The term “Champagne powder®” was coined in Steamboat Springs, and the northwest Colorado town boasts more Winter Olympians (69 at last count) than anywhere else in the world. Coincidence? You do the math.
Here’s the lowdown on “Ski Town USA”: the resort is located far enough from the Front Range to avoid day traffic, yet receives the most consistent snowfall in the state (a record 483 inches in 2007/’08 alone). This means that there are rarely crowds to track it up.
But the best part is that it was a ranching town before it ever became a ski area. Its people are friendly and unpretentious, and you won’t find a fur coat anywhere. Perhaps no where is its neighborly ranching heritage better illustrated than during the town’s annual Cowboy Downhill, drawing rodeo stars from the world over, and Winter Carnival (Feb. 11-14), where kids get towed behind horses down Main Street and you can see the world’s only high school marching band on skis.
This same attitude permeates the mountain, where locals are as likely to show you their favorite stash as point you to the best happy hour. In keeping with its Olympic heritage, you can even ski with Olympians Billy Kidd and Nelson Carmichael.
Since its inception in 1963, the resort has grown into one of North America’s premier resorts with 165 trails, nearly 3,000 acres, 18 lifts, and 3,668 feet of vertical rise. While Colorado’s third-largest resort doesn’t offer any major Vail-like bowls, it makes up for it with consistent pitch and some of the world’s best tree skiing in Closets and Shadows, runs that will toast your legs before you’re toasting with the resort’s namesake champagne (picture schussing through aspen trees as if they were slalom gates). It’s also one of the most family-friendly resorts in the country, recently unveiling its new Mountain Watch system that lets you track your kids’ day on the slopes via GPS.
Locals routinely enact the powder clause whenever eight inches or more falls, with the two 2,000-vertical-foot high-speed quads of Sunshine and Storm Peak Express letting you knock off eight or nine runs in just two hours. While it might not boast the nightlife of Aspen, it has a solid après scene at the mountain’s base and the newly opened Ghost Ranch Saloon brings in such acts as the Reverend Horton Heat, Agent Orange and Sam Bush. There are also ample places to stay, from luxurious hotels to a wealth of slopeside condos and even urban loft-style rooms downtown. Tire of the main mountain and you can ski the city-owned Howelsen Hill downtown, skate on an Olympic-sized rink, Nordic ski, sleigh ride, dog sled or soak in the nearby Strawberry Park Hotsprings.
Getting there is as effortless as skiing its knee-deep powder. Nonstop flights connect it to such major cities as Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, or you can drive three hours over Rabbit Ears Pass from Denver International Airport.
The City recently passed a $20 million revitalization project to redevelop the resort’s base, including new bus and shuttle stops; roundabout traffic features; and a redesigned Gondola Square Transit Center. Add to this $30 million in on-mountain improvements over the past four years, including the recent completion of the high-speed Christie six-pack, whisking skiers up from the base. Plenty of private developments are reaching fruition also, with One Steamboat Place, the Edgemont and a new gondola from Trailhead Lodge changing the face of the base village.
Combine this with its snow, friendliness and terrain, and you’ve got a place where you’ll always want to hang your hat.
*all photos courtesy of Larry Pierce and Steamboat