A Wonderful Winter Wonderland Mini-Vacation
TR Robertson – Christmas brought a surprise gift to Carolyn and myself in the form of a mini-vacation trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a gift from my brother-in-law Eric and his girl-friend Lisa. We would be traveling with them to this ski resort destination. The gift for us consisted of a four day stay at a beautiful condo, with them, in Steamboat Springs, as well as covering the cost of a rental car to get us around the town. We covered our plane cost and since we no longer skied, Carolyn signed everyone up for a snowmobile excursion and added a sleigh ride that included a steak dinner in a rustic barn.
This would be just our third trip to Colorado during the winter, having only skied Purgatory in Durango years ago and a snowy trip to Mesa Verde. During our skiing years we had also skied several spots in Utah, Nevada, and numerous trips to our old stand-by California. Before I was married, I had my first ski experience on Mt. Hood in Oregon. We wouldn’t be skiing on this trip, although Eric did take in one day of skiing at the Steamboat Ski Resort. For this trip it was all about enjoying good company, great restaurants, a quaint ski town with unique shops and the beauty of Colorado in the wintertime, and this winter was one of the most impressive Steamboat Springs has ever had.
Before telling you more about our trip, let me give you some information about Steamboat Springs, which was all new information for me. If you have been here before, you might know about this great Colorado spot. The city of Steamboat Springs has a population of around 13,214, which swells by thousands during the winter and summer months as the town is a tourist destination. Along with private homes and apartments for locals, there are 80 condominium complexes, some of the complexes have over 400 individual condos in their facility. There are also private homes that are rented out as vacation rentals. Steamboat Springs city sits at an elevation of 6,732 feet. The summit of Steamboat Springs Ski Resort is 10,568 feet. The city is known as “The Boat” and “Ski Town USA”. It is close to the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountains nearby that rise to 12,178 feet.
Running next to the town is the Yampa River, a tributary of the Green River. The Yampa is 250 miles long. Also next to the town is the historic Howelsen Hill Ski Area. Steamboat is three hours northwest of Denver and close to the Wyoming border. This location has produced more athletes for the Winter Olympics than any other town in North America.
This area was originally inhabited by the Native American Yampatika band of the Utes. The valley location provided good hunting during the summer months. As Western Expansion took place, trappers first moved into the valley in the early 1800’s. James Harvey Crawford is said to have founded Steamboat Springs in the spring of 1874. The first sawmill was built in 1873. The Native American tribe was forcibly moved to a reservation in Utah in 1879. By 1909 the railroad had reached the area as the economy expanded to logging, ranching and mining.
The town is the home of natural hot springs, and this is where the town’s name came from. People that moved into the area thought the sound of the springs reminded them of the sound of an approaching steamboat, a.k.a. Steamboat Springs. The natural soaking pools at Strawberry Hot Springs have water temperatures of 101 to 105 degrees. In town many visitors go to the Old Town Hot Springs facility, said to be 100 years old, to enjoy soaking in pools, water slides, climbing walls and a fitness center.
Prior to the railroad arriving to the town, skiing or snowshoeing was the only means of transportation into the valley during the height of heavy snowfalls in the winter. In 1913, Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian, moved to Steamboat Springs and introduced ski jumping as a winter activity. He built the first ski jump on what would become Howelsen Hill. He also founded the Winter Carnival and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. The Howelsen Hill Ski Area is the oldest operating ski area in North America.
The Steamboat Springs Ski Resort was established by Jim Temple and John Fletcher in 1963 at the base of Storm Mountain, now called Mt. Werner after Olympian Buddy Werner. This ski resort is the 2nd largest ski resort in Colorado. It has 170 trails, 2,965 acres of terrain, 3,665 vertical feet, 21 lifts, 3 gondolas, night skiing with an average snowfall of 33.3 feet. The Steamboat Square Base area is undergoing a $135 million renovation that has included adding restaurants, shops, Skeeters Ice Rink, and the addition of the Wild Blue Gondola which will be lengthened by 2024 to be the longest in North America. Some of the fun winter activities the town sponsors include the Bud Light Cowboy Downhill and the Winter Wondergrass Winter Carnival.
