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Editor’s note: This winter, we’re honoring five Colorado resorts celebrating milestone anniversaries, including Copper Mountain, Vail Ski Resort, Eldora Mountain, Steamboat Ski Resort, and Telluride Ski Resort. Read more about their history, hear from their fans, and learn how you can join in on the fun.
Long before the town of Steamboat Springs was a ski haven, it was a ranching community. Around the turn of the 19th century, locals tied wooden planks to their feet simply to stay afloat in the snow while moving around. That changed in 1914, when a native Norwegian arrived in town with the circus. Carl Howelsen, a decorated ski jumper and Nordic skier, demonstrated that skiing was more than just a means of transportation; it was also a great way to recreate.
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As the locals embraced Howelsen (a smaller ski hill in town still bears his name) and adopted his love of skiing, they saw great potential in the collection of larger peaks near town. In the late 1950s, the son of a local ranching family, Jim Temple, began buying up privately owned meadows at the base of Storm Mountain, accumulating 827 acres in all. The resort opened on January 12, 1963, and closed the frigid day—temperatures were recorded around –25 degrees—with $13.75 in cash receipts.
Another ranching family, the Werners, put Steamboat in the Olympic spotlight. Though neither the father, Ed, nor the mother, Hazie, engaged in the downhill pastime, their three kids took to skiing with gusto. All skied their way to the Olympics, and, according to the youngest son Loris “Bugs” Werner, his older siblings Wallace “Buddy” Werner and Gladys “Skeeter” Werner were among the world’s top male and female skiers in their day. When Buddy died in an avalanche in 1964 while skiing in Switzerland, Steamboat Ski Resort’s tallest peak, 10,570-foot Storm Mountain, was renamed Mount Werner in his honor.
Over the years, Steamboat Springs has continued to produce Olympic-caliber skiers. Thanks to the ski resort at its doorstep and the town’s revered winter sports club where “you have Olympians training Olympians,” says Loryn Duke, communications director for the resort, Steamboat Springs has sent more athletes to the Winter Games than any other town in the U.S. Roughly one in 136 residents is an Olympian. “For us, to have kids who say, ‘I want to someday go to the Olympics,’ that’s not a far-fetched dream,” Duke adds. “It’s realistic.”
Today, the ski resort is churning out more than just Olympians. In the midst of a transformational capital improvement project, Steamboat, now in its 60th season, is poised to become the second-largest ski area in Colorado; the multi-year, nearly $200 million undertaking will bring an additional 650 acres of expert terrain and a second gondola to the off-the-beaten-path resort known for its western roots.
“In true western heritage, it’s a little bit slower out here,” Duke says. “We always want to be at the forefront of our industry, but not rush into fads…that change the culture and the history and the legacy of where we are.”
Certainly, the resort’s facelift will present yet another reason for aspiring Olympians, as well as everyday athletes and après-lovers, to gravitate to the community known as Ski Town USA. The updates will also feature small nods to the town’s signature western heritage. The on-mountain improvements will increase the terrain to 3,615 acres, add a 3.16-mile-long gondola (set to be the longest in North America), and create a dedicated beginner ski area, Greenhorn Ranch. Modernizations in the base area include a barn-inspired aesthetic with large timbers throughout and a new food hall dubbed “The Range.”
“Skiing is in our blood, but it is not all that we are,” Duke says. “If you took the ski resort out of Steamboat, this would still be a thriving community. It probably wouldn’t have the production of Olympians that we have, but I think there’s something really neat to being a true town that just happens to have incredible, world-class recreation in its backyard.”
How to Celebrate
No plans the spring? Book a trip to Steamboat Ski Resort for its annual Springalicious event (April 1–9). The festivities include traditional quirky events (sledding on cardboard and skimming across a pond on skis) with a touch of 60th anniversary flair.
In the meantime, enter the 60th Anniversary Sweepstakes for a chance to win giveaways like Steamboat-branded gear, GoPro cameras, Smith goggles, and Yeti coolers, in addition to the grand prize: a luxury Steamboat vacation for four people next winter. Also keep an eye on the resort’s social media outlets for history snippets dubbed “Steamboat Stories” and upload your own with the tag #steamboat60.
One Run to Try
No visit to Steamboat is complete without a trip down Buddy’s Run, named after Wallace “Buddy” Werner, a Steamboat Springs native who joined the 1956 and 1964 Olympic downhill teams. Found at the tops of high-speed quad Storm Peak Express and the relaxed-pace Bar-UE two-person lift, this open blue trail starts steeper, mellows into flowing terrain, and then steepens again. Dip into the trees along the run’s flanks for hidden powder stashes.
Where to Stay
Though there are plenty of townhomes, lodges, and chalets (this beauty ranked among America’s top log homes in 2012) on vacation rental sites, if you want amenities like a day spa, health club, and poolside bistro steps from your room (or condo or penthouse), book a night at the Steamboat Grand. Its location across the street from the base area puts you in prime position to hit the slopes early and the après late.
Steamboat, in the Eyes of a Local Legend
Tucked into Colorado’s northwestern corner, nearly 90 miles from the I-70 corridor, Steamboat Springs has an authentic western feel and impressive collection of hometown Olympians. Another claim to fame: the roughly 300 inches of Champagne Powder that fall on the town and its namesake ski area each winter.
What makes snow so special that it earns a patented name? It’s hard to describe, even for Deb Werner, Director of Lift Operations, who has worked for the resort for more than 50 years. She’s also a member of that Werner family, the one that helped transform an off-the-beaten path ranching community into Ski Town USA. “[The snow here] is so light, it is just like skiing through air,” she says. “You can have a foot of it and [it feels like] you’re just skiing through nothing…There’s nothing quite like it.”