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Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado

Steamboat isn’t just one mountain. It covers a whole mountain range. In the valley below is Steamboat Springs, a classic Western mining and ranching town that now beats to the heart of tourism.

Unlike other Colorado ski resorts, Steamboat’s expansive terrain — 3,668 vertical feet covering almost 3,000 acres — is below timberline, meaning there are no take-your-breath-away bowls or steep rocky chutes to pump adrenaline. But groves of aspens beckon you in for some of the best tree skiing anywhere.

Steamboat’s geographic location near the Wyoming border has several advantages. At the Western foot of Rabbit Ears Pass, the resort is a haul from Colorado’s Front Range, so the day-trippers who crowd the Summit County resorts don’t fill the liftlines here.

Then there’s the snow. Lots and lots of snow. Over-the-fence-posts snow. Up-to-the-second-story-windows snow. When-will-these-snowbanks-ever-melt snow. Storms blow in from the high plains of Northwestern Colorado and dump their load here. Plan a trip here and you’re almost guaranteed snow.

Although Steamboat’s famous picture, the ski trails rising behind a brown barn, alludes to the town’s cowboy heritage, the resort itself is sleek and modern. The gondola rises from the heart of Steamboat Mountain Village where you can browse art galleries, shop for a new ski outfit and sip a Starbucks latte. Adjacent to the village is a colossal Sheraton, designed to accommodate the masses, not to exude any geographic or historic pretention. The only cowboy that you might see graces the head of Steamboat’s resident celebrity and director of skiing, Olympian Billy Kidd.

For 2007/2008, the resort has invested $16 million in improvements, including a new high-speed six-pack chairlift that serves the beginner trails and terrain park on Christie Peak, and regrading of the learning terrain, oddly called the Headwall, that rises from the base village.

Venture into downtown Steamboat Springs—about five minutes by car and 15 minutes by a free shuttlebus from the mountain—and you may see cowboys sauntering down the main drag. Northwest Colorado still has cattle ranches, so they’ll probably be the real thing. But the only horse you’ll likely see is a life-sized statue that stands on the sidewalk outside F.M. Light & Sons, a clothing store that has been open (and in the same family) since 1905.

But the town is more than a kitschy Western tourist hub. The 93-year-old Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club at Howelsen Hill, across the river from downtown, is home to world-class athletes who train on the Nordic trails, ski jumps, and Alpine pistes there. With only a 440-foot vertical rise, Howelsen Hill is the oldest ski area in continuous use in Colorado and has been the training ground for 69 Olympians, including Buddy Werner.

Steamboat is also a terrific place for people who don’t ski or ride. In addition to great shopping, it has activities that go beyond the usual sleigh rides and snowmobile tours (see Other Activities).

Travelers arriving by air will find the Yampa Valley Regional Airport significantly expanded and renovated. Check American Airlines for special fares directly from Chicago. You can often book these special fares through Steamboat Central Reservations: 800-922-2722.

 

Photo courtesy of Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.