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Consistent snowfall makes Steamboat a sure bet: This resort’s 314 annual inches may not qualify as the West’s deepest totals, but frequent storms ensure quality conditions (No. 6, Snow) for most of the season. Most folks don’t know that November and December often receive the biggest dumps, and that the early-winter bounty, paired with an abundance of moderate angle slopes, means that Steamboat typically enjoys prime conditions well before loftier, steeper resorts. Max elevation here is 10,568 feet—that’s low by Colorado standards—so there are no above-treeline bowls. Instead, these forested mountainsides include some of the finest glades in all of skidom: Seemingly endless runs such as Closet and Shadows extend the arboreal bliss for nearly 2,000 vertical feet. Hit them when they’re fluffed with Steamboat’s ultra-dry “Champagne” powder, and you understand why this resort has developed a cult-like cadre of devotees.
Some visitors do bemoan the ’Boat’s lack of extreme terrain. There are steeps, but they’re short. The bigger draw is a vast assortment of Intermediate slopes that let multiple generations ski together. In fact, tykes get a red carpet welcome at the Kids’ Vacation Center and a ski school that makes skill-building feel like play. That, plus kid-friendly dining and entertainment (the on-mountain Western BBQ pairs tasty grub with an all-ages hoedown), explains Steamboat’s high ranking for families (No. 3). And the resort’s proximity to downtown Steamboat Springs ( just four miles away via the free public bus) makes it easy to explore a real-deal Western community that still exhibits its ranching roots (No. 5, Local Flavor). Although the main drag now sports high-rise condos and sophisticated eateries, key traditions continue— like the 115-year-old F.M. Light & Sons ranchwear store and the February Winter Carnival, where ranchers on horseback tow kids down a snowy street. “Authentic ski town with legit Western flair.” — Kelly Bastone
2021 Reader Resort Rank of Steamboat, Colo.: No. 8 in the West
- WHAT’S NEW: The pandemic-inspired Worry-Free Vacation policy promises that trips booked before November 2 can be canceled at the guest’s discretion; after that, refunds and credits are offered if the resort must close during your stay.
- LOCAL TIP: Bloody Marys abound, but Thunderhead Red’s (at the top of the gondola) outpaces the pack with a Breakfast Bloody that garnishes house-infused vodka with pickled veggies, hard-boiled egg, and maple-glazed bacon.
Read about No. 9 in the West: Beaver Creek, Colo.
Take a step foward: No. 7 in the West – Whistler Blackcomb, B.C.
Steamboat’s 2020 SKI Magazine Reader Resort Survey Rank: 4th in the West
Skiing Steamboat‘s glades on a powder day is a bucket-list experience: Forgiving pitches complement this mountain’s ultralight snow, and perfectly-spaced aspens and spruces glitter with hoarfrost. With many tree runs spanning 1,900 vertical feet, Steamboat’s arboreal nirvana lasts a gratifyingly long time—except on the steeps, which are short but feature enough to challenge experts. The area’s other claim to fame is its plethora of intermediate groomed runs. Unintimidating terrain, plus an emphasis on kid-friendly entertainment, explains this resort’s popularity with families (No. 2). Friday evening dance parties conclude with fireworks; barbeque dinners atop the gondola involve kids in a Western hoedown. Indeed, Steamboat’s cowboy character is more than a marketing gimmick: Cattle still graze beneath these runs, and Stetson-wearing ranchers continue to tow skiers behind their horses during February’s Winter Carnival.
The town that those agricultural families founded back in the late 1800s rounds out the resort’s appeal. Located four miles from the slopes, Steamboat Springs preserves much of its old-timey authenticity (No. 3), with just a few high-rise developments flanking the false-fronted buildings where homesteaders once shopped. The vibe is unpretentious, even among the growing number of restaurants that cater to epicures. Steamboat’s base area also evidences a trend toward better food, with slopeside eateries such as The Paramount and Timber & Torch serving elevated versions of down-home favorites.
But longtime visitors bemoan increasing prices throughout the resort: Steamboat is no longer the bargain it once was. Its one central base area simplifies logistics but concentrates weekend crowds. The resort observes an early bedtime, so party-seekers must head into town for fun after 9 p.m. That’s just fine by many Steamboat fans, who generally prefer to do their dancing on the snow. And when it comes to powder, this corner of northwest Colorado almost always delivers. — Kelly Bastone
- WHAT’S NEW: This winter’s new gondola boosts uphill capacity by 38 percent, with easy-entry cabins that are flush with the ground.
- DINNER PICK: Four Points Lodge serves gourmet comfort food like chicken pot pie, Reuben sandwiches, and sweet potato fries.
- FAMILY EXPERIENCE: Steamboat’s morning vistas often feature colorful hot air balloons bejeweling the sky: Become part of the show with Wild West Balloon Adventures.
SKI Magazine’s 2019 Review of Steamboat, Colo.
Tucked away in Colorado’s northwest corner, Steamboat Resort catches storm fronts tracking from both Utah and Wyoming, so it often boasts powder days when other areas report scant snowfall. Pair that trademarked “champagne powder” with Steamboat’s abundance of moderate-angle glades, and you get some of the best lift-served tree skiing anywhere.
While there’s no off-the-chart extreme skiing here, the accessible terrain also makes it ideal for intermediates looking to get better, or a multi-generation ski trip that appeals to skiers of all ages: Grandparents and children alike can find their bliss on easy-going cruisers. Kid-centric ski instructors and a relaxed atmosphere round out the family appeal. Credit Steamboat’s distance from major cities (the closest is Denver, 150 miles away) for preserving authentic character at the resort and the adjacent town of Steamboat Springs.
Homesteaders settled this cowboy town long before the lifts started spinning, and even now, you’ll see as many Stetsons as ski hats on downtown sidewalks. Don’t forget to bring yours. – Kelly Bastone
Come to Steamboat for the…
- TERRAIN VARIETY The Shadows offers 2,000 vertical feet of tree skiing that begins among high-alpine spruces and ends in paper-white aspens.
- LOCAL FLAVOR Check out—or enter, if it’s your thing—the Cowboy Downhill in mid-January.
- DOWN DAY ACTIVITIES Become Wild West outlaws at The Crooked Key, an escape room offering a fun, interactive game for all ages.
- MUST DO Visit F.M. Light & Sons on Lincoln Avenue for legit Western duds, souvenirs, and more. A Steamboat staple since 1905.
- TREE STASH To sample some of Steamboat’s famous trees, take the Sundown Express to Twilight. Well-spaced, leg-burning glades await.
- FAMILY ACTIVITY Don’t be surprised if you crush boot-top powder for three days and all the kids want to talk about is the new Outlaw Mountain Coaster, the longest such ride in North America.
- DINNER PICK In an increasingly brilliant downtown dining scene, Table 79 stands out, and has even made up a new word, calling itself a “Foodbar.” Try the Smoked Elk & Chorizo Meatballs.