Discovering Steamboat Springs

By Rebecca Treon

Steamboat Springs is different from other mountain towns in ski country. Unlike Aspen, Breckenridge, Telluride, and most of Colorado’s other ski resort towns, Steamboat didn’t start its life as a mining town. The Ute tribe used it as its summer hunting grounds and for the area’s mineral hot springs for physical and spiritual therapy. In the 1800s, French trappers dubbed it Steamboat Springs after they mistakenly thought they heard the sound of a chugging steam engine, when in fact it was the sound being made by a bubbling natural spring.

The first homestead was built there in 1874 and by 1884, the area was an official townsite. By 1885 it had five more families, a newspaper called the Steamboat Pilot (which is still being published), and a sawmill. By 1900, there were hotels, banks, general stores, butchers, and a utility service company. When the railroad arrived in 1909, the ranchers of the valley turned Steamboat into one of the West’s largest cattle shipping centers. The railroad also brought tourists, who came for the hot springs, scenery, and by 1910, skiing. Fun fact: Steamboat has the most Olympians of any North American ski town: 96 and counting!

Today, Steamboat Springs is a blend of ski boots and cowboy hats — a ski town with a rancher’s soul. The valley is still home to some 400 operating ranches raising everything from Texas longhorn cattle to sheep and horses. Visitors can get a true feel of the region watching the sun setting over sweeping wide-open spaces and picturesque mountains conjuring a scene in a spaghetti Western. There are ranch tours and equestrian events, the Tread of the Pioneers Museum which chronicles Steamboat’s history, Cowboy Round-Up Days (celebrating the town’s heritage on Independence Day), the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, and a weekly farmers market during the summer months.

Because of the vast swathes of land that remained undeveloped and instead were used for ranching, Steamboat evolved differently than many ski towns — meaning it has been able to remain a hidden gem of sorts, a town that until recently was a trifle undiscovered. It’s less glitzy than its counterparts off the I-70 corridor, and that’s a good thing. Steamboat boasts being in touch with the authentic mountain lifestyle.

During ski season in Steamboat, there’s no better place to be than on the slopes. There are 2,965 skiable acres and the longest run is three miles long. Steamboat is known for its incredible snow — so much so that the area patented the term ‘Champagne Powder’ (there were 46 powder days last season, which is a pretty solid number). This season, Steamboat Ski Resort unveiled a new ski gondola, the Doppelmayr, which replaces a 30-year-old lift and gets skiers up the mountain 38-percent faster. One thing not to miss: TacoBeast is the mountain’s roving Snowcat-turned-street taco truck, serving elk chorizo and beef barbacoa-stuffed tortillas with an ice-cold tall boy of Pacifico. The resort also brought a sustainability director on board for the first time. While the resort has always kept sustainability at the forefront, Sarah Jones’ designated role will plan and implement new ways to be energy efficient, manage waste, and conserve water to keep Steamboat’s ski mountain available for generations to come.

People cross country skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
David Epperson

Lincoln Avenue has traditionally been regarded as Steamboat’s ‘Main Street,’ where you can find places like Lyon Drug, an old-school soda fountain, diner and pharmacy. Check out F.M. Light & Sons, a western wear store that has been in business since 1905. Venture off Lincoln Avenue to explore Yampa Street, a newly developed entertainment district being touted as the ‘new heart of Steamboat.’ Running alongside the Yampa River, the street teems with shops, businesses, and restaurants like E3 Chophouse serving local beef off their own ranch, 609 Yampa featuring comfort food in a great location, Aurum Food & Wine featuring legendary seasonal fine dining, and other spots like a New Orleans-style food, barbecue, tacos, and a taproom/brewery. Yampa Street offers plenty of river access for fishing, tubing, or kayaking in the summer. The Yampa River is at the heart of Steamboat Springs, and Steamboat Ski Resort has donated half-a-million dollars to the Yampa River Fund, dedicated to conserving the water supply, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities provided by the river.

A festival on Steamboat Spring' 'Main Street'
George Fargo

Those who want to get in on the Steamboat dream can look at properties like Alpine Mountain Ranch & Club, a 1,200-acre combination land preservation and homeowner community that offers a unique approach to development. The ranch offers access to the adjacent Steamboat Ski Resort, a 1.5-mile stretch of private property along the Yampa River that’s ideal for fishing (or cast into the onsite stocked fishing pond), five miles of trails for hiking or equestrian use, and a luxury equestrian facility with a community barn. Best of all, 900 acres of the property is dedicated to wildlife preservation and will never be developed. Each of the 63, five-acre homesites backs onto preserve space, where wildlife sighting is a regular occurrence. Along with the private homes are a backcountry retreat, an Owners’ lodge and two guest houses. They have a partnership with One Steamboat Place, whose luxury amenities include a spa, ski-in, ski-out access, and a private members’ lounge. The homes are custom-built and designed to the owner’s preferences with a mountain contemporary aesthetic (think natural light streaming from floor-to-ceiling windows, integrated indoor-outdoor spaces, and energy efficiency).

A snowy aerial view of Alpine Mountain Ranch & Club in Steamboat Springs, CO
Alpine Mountain Ranch & Club

Steamboat offers countless year-round outdoor recreation opportunities, from ski jumping, tubing, the Winter Festival and the Bridgestone Driving School in the winter to fishing, water sports, horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking in the summer. But don’t forget the hot springs! Old Town Hot Springs is a rec-center style pool with waterslides, a fitness center, a climbing wall, and in the summer, a pool deck, cabana rentals and an obstacle course that is a great family-friendly place to spend the day. Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a series of hot springs-fed pools at different temperatures., can be accessed through a hiking trail or by a car that can do well on back roads. The hot springs has lodging, massage, changing and picnic areas and is clothing-optional after dark. A soak in therapeutic hot water is the perfect way to unwind after a day filled with Steamboat Adventure.

Steamboat Springs isn’t Aspen or Park City, Tahoe or Whistler — it’s an authentic mountain town that’s one of Colorado’s (almost) undiscovered gems.

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *