Skiing & Other Winter Activities
When devoted skiers talk about Steamboat, they invent new adjectives to describe its incredibly light powder.
Six peaks compose the ski area: Mount Werner, Christie, Storm, Sunshine, Pioneer Ridge, and Thunderhead. Christie Peak, the lower mountain area, is ideal for beginners. Thunderhead Peak, served by a high-speed detachable quad chairlift called the Thunderhead Express and the gondola, is great for intermediate and advanced skiers and riders. Arrowhead Glade provides an advanced playground for everybody. The Morningside Park lift accesses the extreme double black diamond terrain -- chutes, advanced mogul runs, powder bowls, and one-of-a-kind tree skiing, all from the top of Mount Werner. Buddy's Run, one of the Rockies' great intermediate cruisers, is located on Storm Peak. The most famous tree runs -- Shadows, Closet, and Twilight -- are on Sunshine Peak, along with more bump runs and cruising slopes. Morningside Park includes 179 acres on the back of Storm Peak, with intermediate to advanced terrain served by a triple chair.
The vertical drop here is one of the highest in Colorado: 3,668 feet from the 10,568-foot summit. Skiable terrain of 2,965 acres includes 165 named runs, served by 23 lifts -- an eight-passenger high-speed gondola, a high-speed six-person chair, five high-speed quad chairs, one conventional quad, six triple chairs, three double chairs, and six surface lifts. Trails are rated 14% beginner, 42% intermediate, and 44% advanced; the longest run is Why Not, at over 3 miles.
Lift tickets (3-day pass prices) cost $73 to $91 per day for adults, $57 to $73 for youth 13 to 17, $42 to $56 for children 6 to 12, $62 to $73 for seniors 65 to 69, $40 for seniors 70 and over, and free for children under 6. The rates are lowest at the beginning of the season, highest during the Christmas-New Year's holidays, and a bit lower the rest of the season. Lessons and rentals are available.
Steamboat is a great mountain for snowboarders, who especially love Mavericks Superpipe, which is 50 feet wide and 650 feet long, with 15-foot walls and a 17-foot transition!
Steamboat is usually open from the third week in November through mid-April, daily from 8:30am to 4pm. For further information, contact Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, 2305 Mt. Werner Circle, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487 (tel. 877/237-2628 or 970/879-0740 for reservations, 970/879-6111 for information; www.steamboat.com). For daily ski reports, check the resort's website or dial tel. 970/879-7300.
In addition to Steamboat, there's Howelsen Hill (tel. 970/879-8499; www.steamboatsprings.net), which has remained open every winter since its first day in 1915, making it the oldest ski area in continuous use in Colorado. The first accredited public-school ski classes in North America were taught on this slope, which is operated by the city of Steamboat Springs. It offers both day and night skiing and snowboarding on its 30 acres of terrain served by a double chair, a Poma lift, a Magic Carpet, and a pony tow. There are 15 trails (the longest is 1 mile) and one half-pipe, and Howelsen Hill rises nearly 200 feet to a 7,136-foot summit elevation.
Tickets are $16 for adults and $11 for children 7 to 18 and seniors 60 and older, $6 for kids under 7, and $8 for everyone for night skiing (5-8pm Tues-Thurs). It's usually open from late November through late March Monday and Friday noon to 6pm, Tuesday and Thursday noon to 8pm, Wednesday 9am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 4pm.
Howelsen Hill has bred more North American skiers for international competition than any other ski resort -- primarily because of its ski-jumping complex. The U.S. ski-jumping team trains each year on the 20m, 30m, 50m, 70m, and 90m jumps. Training and a variety of special events, including a Thursday night race series for adults and a Wednesday youth jumping series, are organized by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (tel. 970/879-0695 or 970/879-4300; www.sswsc.org), which was founded in 1914 and claims to be the oldest U.S. ski club west of the Mississippi River.
Cross-Country Skiing, Telemark Skiing, & Snowshoeing
Seasoned cross-country skiers swear by the Steamboat Ski Touring Center at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort (tel. 970/879-8180; www.nordicski.net). Some 19 miles of groomed cross-country trails are set beside Fish Creek, near the foot of the mountain; there are also 6 miles of snowshoe trails. A full-day adult trail pass costs $16 a day; children 12 and under and seniors 65 and older pay $10. Gear rentals and lessons are available. Trails are open daily during ski season from 9am to 4pm. To get to the center, follow the signs off Mount Werner Road.
