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When it comes to Colorado mountain towns, Steamboat Springs should be at the top of everyone’s list. With more than 13,000 year-round residents, a lively cultural and nightlife scene, and too many outdoor activities to count, Steamboat transcends its “ski town” designation while holding tight to its longtime legacy as an approachable, family-friendly destination parading Olympic athletes, unmatched fluffy snow, and cowboy character.
From hot springs, night skiing, Sunday-morning window-shopping, and live music, there’s plenty to do at any time of year for every member of your family. Which is all the reason to start planning your trip now. Here are some ideas to get your itinerary started.
- Steamboat Springs was named by early 19th century French settlers, who likened the quiet gurgle of the natural springs that flow under and through the town to the low rumble of a steamboat. Experience this phenomenon at Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs just seven miles north of town.
- Local rancher Joe McElroy coined the airy, high-water-content snowfall as “Champagne Powder” in the early 1950s—more than a decade before the resort spun its first chairlift as Storm Mountain ski area.
What’s New in Steamboat Springs for the 2022–’23 Season
Spurts of growth have slid in since its official opening in 1963, but nothing like the current boom. Steamboat is stampeding through a nearly $200 million base area redevelopment and on-mountain improvement project, solidifying its spot as Colorado’s second largest ski resort.
Dubbed Full Steam Ahead, the ambitious transformation includes three phases. When it opens on November 23, resort visitors will notice a complete base area overhaul as crews wrap up phase two.
New escalators—which eliminate the clunky ski-boots-meet-stairs conundrum—lead to a multi-use après plaza anchored by the new Skeeter’s Ice Rink, named after Yampa Valley founding family daughter Gladys Werner (who formed the resort’s first ski school). The rink, which will host public skating sessions and curling leagues, is free if you bring your own skates (though rentals are also available). Twinkle lighting, fire pits, and railings around the rink add a linger-worthy aesthetic.
“We’re seeing our reimagined Steamboat Square taking shape,” says Steamboat communications manager Maren Franciosi. “This is the year. The base area buzz is vibrating and alive.”
On the mountain, a new open-format stage with ski slope backdrops will house Steamboat’s Bud Light Rocks the Boat spring concert series along with winter concerts and festivals (to be announced).
The Greenhorn Ranch beginner’s area also opens this season with a focus on natural progression through varying terrain grades and slightly banked turns and rollers to give rookies the feel for making turns and coming to full stops. Four magic carpets and a slow-moving chairlift (also built for learning) keep the base area free from ski-school congestion. Beginners can now hop on the new Wild Blue Gondola and head straight to the mid-mountain Greenhorn Ranch, solving for that awkward co-mingling of experts and beginners on runs funneling to the base.
The first Wild Blue Gondola leg also opens this winter (with the second and final leg opening in winter 2023–2024), to take skiers and riders all the way from the base to the top of Sunshine Peak. The gondola gives Steamboat bragging rights for having the longest and fastest 10-person gondola in the U.S., plus increases Steamboat’s out-of-base capacity from 6,000 to 10,000 guests an hour.
“One of the biggest pinch points we hear about getting big are the images of long lines at the base,” Franciosi says. “The larger, faster gondola will keep things moving and increased base area entertainment and après offerings will appeal to non-skiers, lending itself to fuller family vacations.”
Next year, improved snowmaking operations will allow Sunshine Peak to open before the holidays, rather than waiting for Mother Nature to—fingers crossed—drop ropes around Christmas. Also in the works: 650 acres of new expert terrain on Pioneer Ridge will increase resort acreage from 2,965 to 3,615.
But through it all, Steamboat is holding tight to its roots. “We’re not changing who we are,” Franciosi says. “We’re just becoming the best version of ourselves.”
Things to Do
Stroll (or Bike)
The Yampa River Core Trail, which parallels the 250-mile Yampa River, is a great introduction to Steamboat—and a good way to break a sweat, if you wish, before a long day of shopping and dining. The view of the river—frozen in winter; clear and full in summer—isn’t bad either.
Dogsledding, dinner on a horse-drawn sleigh, tubing the Yampa River—Steamboat pretty much has it all. When you’re not imbibing at one of the town’s many festivals, there are a few outdoor scenes that can’t be missed. In the summer, hike the short but steep terrain to the gushing Fish Creek Falls. During the winter, if you’re not hitting the slopes, snowshoe or cross-country ski on one of the many backcountry trails near Rabbit Ears Pass. There, enjoy Mother Nature’s undisturbed powder the right way: for free. Which is great, because you’ll find plenty of ways to spend your cash on Steamboat’s urban adventures instead.
Where to Eat & Drink
A lot has changed in Steamboat’s growing local culinary scene lately, and there’s plenty to taste at basecamp and beyond.
Grab a green chile-smothered breakfast burrito from Creekside Cafe & Grill. If you still have room, do your sweet tooth a favor and head to Winona’s for a cinnamon roll. The famous rolls are larger than the palm of your hand, and the icing is so gooey and sweet, you’ll be quickly planning your next trip.
When your tummy starts to grumble in the evening, head to the easy-to-miss Sumatera for a low-lit Thai dinner. Steamboat also has more than its share of white-tablecloth restaurants for a small town, and our favorites—Harwigs, Bistro C.V., and Café Diva—all boast ever-changing seasonal menus that accommodate gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets, plus a well-researched selection of wine.
At basecamp, the new four-stall Range Food & Drink Hall houses Sunshine Bowl Ramen, Pioneer Pie, Twister Tacos and the Why Not Sandwich Shop along with a full bar. The counter-service concepts are designed to nosh fireside on the food hall’s open-air deck, down in the plaza while the kids spin around the rink or kicked back on ski beach Adirondacks.
For beers, head to Mountain Tap Brewery, Storm Peak, or Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill. Or stop by Carl’s Tavern for happy hour and stellar wings, then meander just across the street to Sunpie’s Bistro to mingle with the locals. Order the Hurricane, which is a dangerous but locally famous concoction of light, dark and coconut rum, orange juice, pineapple, and grenadine. Night owls can hop over to nearby Schimiggity’s for live music seven nights a week, and its buzz-worthy, small-venue setup.
Where to Stay
Family-friendly retail and trending lodging names like Gravity Haus are flocking to the resort, opening adventure lifestyle outposts at the base of the mountain this winter.
But the history-rich Hotel Bristol—located just off Steamboat’s main drag on Lincoln Avenue—is ideal if you want to stay in town (much of Steamboat’s lodging is a short drive away). From here, you’re walking distance too all the town’s biggest attractions and dining.
If You Do One Thing
Take a dip in Strawberry Park Hot Springs. The all-natural mineral pools simmer at around 104 degrees day and night. Be warned: In the evenings and weekends, you’re more likely to spot soakers sans clothing. There are cabins available on-site, but the bare bones lodging and amenities means your trip to the springs is best planned as a half-day venture. Heed the sign’s warning: Four-wheel drive is required to make it there in the winter.