When New Orleanians think of steamboats, the first thoughts are of picturesque vessels cruising down the Mississippi River powered by enormous paddle wheels. But for those who love skiing, the word steamboat has an entirely different meaning. It signifies one of the country’s best ski towns in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. (steamboat.com)
Steamboat Springs is located in the Yampa Valley; it is the northernmost ski resort in the state of Colorado. Roughly a three-hour drive from Denver, Steamboat can most easily be reached by the Hayden Airport. Major airlines like Delta, United, and American fly there directly from their hubs. The town of Steamboat Springs is a 30-minute drive from the Hayden Airport with shuttle service available.
Rental cars are not a necessity, as public transportation is clean and organized. Steamboat Springs is a charming, compact town that features a convenient and free local bus service that runs from the city of Steamboat Springs to the ski resort mountain base area. Buses operate from early in the morning until late in the evening.
Steamboat Springs offers a great variety of lodging options to meet any budget. From RVs and camping to bed and breakfasts and hotels, Steamboat Springs offers plenty of places to stay. Most lodging choices can be found in the town itself, but if possible, it’s best to stay closer to the ski resort. A top spot to stay near the mountain is Trailhead Lodge by Wyndam Vacation Rentals. (wyndhamvacationrentals.com/colorado/steamboat-springs/trailhead-lodge)
Trailhead Lodge is a lodge comprised of fully furnished suites, located in the heart of Wildhorse Meadows, Steamboat’s only master-planned community. It offers the peace and solitude of a resort neighborhood, yet with close access to the mountain and the city of Steamboat Springs. The resort also features underground parking as well as on-call shuttle service.
Trailhead Lodge offers units ranging from studios to three-bedroom condos, with each unit featuring kitchens as well as in-unit washer/dryers, wireless internet, and more. Amenities include a pool, three hot tubs, a fitness center, and game room. There are always hot chocolate and coffee in the lobby, as well as fresh complimentary donuts in the morning from the nearby Moose Watch Café.
One of the best features of Trailhead Lodge is access to the Wildhorse Gondola; this gondola goes from the property directly to the base of the ski area at Gondola Square, making it the next best thing available after ski-in/ski-out access. Another favorite feature is the deluxe boot-drying facility, which keeps your ski boots dry and warm. In addition, there’s a convenient ski valet system that allows you to store your skis immediately upon exiting the gondola.
Steamboat Springs features some of the best skiing in North America. Steamboat has produced more Olympians than any other town in the United States, with 89 and counting. Local Arielle Gold recently won the bronze at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The 1964 silver medalist Billy Kidd serves as the face of Steamboat Springs—a great spokesperson who can still be found on the mountain skiing with visitors.
Steamboat Springs Resort is actually a complete mountain range that features 18 chair lifts serving 65 trails across almost 3,000 acres. The elevation at the summit is over 10,500 feet, and its eight-person gondola leaving Gondola Square is a quick and easy way to get to some of the best runs.
Newcomers to the mountain will want to consider lessons. The Steamboat SnowSports School is a great option, whether you’re a beginner or an expert. The school offers group and private lessons for skiers of all ages, and its STARS program serves those with autism and cognitive and physical disabilities.
In addition to skiing, Steamboat Resort offers other entertainment, like fireworks on the mountain every Friday night and free concerts in Gondola Square, with such headliners as Robert Randolph. Complimentary donut holes and hot chocolate are offered to all at the end of the ski day in Gondola Square, which makes for a great treat after a hard day of skiing!
Another form of entertainment besides skiing is The Outlaw Mountain Coaster. This is the longest coaster in North America, at more than 6,280 linear feet. The Outlaw Mountain Coaster features sleds that ride on an elevated track with curves, hairpin turns, and steep descents. It offers amazing views of the skiing action below and can be ridden with either one or two people.
It is imperative to have the right equipment before you hit the slopes. The best spot for winter gear in Steamboat Springs is Christy Sports. Christy Sports features all types of clothing, equipment, and accessories to ensure that you are warm and protected. With three locations in the Steamboat area, Christy Sports offers great ski rental packages for beginners to advanced. (christysports.com)
Head to their location in Gondola Square for the spot closest to the base of the mountain. Their manager Leif and his staff will make sure that you have all you need to make for a fantastic day on the mountain. One of the best things about Christy is their complimentary ski storage, which means that there’s no need to lug your gear back to where you are staying.
Legend has it that Steamboat Springs got its name when French trappers in the 1820s heard the Yampa River making a “chug chug” sound like a steamboat. The sound turned out to be coming from a natural mineral spring, and from there, the name Steamboat Springs was born. No trip to Steamboat Springs is complete without an actual visit to the springs, and the best spot for that is Strawberry Park Hot Springs. (strawberryhotsprings.com)
Driving to Strawberry Park is not allowed without snow tires and/or snow chains; thus, your first call should be to The Hot Springs Shuttle. The Shuttle will pick you up at your residence or hotel and bring you back after a 90-minute visit, and your shuttle fare includes the cost of entry into Strawberry Park. When calling, ask Whitey for insider tips on how to best enjoy the hot springs. (thehotspringsshuttle.com)
Strawberry Park Hot Springs features a number of different mineral pools, some as hot at 104 degrees and some as cold as ice. Private massages are also available to make this spot the perfect place to visit after a long day on the mountain. Rustic cabins are on-site for overnight stays, though no children are allowed in the park after dark, when it becomes clothing-optional.
