Pow to Chow: Finding Steamboat’s Secret Stashes
There’s nothing like a ski weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. With consistently killer snow, great accessibility, epic terrain, and a storybook downtown, it’s high on all kinds of adventure.
My family visits at least once a season, happily leveraging the five days of skiing that the Ikon Pass affords at this iconic yet totally approachable mountain. Each year we seem to stash away new pro tips gleaned from local friends or just bushwhacking around this winter wonderland. Here are a few to make your next excursion to Steamboat a little more magical.
Getting the Goods
Steamboat is known for its pristine snow, so let’s start there. Exceptionally light, dry, and fluffy, this “champagne powder” is exclusive to the weather patterns in this part of the state — micro storms that always seem to deposit the goods on Steamboat. The story goes that a local rancher was skiing one day, long before the before the resort existed, and said the snow tickled his nose like champagne. Once you ski it, you’ll see why the phrase is trademarked.
This season, the resort is getting consistent snow, often in large storms that don’t always hit other areas of Colorado; yet another reason to visit. In fact, a recent cycle dumped over three feet in a single weekend.
To get to that powder faster, pay for an early-morning gondola ride for first tracks and be done skiing by noon when the crowds really start to appear. If you’ve already paid for a season pass, $40 for a First Tracks ticket could be worth it on an epic storm weekend.
It’s easy, too. Buy a ticket online in advance and you get to load the gondola from 8 to 8:15 a.m. to ski Spur Run/Huffman’s to Sundown Express, as well as terrain off Sundown Express, Sunshine, and South Peak lifts, and the Priest Creek area. And the inside ride on the resort’s brand-new $15 million gondola isn’t too shabby either.
Just beware: Locals take first tracks very seriously. You can buy season-long access to it. So watch for diehard retirees who can kick your ass and have no problem skiing on top of you to get to the goods.
If you can’t get first tracks and you’re a strong skier, seek out the best morning stashes in the trees. We usually tap them between the aspens on infamous quad-seizing Shadows or the gentler, always playful Twilight run. Or hike to untracked white stuff above Christmas Tree Bowl.
Getting Around Town
Steamboat’s transportation system is dialed. No matter when we’re arriving or where we’re staying, getting to and from the mountain and town always seems simple in Steamboat. Buses run regularly, lodging facilities often come with their own transports, and parking is copious and thoughtfully planned.
Most mountain condo units have free on-call shuttles that work well too. Drivers will drop you off and pick you up a short walk from the gondola. And the free Steamboat Springs Transit will take you between downtown and the resort so you never have to deal with parking — or drinking and driving. That said, because they are a few miles apart, you will want to plan.
If you’re driving in for the day or to ski before you check into a hotel, park in the free lot at the bottom of Mt. Werner Rd. It’s massive, so there are plenty of spots and there’s rarely a line. Shuttles come regularly to whisk you to the base of the mountain. You can also try for the free Knoll lot, just a few hundred yards from the base, but it’s tight and it can get rowdy. Slopeside paid parking is $15 per day.
Getting Some Grub
If you’re planning to ski Steamboat’s legendary powder all day, fueling is important. I’m not a huge fan of pricey on-mountain dining, except for après eats. So our family tends to do a cheap and easy power breakfast; a simple nutrition bar and water on the mountain; an après-ski bite or drink; and the occasional dinner out in town.
My ideal food day in Steamboat starts with bagels and coffee at the Colorado Bagel Company, right next to City Market. It an unassuming hole-in-the-wall that does a mean lox and other creative cold fish or egg breakfast sandwiches. This will hold me until noon or later when I boost with a bar and hot tea. (BYOB: Bring Your Own Bags.) After skiing, we’ll typically swing into the lively Slopeside Grill for a beer — and sometimes a big nacho plate for the table.
Then after some hot tubbing and napping for those who can nap, we’d head downtown on the free shuttle for a later reservation at Carl’s if you like burgers and whiskey, or Salt & Lime for fresh Mexican and margs. Or our local friends swear by Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill for its hometown vibe and range of sharable plates and eclectic dipping sauces.
Going All Day
If you can squeeze in anything outside of skiing and eating, good on ya. Since we prioritize skiing, there are only a few things that our family members would consider an enhancement to a Steamboat trip: night skiing or hot springing.
This year, night skiing is free on the Ikon Pass. So if you — or your kids — like terrain parks but you don’t want to pass up chasing powder during the day for laps in the park, you can get your fill at night. From Thursday through Monday from 5:30-8:30 p.m., the Christie Peak Express high-speed chairlift accesses five trails — two beginner, two intermediate, and one advanced — plus the whole base-area terrain park.
Another worthy add-on in Steamboat is a hot springs dip. Families should head to the Old Town Hot Springs right in the heart of downtown. It’s a playground of natural, non-chlorinated outdoor hot pools, water slides, and waterfalls, plus a recently renovated fitness center. Plus, being in town will give you the real vibe of this ranching-turned-ski town. Steamboat is home to more Winter Olympians than any place in North America. You can feel the folklore just walking around.
For adults, Strawberry Park’s clothing-optional hot springs is an adventure unto itself. Getting there requires a steep mountain drive out of town, but it’s worth it for the fairyland of naturally carved pools that blend scalding spring water spurting from the side of the mountain with fresh, freezing-cold river water. There are cabins and bodywork practitioners on-site, plus, well, the best people watching around.
Whether you’re discovering a new powder stash, an exceptional place to nosh, or the little pleasantries that make for the most memorable mountain town trips, Steamboat never disappoints. With each season, around every turn, there’s always another secret stash.