Once upon a time when I was a Utah-based travel writer, I fell in love with a foreign land of steaming hot springs, world-class mountains, a charming rodeo and 7 miles of multi-use paved trails that wind through downtown along the roaring Yampa River.
That was summer in Steamboat Springs and though I’ve lived in Colorado for 10 years, I had yet to visit during the winter. We finally made it happen this week during Spring Break.
Five Great Reasons to Spend Spring Break in Steamboat Springs
5) Hot springs.
Steamboat isn’t Steamboat without soaking in one of their two natural springs. Strawberry Park Hot Springs’s stone-walled pools 9 miles north of town are in an idyllic forest range and water temperatures range from 102 to 104 degrees. But be warned: clothing is optional after dark.
On our recent visit, we had a grand time at the more family-friendly Old Town Hot Springs with their eight hot spring-fed pools, a 25-yard lap pool, a fitness center, exercise classes and massage services. A huge hit was the climbing wall where attempt after attempt was made to climb to the top, ring the bell and jump back into the water. There are two 230-foot water slides for kids over 44 inches that are open seasonally (winter and summer). I screamed in trepidation the whole way down while both my kids laughed, which means the slides are actually really fun for those who don’t need a pacemaker.
4) Horseback riding with Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch.
Steamboat Springs is renowned for its Western charm so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go horseback riding with one of Colorado’s oldest licensed outfitters, Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch, which offers hourly horseback rides (kids need to be at least 6 years old) and summer pack trips. The half-hour shuttle ride from town to their 6,000-acre ranch in the Elk River Valley was my favorite part of the trek as fourth generation Steamboat native, Olympian and cowboy Ray Heid delighted us with stories of his family’s colorful history in the valley.
There are around 40 horses housed at the ranch. My husband rode Kirby, Bode teamed up with Music, I was on Boots, while Hadley rode Bode, which made my son humorously uncomfortable to think of his sister riding his namesake. For our winter horseback ride, we wore our ski clothing but turned out we didn’t need them. Though the snow sparkled around us, the spring temperatures were toasty as we rode through the aspen forest with staggering views of Hahn’s Peak and the knees of the Sleeping Giant (a.k.a. Elk Mountain) bowing before us.
There were moments of excitement. When Bode’s horse lagged behind, Music kicked it into gear with a full-fledged canter. “Was it totally fun?” I asked overly-cautious Bode. “Not really,” he dryly retorted (read: understatement). Later in the ride, another horse bit my horse Boots’ behind, to which he responded with a swift kick to the horse’s face, freaking out Jamie’s ride. Lesson learned: don’t nip my butt. Kissing is just fine.
3) Steamboat Sleigh Ride Dinner at the Haymaker Golf Course
Put this one on your bucket list for next year because the final day of Steamboat’s Sleigh Ride Dinner is March 29, 2014 and the 8 km of cross-country ski and skate tracks and 3 km of snowshoe trails will close April 1.
I’ve been to a few sleigh ride dinners and usually the drill is to ride to dinner in the sleigh, eat and return. However, we took a shuttle bus from the Steamboat Grand to the Haymaker, warmed up with hot beverages and appetizers (I’m still salivating over the fried artichokes) and placed our dinner order. We then journeyed back in time as we snuggled up under a blanket in our 20-person sled as a pair of draft horses kicked up plumes of snow while they pranced through the Yampa Valley’s dazzling white dreamscape.
Upon our return, a gourmet three-course dinner was promptly served and the lineup included choices like a sultry roasted red pepper and tomato soup, beef tenderloin (my daughter’s “most favorite steak ever”), Macadamia nut crusted halibut and warm molten chocolate lava cake with raspberry sauce. While my kids played cards by the fire, my husband and I watched the sunset, wishing this Frozen evening could last forever. Just call me Elsa.
2) The others.
There so many things to do in Steamboat Springs that we couldn’t fit everything into our two-day visit. An absolute must is F.M. Light & Sons. If City Slickers want a real pair of cowboy boots, this is the place to find ‘em with literally hundreds of choices, as well as stylish western wear and novelties the kids will love. Be sure to pop into Lyon Drug & Soda Fountain next door for awesome gifts, cards, lotions, potions and spring for an old-fashioned soda. Another local’s favorite is Freshies Restaurant. Their breakfasts are legendary but this time we did lunch, which was equally delicious. Dear Freshies’ specialty salads, sandwiches and onion rings: I’ll be back.
Bucket list: Bump-n-Skate. Bumper cars on ice? You betcha! These bumper cars have four tiny wheels and are propelled by a small motor with hand controls that will have you bumping, sliding and laughing at Howelsen Ice Arena. Be sure to check their website for their bumper cars on ice schedule as well as public skate sessions.
1) Steamboat Springs, The Mountain.
The thing that keeps everyone coming back is Steamboat Springs’ 2,965-acres of champagne-powder bliss. Steamboat is actually a complete mountain range: Mount Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Pioneer Ridge and Christie Peak. Despite the vastness of the terrain, what I loved most about Steamboat was they have only one base area, making it easy to navigate.
When we dropped the kids off at ski school, they were each outfitted with a Flaik GPS device and we were later able to track their whereabouts. Jamie and I took a private lesson with 27-year Steamboat veteran Dave Hartley who did a phenomenal job teaching us the secret to skiing (ski uphill fast), had a gray jay eating out of my hand (literally), and pushed us to our limits by having me conquer my worst nemesis: trees (his advice was don’t ski the trees, ski the open space!)
At the end of an exhilarating day, we picked up Hadley and Bode. Hadley was thrilled to graduate to a Level 6 skier with Bode hot on her trail for next season. We skied as a family until last chair and they were eager to show off their refined skills. We hit one of Steamboat’s four terrain parks, Lil’ Rodeo Terrain Park, which is more challenging than it sounds with small boxes, jumps and a mini half pipe.
My kids loved the mini-half pipe (or rather, a quarter pipe a.k.a. a half-pipe for wussies). My first time through the terrain park, I inadvertently caught about three feet of air on a jump, swore, somehow landed on my feet and regrouped.
I later concluded that learning to fly at Steamboat Springs wasn’t so bad after all.
Steamboat Springs closes on April 13, 2014 with plenty of fun events in the line-up including the 34th Annual Cardboard Classic, where costumes and themes go a lot further than engineering and craftsmanship for these corrugated creations. On closing day, the Splashdown Pond Skim tests the mettle of those who dare brave the freezing water at the base of the mountain. Thanks to Steamboat for hosting!