If you ever lacked a reason to visit Steamboat Springs, Colo., now you've got 100¿one for every year of its official existence. To celebrate its birthday, "Ski Town USA" is commemorating its deeply Western roots with a host of festivities. Long used as summer hunting grounds by the Yampatika Utes, the Yampa River Valley was first visited by French trappers in the early 1800s. They happened on a mineral spring that made a chugging sound reminiscent of a steamboat engine, hence the town's name. Skiing emerged as a commercial venture about mid-century, but dates back much earlier in the town's zeitgeist. Locals already used skis as transportation when Carl "The Flying Norseman" Howelsen, a Barnum & Bailey retiree, came to town in 1913 and wowed them with his "ski sailing" skills. His demonstration was such a hit that Howelsen was invited to organize the first winter carnival the following winter. It inspired a ski-jumping craze that still hasn't subsided. His legacy lives on at Howelsen Hill, right in town: It's one of the country's best jumping facilities and site of regular World Cup competitions. To celebrate its 100th, the community has planned a bigger-than-ever Winter Carnival (Feb. 7-13). If you go, don't miss the skijoring (a horse-powered race and big-air contest) and the legendary nighttime run of The Lighted Man (a 64-year tradition). The town has also produced a commemorative coffee-table book ("Legends," $35, 970-879-0882) and is hosting a special historical exhibit at the Tread of Pioneers Museum (970-879-2214). Wintertime travel in or out of Steamboat was near impossible back in 1900, but today it's easy, with nonstop service from nine U.S. cities. For skiing and lodging information, call (800) 922-2722.
Last season, Colorado recorded the most skier visits¿11.3 million¿of any state (or about 22 percent of national visits). California came in second with 6.9 million visits. Source: The 1998/99 Kottke Survey