There are also cross-country trails at Howelsen Hill. Popular cross-country ski trails in nearby national forest land include Rabbit Ears Pass, 25 miles east of Steamboat on U.S. 40, and Dunkley Pass, 25 miles south on Colo. 131. For trail maps and information, contact Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger Station, 925 Weiss Dr., Steamboat Springs, CO 80487-9315 (tel. 970/879-1870; www.fs.fed.us/r2).
Snowshoeing is gaining in popularity. There are numerous spots ideal for snowshoeing in the surrounding national forests, as well as at Steamboat Ski Touring Center . Snowshoe and cross-country ski rentals are available at several outlets, including Straightline Outdoor Sports.
Okay all you NASCAR fans, you think you're great drivers? (Almost) any wimp can drive on dry pavement, but how good are you when your car's sliding down a sheet of ice? This is the place to find out. America's first (and only) school of ice driving is based at the foot of Mount Werner. Bridgestone Winter Driving School teaches safe winter driving the smartest way possible -- hands-on, on a 1-mile circuit packed with frozen water and snow, and guarded by high snow banks. Classes combine instruction with on-track practice and are available for average drivers as well as professionals. Classes include a half-day introductory course ($270) and the most popular -- a full-day course for $480. There's also a 2-day performance course for $1,550. The school is open daily from mid-December to early March, and reservations are recommended. Contact Bridgestone Winter Driving School, 1850 Ski Time Sq. Dr. (P.O. Box 774167), Steamboat Springs, CO 80477 (tel. 800/949-7543 or 970/879-6105; www.winterdrive.com).
The Howelsen Ice Arena, 243 Howelsen Pkwy. (tel. 970/879-0341 or 970/879-4300; www.steamboatsprings.net), is an enclosed Olympic-size ice arena open year-round that has open skating hours, offers lessons in hockey and figure skating, and organizes various competitions. Admission is $6 adults, $5 youths 6 to 18, $3 for seniors 50 and older, and free for children 5 and younger. Skate rentals are $3 ($2 for seniors 50 and older). Call for the rink schedule.
Snowmobilers consider the Continental Divide Trail, running over 50 miles from Buffalo Pass north of Steamboat to Gore Pass, west of Kremmling, to be one of the finest maintained trails in the Rockies, with some of the most spectacular scenery you'll see anywhere. For information, check with Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. Among those offering guided snowmobile tours is High Mountain Tours, P.O. Box 749, Clark, CO 80428 (tel. 877/879-6500 or 970/879-6500; www.steamboatsnowmobile.com). The cost is $115 for one person plus $65 for a passenger for a 2-hour ride, $165 for one person and $75 for a passenger for a half-day ride with lunch, $255 for one person plus $175 passenger for a full-day tour with lunch, with a four-machine minimum. Dinner rides and overnight trips are also offered.
Warm-Weather & Year-Round Activities
Most outdoor recreation pursuits are enjoyed in 1.1-million-acre Routt National Forest, which virtually surrounds Steamboat Springs and offers opportunities for camping, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, and hunting. For trail maps and information, contact Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger Station, 925 Weiss Dr., Steamboat Springs, CO 80477 (tel. 970/879-1870; www.fs.fed.us/r2).
Two wilderness areas in the forest are easily reached from Steamboat. Immediately north of town is the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, a region of rugged peaks approached through 10,800-foot Buffalo Pass, on Forest Road 60 off Strawberry Park Road via Seventh Street. Southwest of Stillwater Reservoir, some 40 miles south of Steamboat via Colo. 131 through Yampa, is the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, with picturesque alpine meadows and sheer volcanic cliffs. No motorized vehicles or mountain bikes are allowed in wilderness areas, although horses and dogs are permitted (dogs must be leashed in some areas).
