboat Springs.
That little operation is still in existence — albeit with modern amenities and a small Alpine ski presence — making it the longest continuously running ski resort in North America.
But big things can come in small packages: Howelsen Hill has been then training ground for many Winter Olympic medalists, including Nelson Carmichael (moguls bronze), Shannon Dunn-Downing and Arielle Gold (snowboard bronze) and Todd Lodwick (Nordic combined silver), all of whom grew up in Steamboat Springs.
Remember Carl Howelsen? Well, not only did he establish a well-regarded ski hill, he also was the mastermind behind one of the best winter carnivals in ski country.
Begun in the early 20th century as a way for citizens to cope with cabin fever, the Steamboat Springs has been a great release for locals and visitors alike for the past 100 years or so.
Highlights of the annual carnival, which generally takes place in early February, include lighted ski jumpers at Howelsen Hill, dual slalom bike racing, snow sculpting, the Saturday night extravaganza (which this year had the world’s largest fireworks explosion, a 2,800-pound shell that burst 2,200 feet over Steamboat), and the usual crowd-pleaser, ski-jorning, where skiers are pulled down the city’s main drag by horses at full gallop.
The Hot Springs
The Yampa Valley and surrounding area have several geothermal hot springs, one of which reminded early European settlers of the tooting of a steamboat whistle, hence the origin of the town’s name.
Two of those springs have been turned into commercial enterprises and have been destinations for tourists in their own right.
One is the Old Town Hot Springs, which is located near downtown Steamboat Springs and eight mineral water hot pools, two 230-foot-long twisting slides, a kiddies’ pool and a fitness center.
The other is Strawberry Park Hot Springs, which located a few miles out of town and has several hot pools, Watsu aquatic therapy, table massages, rustic cabins to rent and camping facilities (summer only).
Winter Driving School
With all the commotion made recently about the traffic problems on I-70 between Denver and points west during the winter, you’d think folks driving in Colorado could use a lesson or two about motoring on slick roads.
Well, lucky for them there’s the Bridgestone Winter Driving School to help them sort out their problems.
Headquartered in the Grand Summit hotel at Steamboat Ski Resort, the school, the only one of its kind in North America, is patterned on the ice-driving schools of Europe.
Instructors have the use of three special tracks in Steamboat to help those just learning the fundamentals of driving on slippery surfaces to those who wish to learn performance rally techniques.