Photograph by Marc Muech
Colorado’s thickest snows cushion the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs, an Old West town where false-front buildings line streets and leather-skinned ranchers still stop by the saddlery. They began arriving in the 1800s to claim homesteads along the Yampa River, well after the native Ute tribe first summered here, hunting elk in the broad valley and soaking in the numerous mineral springs before the November storms would whitewash the hills.
Unlike Colorado’s other ranges, trees cover Steamboat’s 10,500-foot summits, which occupy the Park Range. That’s probably one reason Norwegian ski jumper Carl Howelsen stuck around after arriving in 1912, spreading the gospel of downhill sports. Ranchers’ sons would build the lift that eventually became today’s 3,000-acre resort. No other town has been home to more Olympians—78 so far—but Steamboat Springs (the resort goes by “Steamboat”) is just far enough from big cities to keep it feeling real, despite being so rife with the light fluffy stuff that the town actually trademarked the term “Champagne Powder.”
Covering two peaks, the terrain provokes grins, not fear, with moderate-pitch runs that flow through powder-laden forest. But you shouldn’t spend your whole vacation on the slopes. Do a little time travel with Del’s Triangle 3, whose sixth-generation ranchers and guides spin yarns about the valley’s past as you clomp on horseback through the rugged scenery. Later, steep in some local minerals. Downtown’s Old Town Hot Springs appeals to families with its water slide, climbing wall, and swimming pool, while the sans-kids crowd prefers Strawberry Park Hot Springs, whose rock-rimmed pools smolder beside stands of dense evergreens. After dark, clothing is optional.
A four-wheel-drive van from Sweet Pea Tours can take you on the 30-minute round-trip to the Hotel Bristol ($109-$169). The 23-room historic structure, located amid Steamboat Springs’ shops and restaurants, is cozy without being precious: Pendleton blankets warm the beds, leather wing chairs flank the lobby’s blazing fireplace, and family units provide groups elbowroom. Three miles away, the suites at Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas ($269-$1,549) go for a contemporary look and—more to the point—are within walking distance of the gondola. As a bonus you’re also a short stroll from the closet-size Paramount, where you can eyeball the trail map over mimosas and thick slices of French toast.
Gliding through the perfectly spaced pines of the Shadows, one of the mountain’s celebrated runs, or snaking through the ethereal aspens of Twilight is an experience that will leave you yearning for a helmet camera. You can recap the glory at Hazie’s, a fine-dining spot whose floor-to-ceiling windows frame the vast Yampa Valley and Flat Top mountains. Reserve ahead to get a window table with your buffalo carpaccio and glazed squab. Or try the Belgian-style mussels and a glass of pinot on Truffle Pig’s trailside patio. The service is notoriously slow at Slopeside Grill, a legendary base-area bar, but nobody cares on bluebird afternoons, when revelers pack in around the outdoor ice bar. Closer to the Bristol, you can watch chef Brian Vaughn in the open kitchen at bistro c.v. prepare jet-fresh seafood and the signature burger, made with wagyu beef and foie gras.
Steamboat’s nightlife is like the rest of the town: quiet. But most evenings you can find live music by strolling Yampa Street and following the beats to Sweetwater Grill, the Boathouse Pub, or Ghost Ranch, the standouts on the dance circuit. Scene too sleepy? Catch a bus to the mountainside Tugboat Grill & Pub, a venerable base-area sweatbox that serves the latest last call and books rowdy musicians who refuse to retire after a second encore.
Getting there: American, Delta, and United (which offers weekend nonstops from LAX) fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport, 25 miles west of the ski area. Or fly into Denver and drive three hours—assuming no snowstorms clog the route’s two mountain passes. Booking an airport shuttle may be more convenient than renting a car: Many hotels offer transportation to lifts and restaurants, and the free Steamboat Springs Transit buses link the base area, downtown, and condos.
Where to Hide Out in Remote Colorado
From a community polka to a luxury spa, four places to find more than world-class powder
TELLURIDE SKI RESORT
With mining-era buildings squeezed into a narrow box canyon, T-ride feels like the end of the line. But its steep slopes are as rewarding as the French cholesterol bombs at the iconic La Marmotte.
DUNTON HOT SPRINGS
Fabulous mountains surround these rustic cabins dedicated to decompression and sensory bliss. Soak in tranquil springs, go heli-skiing, or cocoon with a book surrounded by chinked log walls.
CRESTED BUTTE MOUNTAIN RESORT
Storybook Victorians gather beneath jagged peaks, and the hippie-type locals say good-bye to winter with a town polka. But the ski terrain is serious business.
THREE FORKS RANCH
This backcountry resort sits on the Wyoming border, an hour north of Steamboat, so once here, stay put and enjoy the on-site amenities: fly-fishing, a luxury spa, and private snowcat skiing.