Howelsen Hill (tel. 970/879-8499 or 970/879-4300; www.steamboatsprings.net) offers several warm-weather activities. You'll find a BMX and skateboard park, tennis, softball, volleyball, horseback riding, and mountain biking, plus the rodeo grounds. In addition, an alpine slide, which operates daily from 10am until dusk during the summer, has a 2,400-foot dual track down the face of Howelsen Hill. For current rates and other information, contact the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (tel. 970/879-0695; www.sswsc.org).
The Steamboat Ski Resort doesn't go into hibernation after the snow melts; it just changes its focus, offering hiking, mountain biking, gondola rides, disc golf, and a multitude of other activities, including many that are great for kids. For information, check with Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation.
Some 28 miles north of Steamboat Springs on C.R. 129 is Steamboat Lake State Park (tel. 970/879-3922; www.parks.state.co.us), encompassing 1,053-acre Steamboat Lake. At an elevation of 8,000 feet, activities include summer camping (198 campsites with fees of $12-$18 plus the $6 park entrance fee; camping reservations are available through the state park website), picnicking, fishing, hunting, boating, swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, and nature walks. There's an attractive sandy beach (the sand was trucked in) and three boat-launching ramps. In winter, the park offers ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.
Steamboat Lake Marina (tel. 970/879-7019; www.steamboatlakemarina.com), open year-round, has a small store with a deli -- be sure to sample the especially good homemade fudge -- plus groceries, fishing supplies, equipment rentals, boat fuel, and boat rentals. Canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats rent for $25 per hour; small fishing boats are $70 for 2 hours; 20-foot pontoon boats cost $125 for 2 hours; and 24-foot pontoon boats cost $160 for 2 hours. Pontoon boats either are outfitted for fishing or have barbecue grills. (Yes, you can fish from a boat with a grill -- then you've got a grill for cooking your catch!) Rates for powerboats include fuel. Boat reservations are strongly recommended.
The marina has 10 cabins that have coffeemakers, small refrigerators, and a shared bathhouse. The nightly rate is $60 for two, and $5 for each additional person or pet.
Stagecoach State Park (tel. 970/736-2436; www.parks.state.co.us), south of Steamboat Springs, offers camping, picnicking, fishing, boating, and other watersports. From Steamboat Springs, head 3 miles south on U.S. 40 to Colo. 131, turn southwest (right) and go about 6 miles to C.R. 14, and turn south (left) about 5 miles to the park entrance. The main attraction here is a 780-acre reservoir, which is set among rolling hills, interspersed with forests and grasslands. The reservoir is fairly evenly divided for water-skiing and wakeless boating. The park has 92 campsites in four campgrounds, and two campgrounds have electric hookups. Camping fees are $8 to $18, plus the day-use fee of $6 per vehicle that everyone going to the park must pay. Camping reservations are available through the state park website. The elevation at the park is 7,250 feet.
Stagecoach Marina (tel. 970/736-8342), usually open from mid-May through mid-September, has a store with fishing and camping supplies, plus boat fuel and boat rentals. Rates are highest Friday through Sunday, when canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats rent for $15 per hour; small fishing boats are $39 for 2 hours; 20-foot pontoon boats are $98 for 2 hours; and 24-foot pontoon boats cost $124 for 2 hours. There are discounts Monday through Thursday, and also discounts for longer time periods. Reservations are recommended.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association produces a trail map, available at the information center on Lincoln Avenue, showing which trails are open to what sport: biking, horseback riding, hiking, 4WD, or ATVs. On the reverse side of the map are descriptions of several trails in the area.
For a quick, fun, and relatively easy way to see this area's beautiful backcountry, consider a guided trip on an all-terrain vehicle. Steamboat Lake Outfitters, P.O. Box 749, Clark, CO 80428 (tel. 800/342-1889 or 970/879-4404; www.steamboatoutfitters.com), leads rides along old mining roads into the mountains, offering splendid views of the Continental Divide and Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. Rates for a 2-hour ride are $85 for a one-person ATV or $150 for a two-person machine, and half-day, full-day, and overnight rides are also offered.
