Steamboat Springs: A Wintry Adventure in a Town of Olympians
By Brian E. Clark
From our posh digs at One Steamboat Place, a five-star resort with private vacation rental units managed by Moving Mountains, my ski patrol buddy Dave Cushman and I could look out on the nearby lifts at the expansive Steamboat Springs Resort in northwest Colorado.
In fact, to be any closer to the slopes, we’d have almost needed to sleep on the snow.
No shuttle buses this trip.
Our wintry adventure began with a long and blizzardy drive from the Midwest, from which Steamboat has traditionally drawn many of its patrons who are attracted by the abundance of intermediate runs, ski school instructor Dave Hartley told us.
And while Steamboat (steamboat.com) may not be as flashy as Aspen or luxurious as Utah’s Deer Valley, it’s produced more Olympians than any other ski town in the United States. So there.
We arrived around 1 p.m., surveyed our more-than comfortable lodgings – which included a kitchen, living room and were big enough for a mid-sized family – and switched into our ski gear.
Then we hit the snow for a few laps in the soft afternoon light to warm up our legs and adjust to the altitude. We hopped on the gondola at the 6,900-foot base, made our way to the Thunderhead lodge at 9,000 feet and skied down Heavenly Daze, a blue run that got our blood flowing. (The black diamond runs could wait.)
Next, it was up to the summit at 10,568 feet, where we surveyed the 3,741-acre resort, which has a whopping 23 lifts, 182 trails and is famed for what it bills as its “champagne powder.”
After the well-deserved “wows,” we carved big, slow turns back to the base on mostly blue pistes, descending nearly 4,000 vertical feet. (3,668, if you want to be exact.)
We made a few more laps on the lower part of the mountain that first afternoon before calling it quits and returning to One Steamboat Place (onesteamboatplace.com) for apres ski treats and finger food while we mingled with other guests from near and far.
Hartley, who has called Steamboat home for nearly a quarter century, said the mountain offers abundant terrain for all levels of skiers that he teaches.
“Where we go depends entirely on your ability and your enthusiasm,” said Hartley, who first saw Steamboat when he was attending Ohio State University and setting up trips for the school’s ski club.
“I got to ski a lot of places, but I chose Steamboat as a place to live because it had and still has something of a friendly Midwestern vibe,” he said. “It’s grown a bunch since I arrived (from 6,000 to 13,000 residents) and people do complain about the traffic and the cost of housing. But I continue to think it’s a wonderful place to live and ski.”
For novices and low intermediates, Hartley takes them to the Greenhorn Ranch, which opened last year as part of $200 million worth of “Full Steam Ahead” improvements at the resort. Upgrades in the three-year effort also include the new base-to-top Wild Blue gondola, a Steamboat Square facelift, a new ice rink and other base amenities.
“They regraded the Greenhorn Ranch area, moved a lot of dirt around to aid in terrain-based instruction, added four moving carpets, a detachable quad lift and created a wonderful playground for teaching novices,” he said. “It’s really accelerated learning for ‘never-evers’ up to level low intermediates.”
After a couple of days in Greenhorn Ranch, he said skiers should be making parallel turns and comfortable moving up to Sunshine Bowl. It’s located mid-mountain and has numerous low-intermediate options, he said.
“You can go from Greenhorn, which has maybe a 400-foot vertical descent and then all of the sudden be up on the mountain skiing or riding on the Sunshine Run, which has a descent of 1,200 feet,” he said.
“Or do Tomahawk, which is probably the most popular run on the whole resort because it’s green, super wide and quite long. People can really improve their skills there.”
Once skiers and boarders get more comfortable there, he suggests moving on to blue runs like Buddy’s (named for Steamboat legend Buddy Werner) and then some easier black pistes. As you move right to left on the mountain as you face it, the slopes become more challenging, he added.
On the backside of Mt. Werner, skiers and riders will find intermediate glades in the Morningside Bowl, he said. “
The front of Mt. Werner offers the steepest pistes on the mountain with names like Chutes One, Two, Three, the Gully and East Face. Unfortunately, he said, these runs are relatively short.
New for the 2023-24 season is the 650-acre Mahogany Ridge and Fish Creek area for advanced- to-expert expert skiers and boarders. With the addition of this adventurous, gladed terrain, Steamboat is now the second largest ski resort in Colorado.
Mahogany Ridge was previously accessible via backcountry gates and hiking in to gain access, but is now reachable via the Mahogany Ridge Express, a new high-speed detachable quad. The expansion area will remain uncut except for the lift line and boundary trail.
The resort says that skiers and riders brave enough to take this route should expect a variety of conditions and terrain including rock cliffs, chutes and tree glades. And it warns that while the Steamboat Ski Patrol actively monitors and maintains the area, including potential avalanche mitigation, varying conditions may be encountered at any time.
Hartley said if he has a free hour to ski in a break from giving lessons, he’d head up the Steamboat gondola and then jump on the Storm Peak Express to get to the summit. From there, you can go down through a graded run called Closets, which takes you back to Sundown Express.
“Depending on the snow, you can ski all the way to the bottom of the gulley,” he said. “It gets steeper as you go down. If not, go off to the skiers right on Sunset. I’d grab a lap and then go all the way up to the top of the Sundown Express, which is almost as high as the summit. From there, there’s a run all the way to the bottom. If you are a good skier and are making tucks, you can make it to the base in about 10 minutes.”
When Hartley wants to dine out, he said Steamboat offers an array of restaurant options.
“The food scene has evolved a lot over the last 10 to 15 years in a positive way,” he said.
For a moderate-priced Italian meal, he recommends Mazzola’s, which is in the basement of the Claremont Inn boutique hotel.
“The Laundry is a good tapas place and the Creekside Cafe is a nice breakfast spot that’s known for its Eggs Benedict,” he said.
“Salt and Lime has high-end Mexican tacos and good margaritas. Out at the far end of town, people like Big House Burgers. And right next door, Little House Country is a good breakfast place.”
On the mountain, he sometimes eats with students at Ragnar’s, a fine dining lunch spot in the lower level of the Rendezvous Lodge. The Lodge also has a food court on the main level and a pizza bar above that.
And for the acres ski scene, he recommends Torch and Timber T&T, which also has good lunch food. And at the base area of the resort, he suggests Cafe Diva, which he calls the “best restaurant in town.”
Another good spot in the base is the Truffle Pig, which he said is a nice spot for lunch and happy hour, offering high-end, American-style food. He also recommends the Range Food Hall, which opened this past summer at the base next to the Skeeters skating rink, as a good place for a variety of meal options.
For more information on lodging at Steamboat in addition to One Steamboat Place, see movingmoutains.com.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.