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Having produced more Winter Olympic athletes than any other place in the US, Steamboat Springs is the place to be for fun winter activities. Colorado’s mountains and valleys provide ski terrain for everyone, from the people who are putting on their first pair of skis to the ones looking for the most daring slopes.
But skiing is just the beginning of what Steamboat Springs has to offer for people taking a trip to snow country. During my visit, I explored the town’s western heritage and discovered many things to do in Steamboat Springs in winter.
1. Ski and Snowboard in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
An eight-passenger gondola at Steamboat Springs swiftly delivers skiers and snowboarders to Thunderhead Lodge. In addition, Steamboat has 17 lifts providing access to 170 trails. Kari, a California transplant and my guide/instructor for the day, suggested we ski the trails on the right side of the mountain first.
With a fresh snowfall the day before and sunny skies my first day there, conditions were perfect. We skied on wide, groomed trails adorned with stately, snow-laden aspens, stopping occasionally to take photos.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Download the Steamboat Mobile app for information about trails, dining, snow reports and more. And consider adding First Tracks to your lift ticket. It allows you early access to certain parts of the mountain.
Lunch on the Mountain
For lunch, we ate at Four Points Lodge, one of three on-mountain restaurants. (If you prefer a quick lunch, consider Taco Beast, a roving snowcat. However, it’s not always open.) At 9,716 feet elevation, the views of the Yampa Valley are stunning.
After lunch, we skied the left side of the mountain, where trails lead back down to the base.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Looking to make the most of your travel budget while maximizing the fun? With a wide range of deals on local activities, dining, and experiences, Groupon helps you stretch your budget by offering discounted options near you.
At the bottom, guests can enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and Champagne Powder donut holes served at the Steamboat Covered Wagon.
Steamboat also offers night skiing. The ski slopes lit up at night are beautiful. The Steamboat night ski slopes are mostly black runs, with one blue run so better suited for higher intermediate to advanced skiers
SheBuysTravel Tip: It’s a good idea to take a lesson or ski with a guide the first day at an unfamiliar resort.
2. Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
You don’t have to go downhill to have winter fun in Steamboat Springs. There are plenty of opportunities to snowshoe or cross country ski. The Steamboat Ski Touring Center offers about nine miles of groomed trails for Nordic cross country skiing and about six miles for snowshoeing. Trails meander across meadows, into Aspen groves and along Fish Creek. Trail tickets are required to access the trails. Lessons are offered daily along with rental equipment.
Rent gear to glide, skate or snowshoe at the Haymaker Nordic Center on nearly five miles of groomed trails for all levels. A Trail Access Ticket is required. The Nordic Center offers classic group lessons and rental equipment for all ages and abilities.
3. Sleigh Ride Dinner at Haymaker
A sleigh ride and dinner is a fun way to experience Steamboat’s western heritage. From The Steamboat Grand, a shuttle picked us up for the short ride to the Haymaker clubhouse for appetizers and drinks at the cash or no-host bar. We ordered hot toddies for the 25-minute sleigh ride through snowy fields. Two beautiful draft horses pulled the sleigh as the setting sun painted the sky in hues of blue, peach and lavender.
Back at the clubhouse, we enjoyed a three-course dinner, which included tomato soup, a crisp salad, entree and dessert. Dinner choices include rib-eye steak, lamb, chicken, trout and vegetables. I opted for the grilled beef, served with mushrooms, whipped potatoes, charred onion and port wine sauce. My steak was tender, and since the portions were big, I brought my leftovers back to my room.
4. Take a Dip in the Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Located about 30 minutes from Steamboat Resort, the natural hot springs feel so good on a chilly snow day. Open year-round, there’s one cold pool (no thank you) and three hot pools that vary in temp from 101 to 104 degrees. I put my towel and clothes on a bench inside a hut. There are also lounge chairs around the pools to leave your stuff while soaking in the hot springs. An added bonus is the minerals in the water make your skin really smooth. It’s a definite must-do when visiting Colorado.
Although the hot springs are open to the public, the roads require a four-wheel drive, especially for winter driving. Sweet Pea Tours provides round-trip transportation from condos and hotels to the hot springs. My driver said people used to skinny dip in the hot springs when he first moved to Steamboat about 40 years ago.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you go in winter, be sure to wear sturdy shoes for walking on icy patches.
5. Soar Through the Sky on a Scenic Gondola Ride
Even if you don’t ski, you can still enjoy a gondola ride up Mount Werner. The gondola stops at Thunderhead Lodge, a good spot for lunch with a view for the whole family.
Check the website for hours of operation and current pricing.
6. Lead a Dog Sled Team
Mush your own dog team is a half-day adventure along a scenic 12.5-mile backcountry trail. For this adventure, two people are assigned per sled. One person is the musher, the other is a passenger. Halfway through, the two switch. Kids weighing under 80 pounds will have the option to stand on the sled and help drive with an adult. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to dog sled in Colorado!
7. Shop for Cowboy Gear
For a leisurely outing, spend a few hours in Downtown Steamboat Springs. Shops and restaurants adorn the pretty town. Worth visiting is the historic FM Light & Sons, a western store founded in 1905. If you’re shopping for cowboy hats or boots, this is the place. Across the street is the Homesteader, a shop that makes yummy truffles and toffee.
Flowing through downtown is the scenic Yampa River. In summer, locals raft along the pristine 250-mile long river that flows from the Rocky Mountains. In winter, snowy banks embrace the river.
Downtown also has many diverse restaurants and bars, making it the happening place for day and evening activities.
8. Chow Down in Steamboat Springs
Mambo Italiano was packed the night we ate dinner there. So reservations are definitely recommended for this popular Italian restaurant serving generous portions of pasta, pizzas and various entrees. In close proximity to Howelsen Hill Ski Area, Mambo Italiano is a good place for dinner before watching the Winter Carnival Night Extravaganza.
Timber & Torch is the place to enjoy a slope side lunch or apres ski. The large deck is great for enjoying mountain views while socializing. The food and drinks are surprisingly excellent as served from a small kitchen located in a hut on the deck. Burgers and sandwiches are a fresh hearty quality and served with house made chips that hit the spot after a few hours on the slopes.
Creekside Cafe was busy when we got there for breakfast at about 9 a.m. We had a friendly server and a delicious breakfast. I had a toasted croissant stuffed with two eggs, cheese and sausage. My friend had the Patterson Barn Burner. The homemade biscuit is sandwiched with bacon, cheddar, and two eggs along with a side of sausage gravy.
Salt & Lime is a contemporary Mexican restaurant with a unique menu and tasty (and strong) margaritas. I enjoyed my al pastor tacos with a side of cauliflower hash with cashew salsa (recommended by the bartender).
Taco Cabo is an excellent lunch option in downtown Steamboat Springs. From the outside, and even inside, it appears to be a dive. But the food is affordable and delicious. Out back is a deck with fantastic views of the river and Howelsen Hill Ski area across the river.
9. Celebrate the Season at the Steamboat Winter Carnival
Steamboat Springs prides itself on its unique Winter Carnival, which features various events over five days. The Winter Carnival Night Extravaganza is a highlight. Bundled up, I joined locals at the historic Howelsen Hill, the oldest ski area in continuous use in Colorado. In fact, Howelsen Hill has the largest and most complete natural ski jumping complex in North America.
Winter Carnival’s Lighting the Flame event features athletes skiing down the mountain in the dark, lit by flares and LED lights. In addition, jumpers soar through a fiery hoop. It’s quite the show! But the main attraction is the Lighted Man, who skies down Howelsen Hill shooting fireworks from his pyrotechnic suit. The event ends with a fireworks show, touted as the largest in the world.
The next day’s events took place along snow-covered Lincoln Avenue in Downtown Steamboat Springs. Races include street slalom, skijoring (skier pulled by a horse!), ring and spear, donkey jump and the adult shovel race. The annual donkey jump features children on skis and snowboards being pulled behind horses. At a ramp, the kids release the rope and jump to see who lands the farthest. Another event highlight is the Steamboat Springs High School Ski band. While playing instruments, the teens glide on skis along Lincoln Avenue.
Can’t visit during Steamboat Winter Carnival? Don’t fret. There are plenty of fun events year-round. Every January, 100 of the best professional rodeo cowboys compete in the most unique ski rodeo in the country at the Cowboy Downhill. Visiting during the Winter Olympics? You might just have the opportunity to run shoulders with local Olympians.
10. Sweeten Up at the Candy Stores
Got a sugar craving? Satisfy it at one of the many candy stores in town. Homesteader offers truffles and toffee. Fuzzywig’s Candy offers old school candy, as well as other hand crafted chocolates and even candy apples.
Where to Stay: The Steamboat Grand
Upon arriving (hungry) to The Steamboat Grand at about 10 p.m., I went straight to The Cabin, a restaurant and bar. They were closing soon, but I was able to order a glass of wine and dinner at the bar before settling into my room.
My second-floor studio was very comfortable and had a large window with snowy mountain views. Amenities included a king bed, kitchen and sitting area. Perfect for my four nights in Steamboat. The two-bedroom, three bath deluxe room is ideal for families and longer visits. With lots of space, a fully-equipped kitchen, king bedroom with fireplace and balcony and double queen bedroom there’s plenty of space for everyone. The Steamboat Grand also has 1- to 4-bedroom condos available, a super option for all sizes of traveling families.
Facing Mount Werner, The Steamboat Grand is a short walk to the gondola, ski rental shops, a market and restaurants. I rented my skis from Steamboat Sports located in the slope-side Sheraton.
The Grand’s complimentary shuttle makes it easy to reach downtown. Departing about every 30 minutes, the shuttle drops off within walking distance of many restaurants and shopping areas in town. For return pick up service, call the shuttle number on your room key.
With a late departure on my last day at Steamboat, I skied in the morning and got a day pass for the hotel’s pools, whirlpools, sauna, steam room and gym facilities. The heated swim-out pool and two oversized hot tubs are ideal for ending a ski day. To reserve your stay at the Steamboat Grand, click here.
Transportation Tips for Steamboat Springs, CO
From my home in Los Angeles, it’s a direct two-hour flight to Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, Colorado. Located in the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, Steamboat Express provides transportation to and from Steamboat Springs. The shuttle service stops at various hotels and condos. Once you’re at the Steamboat Ski Resort, you don’t need a car to get around. Various town shuttles are available.
If you’re traveling to Steamboat from Denver, expect a 3+ hour drive, depending on traffic and weather.