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158 miles NW of Denver, 194 miles E. of Grand Junction, 335 miles E. of Salt Lake City, Utah

One of my favorite Colorado resort towns, in part because it's a real town in addition to being a resort, Steamboat Springs fuses two very different worlds -- a state-of-the-art ski village with a genuine Western ranching center. This historic town, with a population of just under 10,000, is a pleasant laid-back community where ranchers still go about their business in cowboy boots and Stetsons, seemingly unaware of the fashion statement they are making to city-slicker visitors.

At an elevation of 6,695 feet, Steamboat Springs's numerous mineral springs and abundant wild game made this a summer retreat for Utes centuries before the arrival of white settlers. The bubbling mineral springs also caused many a mid-19th-century trapper to swear he heard the chugging sound of "a steamboat comin' round the bend" -- hence the name. But prospectors never thrived here as they did elsewhere in the Rockies, though coal mining has proven profitable. Ranching and farming were the economic mainstays until tourism arrived, and agriculture remains of key importance today.

This area is perhaps best known as the birthplace of organized skiing in Colorado. Although miners, ranchers, and mail carriers used primitive skis for transportation as early as the 1880s, it wasn't until Norwegian ski-jumping and cross-country champion Carl Howelsen built Howelsen Hill ski jump here in 1914 that skiing began to be considered a recreational sport in Colorado. In 1963, Storm Mountain was developed for skiing, and Steamboat's future as a modern ski resort was ensured. The mountain was renamed Mount Werner after the 1964 avalanche death in Europe of Olympic skier Buddy Werner, a Steamboat Springs native. Today the mountain is managed by the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation and, more often than not, is simply called Steamboat. Howelsen Hill, owned by the city of Steamboat Springs, continues to operate as a facility for ski jumpers, as well as a fun little downtown ski area.