Steamboat Springs is filled with fantastic spots for dinner after a fun day in the snow. One spot that particularly stands out is Laundry Kitchen & Cocktails, a member of the Rex’s Family of Restaurants. Located downtown in a 103-year-old building that used to be a commercial laundry mat, Laundry is a gastropub focusing on small plates and fantastic cocktails. (thelaundryrestaurant.com)
Cocktails fall in the classic and contemporary categories. The classics are recipes from cocktail books dating back to the 1940s and ‘50s. A standout is “The Battle of New Orleans” from The Standard Cocktail Guide from 1944. Laundry also infuses their own tequila with habanero and other peppers, which work very well in their Fiery Margarita from the contemporary cocktail menu.
When dining in Colorado, stick with locally sourced food. Laundry fully embraces the farm-to-table movement, as displayed by their choices of cured meats. While the charcuterie menu did include their own version of tasso, the strong local offerings are the wild boar salami and amazingly unique smoked goose.
The small plates menu features a plethora of vegetable samplings like tempura artichoke hearts and succulent roasted beets, as well as hearty dishes like beef brisket and BBQ pork cheeks. At Laundry, it’s best to dine with a group of adults, as all of their small plates are fantastic for sharing.
An incredible creation from their large plate menu is the wild boar meatloaf. Unlike any meatloaf that your mama ever made, the wild boar meatloaf is the ultimate comfort food that will warm your bones after an exhausting day in the cold. You’ll be challenged to find another meatloaf that tastes better.
Another spot that is a better fit for families is Laundry’s sister restaurant Salt ‘n Lime. Colorado has always featured fantastic Mexican food due to its close proximity to Mexico, with Salt ‘n Lime being a prime example. Salt ‘n Lime is located within steps of the charming shops of Lincoln Avenue. It features fantastic tacos, enchiladas, and one of the most extensive selections of tequilas and mezcals to be found. (suckalime.com) With close to eighty different blancos, reposados, and anjeos to choose from, a lover of agave spirits will feel like a kid in a candy store. Novices should consider a tequila flight, while those in the know may go directly for some of the rarer offerings that are best for sipping.
Salt ‘n Lime mixologist Tod Johnson not only does a fantastic margarita, but he also creates unique concoctions that would rival those found in any of New Orleans’s top cocktail bars. The Cucumber Fresco, Bitter Sweet Smoke, and Burro Urbano made with 100 proof tequila all stand out as wonderful selections.
Tortilla chips are a must-do to start off the meal, but don’t expect any regular old chips and salsa. The chips are hot and crunchy, and Salt ‘n Lime’s “Naked” and “Loaded” guacamoles are both winners, as is the Chorizo Fundido. Don’t worry, your waiter will make sure that the chips keep coming!
Taco-lovers will want to consider exploring beyond the familiar chicken tinga and carne asada options, as tasty as they are. When in the Rocky Mountains, don’t miss the local Colorado ingredients. The Colorado bison and lamb tacos are some of the most savory and satisfying that you will ever experience.
Salt n’ Lime’s Bison Frito Pie is without a doubt one of the most unique and delicious entrees that you’ll find at any Mexican restaurant. The dish is served in an actual opened bag of Fritos, making the presentation unforgettably clever. The taco-spiced ground bison mixes perfectly with the queso and crunch of the Fritos.
This dish, as well as the vegetarian Durango Bowl, Chili Colorado with brisket, and others, are all great for sharing with the entire family. For sides, be sure to order the Meaty Charro Pinto Beans and delicious Cauliflower Hash with Cashew Salsa. And don’t leave without dessert. The Nutty Churros made with pistachios go great with their unique Tiny Hot Chocolate. It’s as good as it sounds!
For the ultimate date-night in Steamboat, be sure to visit Aurum Food & Wine. Just blocks from the main strip, the restaurant offers views of the exquisite Yampa River, which is known for its great fly fishing and tubing. This upscale restaurant features seasonal new American cuisine in a refined yet unstuffy space. (aurumsteamboat.com)
Happy Hour is an especially great time to grab a drink at Aurum. Their cocktail “We’ve Got the Beet” features a fantastic blend of flavors that include roasted beet juice and green chartreuse. The Winter Bourbon Punch made with their homemade cardamom, fig, and honey syrup is as delightful. Aurum also features Steamboat Spring’s most impressive wine list and a knowledgeable staff who can direct you to the right choice.
Chef Patrick Funk’s cooking could stand up to any of the best chefs in New Orleans. The small plates menu features upscale specialties like Scallop Crudo and Hudson Valley Foie Gras. The Caramelized Trumpet Mushrooms are locally sourced and have a savory, earthy flavor that’s delicate yet vibrant. All their small plates are excellent for sharing.
Sticking to Colorado-sourced meats, the Black Garlic & Thyme-Rubbed Elk Filet is transcendent. This tender, lean filet tastes somewhat like beef but slightly sweeter. It has a clean flavor that is not gamey in the least. The garlic and thyme are the perfect complements to the elk, as is the blackberry agrodolce and Stilton blue cheese. A side order of parmesan fries to be dipped in the accompanying bacon aioli is the perfect match.
The Buffalo Ribeye Au Poivre is another standout. The ribeye cut has a marbling of fat that provides a rich, tender, juicy, and full-flavored cut of meat that is unlike any cow steak that you have ever had. The accompanying apricot shisito chutney puts this dish on another level. An order of Aurum’s divine crispy curried cauliflower goes perfectly with the buffalo.
All the desserts are delectable and perfect for sharing. Chocolate-lovers will be ecstatic to try the Hot Chocolate Pot de Crème. The Apple Cinnamon Streusel with “brown butter snow” is the precise dessert that one will crave after a hard day of skiing. Pair it with one of their large selection of ports and Sauternes, and you have the wonderful ending to an unforgettable meal.