Over 130 restaurants, bars, breweries, chop houses, and cafes are in Steamboat Springs, counting a Taco Bell, a McDonalds and a Starbucks with a fireplace inside. We thoroughly enjoyed the dining experience in Steamboat Springs. We had great breakfasts at Creekside and The Shack, I tried their biscuits and gravy. One morning, after stopping at Starbucks, we tried a variety of baked goods at Smell That Bread Bakery, great cinnamon rolls. Most days we passed on lunches, instead enjoying a Happy Hour or two and appetizers. We did stop in at O’Neil’s Irish Pub for some drinks and hot toddies and an Irish Platter of goodies. We also visited Johnny B. Goode’s Fountain Shop, in town for 25 years, for sodas and malts. Our group had some delicious appetizers of wings and a unique pimento cheese for Happy Hour at Carl’s Tavern, a restaurant known for great burgers. The dinners were fantastic.
On our arrival day, after an adventurous landing in a snowstorm and several passes before successfully landing at the Yampa Valley Airport, we ate dinner at Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant, tremendous Chicken Parmesan. The next day we had dinner at the Ore House Restaurant at The Pine, the steak bites in teriyaki was yummy. Friday, after the one-mile sleigh ride to the Bar Lazy L Ranch, we enjoyed a wonderful rib-eye steak dinner with baked potato, corn, and baked beans in a rustic barn and a cowboy singer. Saturday after a day of shopping and visiting various galleries in the town, Eric skied, we returned to the Steamboat Square Base area and had drinks and a great dinner at the Truffle Pig. I can safely say we ate our way through Steamboat Springs and still have many places to try.
Winter activities is the name of the game for a place like Steamboat Springs. My wife, Carolyn, had researched numerous snowmobiling businesses in town and picked out Steamboat Snowmobile Tours, that offered a 2-hour backcountry tour on trails that would lead to an overlook at around 9,500 feet, looking down on the Continental Divide. We were picked up outside of our condo, along with other guests, driven about 30 minutes by Matthew, one of the guides who filled us in on many of the aspects of life in Steamboat. At the snowmobile base we were outfitted in boots and helmets, met out guide for the trail trip. Our guide, Shane, gave us instructions on the use and safety for the snowmobile and off we went. Eric and I each drove a snowmobile with Carolyn and Lisa riding behind. The snow and landscape were amazing. This was one of the deepest snowpacks the area had seen in years. We followed single file for the 2-hour trip, eventually arriving at the overlook and then visiting a large meadow where we could “play”. Back at the base office, we turned in the equipment and drove back down to town after a fun afternoon.
Another adventure we did on our own was a drive to the trail entrance of Fish Creek Falls. The road took us past some incredible private homes. Pulling into the small parking lot we found the narrow trail, that had a good base, taking us along the edge of a hill to an overlook of the 283 ft. Fish Creek Falls. Unfortunately, the Falls were frozen, but we could hear water running under the ice, down the cliff face to a stream deep in the canyon. When the snow melts this waterfall must be amazing. We still shot some amazing pictures.
In town, we visited a number of tourist type shops, but we also stopped in the Wild Horse Gallery that contained an array of western and landscape paintings and sculptures. We also stopped in the Mengelsen Images of Nature Gallery, famous for the unbelievable animal photography. One place I wished we had stopped in was the Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and Coffee Shop. I like bookstores and the idea of including a coffee shop sounds unique.
This was a wonderful, enjoyable, relaxing (except for the initial landing in a snowstorm), and fun filled way to enjoy the winter season. It is definitely a place we would like to return, perhaps in the fall when the aspen trees are in full color. The summer season is very popular here, filled with fishing, camping, hiking, rafting and kayaking just to name a few activities. This was a great, memorable gift from brother-in-law Eric and girlfriend Lisa. Definitely put Steamboat Springs on your places to visit list.
Photos TR Robertson