Biking & Mountain Biking
The 5-mile, dual-surface Yampa River Trail connects downtown Steamboat Springs with Steamboat Village, and links area parks and national forest trails. The Mount Werner Trail links the river to the ski area, which has numerous slopes open to mountain bikers in summer. Spring Creek Trail climbs from Yampa River Park into Routt National Forest. Touring enthusiasts can try their road bikes on the 110-mile loop over Rabbit Ears and Gore passes, rated one of the 10 most scenic rides in America by Bicycling magazine. Another option, especially for those of us who don't believe that sweating our way up the side of a mountain is fun, is to take the Silver Bullet Gondola into the mountains and then ride the more than 40 upper mountain trails. Mountain bike rentals are available at the top of the gondola (tel. 970/871-5252), with $55 rates for 3 hours for an adult bike and slightly less for kids' bikes. Diggler Mountain Scooters are also available for rent at the same rates. There is also a required mountain bike ticket (beyond the gondola ticket) that is $8 a day.
Rentals are available from Ski Haus, 1457 Pine Grove Rd. (tel. 800/932-3019 or 970/879-0385). Rentals of basic mountain bikes cost about $35 for a half-day and $50 for a full day. Town cruisers and road bikes are also available, as are repairs, gear, and advice.
The Saddleback Ranch, on C.R. 179 about 14 miles southwest of Steamboat Springs (tel. 970/879-3711; www.saddlebackranch.net), is a working cattle ranch -- not some Hollywood-style dude ranch -- that offers a genuine Old West experience. The ranch has some 1,500 head of cattle on its 7,200 acres, and participants join working cowboys in moving cattle from pasture to pasture and performing other ranching tasks that are still done the old-fashioned way. Horses, tack, slickers, and snacks are provided, and cost for a half-day on the trail is $90 for those 10 and older. Children under 8 are not permitted on the rides. The cattle drives are held from June through mid-September.
The Steamboat Springs area, and particularly the Yampa River, has some of the best trout fishing in the state. There are nearly 150 lakes and reservoirs and almost 600 miles of streams in Routt County, which surrounds Steamboat Springs. Trout -- rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat -- are prolific, and the Yampa River and Stagecoach Reservoir are known for northern pike as well. Especially popular is the 5-mile stretch of the Yampa in downtown Steamboat Springs that is designated a catch-and-release trout stream; the Yampa's northern pike, whitefish, and small-mouth black crappy do not fall under the catch-and-release limitations.
Contact Straightline Outdoor Sports, 744 Lincoln Ave. (tel. 800/354-5463 or 970/879-7568; www.straightlinesports.com), for information, licenses, and either rental or purchase of equipment. Straightline also offers guide services (call for details).
The golf season here usually runs May through October, or as long as the snow isn't falling. The 18-hole municipal Haymaker Golf Course, at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Colo. 131, east of Steamboat Springs (tel. 970/870-1846; www.haymakergolf.com), is a challenging links-style course with only 110 of its 233 acres used for fairways and greens. It conforms to the open-space philosophy of the Steamboat community, with native grasses, wetlands, and contours mimicking the surrounding valley and mountains. The greens fee during summer is $56 to $96 for 18 holes, and $54 to $69 at the beginning and end of the golfing season.
The Steamboat Golf Club, 6 miles west of downtown Steamboat Springs along U.S. 40 (tel. 970/879-4295; www.steamboatgolfclub.com), is a picturesque 9-hole course along the Yampa River, with greens fees of $29 for 9 holes and $39 for 18 holes.
Summer visitors don't have to work hard to get up into the mountains above Steamboat -- simply hop on the Silver Bullet Gondola (tel. 877/237-2628 or 970/879-0740; www.steamboat.com), which operates weekends in mid-June and mid-September, and daily from late June through early September. Prices for all-day passes are as follows: adults $18, seniors 65 and older $14, children 6 to 12 $8 (or $20 for one adult and one child 6-12), teens 13 to 17 $13 (or $25 for one adult and one teen 13-17), free for children 5 and younger. From the top of the gondola, hiking and mountain-biking trails can be accessed.
Hiking, Backpacking & Mountaineering
There are numerous trails in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, immediately north of Steamboat, and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, 48 miles southwest. An especially scenic 4-hour hike in the Flat Tops area takes you from Stillwater Reservoir to the Devil's Causeway, with unforgettable views. Contact the U.S. Forest Service for information. There are also hiking trails at Steamboat Ski Area, which are easily reached on the Silver Bullet Gondola.
Located behind the rodeo grounds in town (follow Fifth St. south from Lincoln Ave.) is Sombrero Ranches (tel. 970/879-2306; www.sombrero.com), which offers 1- and 2-hour rides, breakfast rides, and special supervised rides for young children. Prices are $30 for an hour, $45 for the 2-hour and breakfast rides, and $20 for a half-hour lead-horse ride for kids.
Steamboat Lake Outfitters leads guided horseback tours at Steamboat Lake State Park, ranging from 1- and 2-hour rides ($35 and $55 per person, respectively) to half- and full-day rides, with lunch, for $100 and $195 per person, respectively. This company also offers breakfast and dinner rides plus pack trips and horseback fishing trips into nearby wilderness areas (call for details), and rents rooms and cabins.
Dinner rides are offered during the summer by Saddleback Ranch, with a choice of New York strip steak, pork tenderloin, salmon, or barbecued chicken, plus all the extras. There's a 35-minute ride to the dinner site (transportation by hay wagon is also available), and the cost is $75 for adults and $65 for kids 6 to 12. Two-hour trail rides are $55 for those over 5.
More than 150 mineral springs are located in and around the Steamboat Springs area. Several are located in city parks. Their healing and restorative qualities were recognized for centuries by Utes, and James Crawford, the area's first white settler, regularly bathed in Heart Spring and helped build the first log bathhouse over it in 1884.
Today Heart Spring is part of the new-and-improved Old Town Hot Springs, 136 Lincoln Ave. (tel. 970/879-1828; www.steamboathotsprings.org), in downtown Steamboat Springs. In addition to the man-made pools into which the spring's waters flow, there are a lap pool, water slide, spa, whirlpool, fitness center, tennis courts, and massage therapy. Pool admission is $12 for adults, $7 for youths 13 to 17 and seniors 65 and over, $4 for children under 3 to 12, and free for children under 3. Suit and towel rentals are available. The complex is open year-round Monday through Friday from 5:30am to 9:45pm, Saturday 7am to 8:45pm, and Sunday 8am to 8:45pm. The slide is open from noon to 6pm in summer and from 4 to 8pm in winter, and, in addition to the pool admission, costs $5 for five rides or $12 for unlimited rides.
The Strawberry Park Hot Springs, 44200 C.R. 36 (tel. 970/879-0342; www.strawberryhotsprings.com), are 7 miles north of downtown (from Seventh St., follow the signs) up a rugged, rocky road navigable by regular cars in summer but requiring four-wheel-drive in winter; it's strongly recommended to ride the shuttle. (In summer, you can drive to the Hot Springs trail head off of C.R. 129 and hike 3 miles to the park.) The trip may be difficult, but it's a wonderful experience to spend a moonlit evening in a sandy-bottomed, rock-lined soaking pool, kept between 101° and 106°F (38°-41°C), with snow piled high around you. The hot springs are open Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 10:30pm (no entry after 9:30pm except to shuttles); Friday and Saturday 10am to midnight (no entry after 10:30pm except to shuttles). Admission costs $10 adults, $5 youths 13 to 17, and $3 children 3 to 12. After dark, children under 18 are not permitted and clothing is optional. Massages are available, and rustic cabins ($55-$65 a night) and tent sites ($50 a night) can be rented year-round, as well as a nifty caboose-turned-kitchenette ($105 a night). Overnighters get the pool all to themselves after-hours. There's a picnic area but no restaurant. Pets are not permitted.
The Steamboat Springs PRCA Summer ProRodeo Series (tel. 970/879-1818; www.steamboatrodeo.com) takes place each year from mid-June through mid-August at the Romick Rodeo Arena in Howelsen Park, at the corner of Fifth Street and Howelsen Parkway. Professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls (or should that be cowpersons?) compete in bull riding, bareback and saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, calf roping, team roping, and barrel racing. In the Calf Scramble, children are invited to try to pluck a ribbon from the tail of a calf. The rodeo takes place Friday and Saturday nights starting at 7:30pm. Admission costs $15 for adults, $8 for youths 7 to 15, and is free for children under 7.