Steamboat Springs is known for its champagne powder snow and for putting out more winter Olympians than any other city — 88 and counting! Steamboat has had its athletes in every Winter Olympics (except 1928 and 1948), totaling to 151 Winter Olympic appearances. Some grew up in town and others moved there later to train. And others moved there after their Olympic careers (like Billy Kidd, 1964 silver medal winner), so they don’t even count those in the 88 Olympians! However they got there, they fell in love with Steamboat Springs, and we expect that you will, too. Our family insider’s guide to Steamboat Colorado will have you jumping to pack your bags and visit this skier’s paradise, where they’ll pamper you with gourmet food, great service and wagons so you don’t have to carry your kids or skis. And don't forget, we have family guides to Beaver Creek, Vail and Breckenridge too!
Steamboat Colorado Arrival and Parking Tips
If you will be flying to Colorado, you are probably looking at two airports that access Steamboat. You can fly right into Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, which is about 22 miles from Steamboat. It has nonstop flights from 14 cities during ski season. Chances are you will find a greater availability and flexibility in flight schedules by flying in and out of Denver, which might make it worth the drive. Steamboat is about a three to four hour drive from Denver International Airport. It’s nice to know you have options!
Many families rent a car and drive to Steamboat, which makes it easier to get to restaurants, grocery stores and hot springs, but you can also take an airport shuttle with Go Alpine Airport Shuttle from either airport if you prefer to go carless. Storm Mountain Express has airport shuttle services from Hayden. Going carless can be a great option if your ski hotel or lodging is ski in/ski out or on the Steamboat Springs Transit (SST) route. The SST offers free transportation between the ski area, downtown and most hotels, condos, and grocery stores. There are 24-hour taxis in Steamboat, and several local properties offer private shuttle services. You can also look into services such as grocery delivery and baby supply rentals to make it easier on yourself. Whether you choose to pick up a car rental at the airport and drive yourself or relax during the ride, Steamboat Springs is located off Highway 40.
If you are staying at a Steamboat ski-in/ski-out location or are taking a shuttle to the resort, you don’t need to worry about parking. But if you are staying off-site or at a hotel in town, you may want to know where to park. Steamboat offers both paid and free parking. There are three free parking lots near the base of Steamboat Resort. The Upper Knoll lot and Lower Knoll lot are within walking distance of Gondola Square (about 5-6 minute walk). These lots fill up quickly, so arrive early. The Meadows Parking is located further down hill off Pine Grove Road. This large lot offers free shuttles to Gondola Square.
The paid lots cost $15 per day and can be worth paying the extra money. The Gondola Square garage puts you right at the Gondola, and covered parking can be a nice bonus if it’s a heavy snow day. It’s no fun to dig out your car with exhausted muscles after a full day on the mountain. As we have dug out a car after a heavy snowfall in Steamboat Springs, we say take the covered parking! Is your sanity worth $15? If you are lugging equipment and tadpoles, then a paid lot is the sanity-saving option. There is another garage with a three- to five-minute walk. A third pay lot is located just below the Christie II lift. You can start your day right on the slopes if you already have your equipment with you.
If you find it easier to drop everyone off and then park, you can find the quick drop-off area just to the right of the shuttle lanes. You will take Mt. Werner Circle towards the base of the mountain and follow the signs. Drop off your skis and then you have less to carry after you park and walk.
Steamboat has handy wagons perfect for carting your equipment and tired children around Gondola Square. I am a sucker for anything that makes my job as a parent easier, so I am in love with those wagons!
Where to Stay at Steamboat Colorado
As with most family ski resorts, if you can stay in a ski-in/ski-out ski hotel such as the Sheraton Steamboat Springs or One Steamboat Place luxury condos, you’ll have lessons and lifts at your doorstep, as well as the village with restaurants within walking distance. You'll also find other services like ski valet, fitness centers, spa services, and a pool and spa for splash time for the tadpoles within walking distance. There are a number of ski hotels on the mountain, allowing for ski up/ski down access such as Chateau Chamonix. You can book Steamboat Colorado hotels through us for hopping good savings!
Guests can also stay lower on the mountain and take the Wildhorse Gondola up to the Gondola Square village. Trailhead Lodge at Wildhorse Meadow is a nearby condo accommodation that can use the gondola, but the gondola is open to the public as well. Staying within walking, skiing, or gondola distance of the ski resort is definitely a good way to save your sanity on a family ski trip, but sometimes you need a budget saver to make it all possible, which can mean staying further from the mountain. One thing is for certain, when it comes to booking a ski hotel, the best time to book a ski vacation is well in advance to secure the best price, location and selection.
Steamboat Colorado Lift Tickets
We frogs are always looking at ways to save money on a family ski trip. One of the best ways to save money on lift tickets is to buy multiday passes and purchase lift tickets in advance. Steamboat is part of the Aspen Mountain Collective, and you can now purchase IKON passes for the 2018-2019 ski season, offering access to all the Aspen-owned destinations including Steamboat Aspen Snowmass and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe. If you plan to hop around, this can be an especially good buy. We don't currently offer the IKON pass, but you can purchase it online.
Once you purchase a lift ticket card, you’ll want to hold onto it for future purchases to reload it and save money. If you are a powder hound and snow is in the overnight forecast, or you simply want a head start ahead of the crowds, consider purchasing a First Tracks upgrade to your lift ticket. You can board the Gondola between 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. to get special access to Sundown Express, Sunshine and South Peak lift areas before the mountain opens to other skiers.
Lessons and Childcare at Steamboat Colorado
If you or your tadpoles need to take ski or snowboard lessons, you can find private and group lessons for kids, teens and adults, whether you are first timers or just needing to brush up on skills. The three-day never ever packages include rentals and lift tickets. You can do private lessons for individuals up to five people and book them in various ways from three to seven hours. There are early bird lessons, night lessons or even one-hour private kid lessons.
Kids can learn to ski as young as 2 years old (as long as your tadpole is potty trained). Kids’ rentals for kids 6 and under can be added on (including the required helmet) and are conveniently located in the Kids Vacation Center for one stop shopping. Kids’ lessons include lunch and lift ticket. Older kids and teens have lunch included, and you can add on a discounted lift ticket.
If someone in your party has disabilities or special needs, you might look into adaptive lessons through the STARS program. It serves adults and children with autism, and cognitive and physical disabilities. They offer daily lessons for ages 5 and up. Kids first grade to age 15 who are ready to join regular group lessons can advance to the Adaptive Inclusion Program. Call STARS at 888-330-1454 for more information. Steamboat also sells lift tickets for Adaptive Skiers and Companion tickets.
Book lessons seven days in advance to save 15 percent. And don’t forget that instructors always appreciate tips at the end of the lesson. Always note where the lessons meet because the meeting place can vary based on the programming and age of the student.
If your tadpoles are too little to ski, enroll them at the Kiddie Corral Daycare. They have programming for children ages 12 months to 6 years from 8:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Lunch is included. Be sure to reserve at least seven days in advance to get a 15 percent discount.
Exploring Steamboat Colorado Ski Territory
Steamboat Springs is a large ski resort with long, thigh-burning runs and several peaks. With 2,965 skiable acres, 165 named trails and several terrain parks, there is something for every type of skier and snowboarder. Steamboat’s base elevation is 6,900 feet, which means this ski resort and lodging is below 7,000 feet. This is ideal for sleeping and may not cause too many problems with altitude sickness. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to take steps to prevent altitude sickness if you are not used to elevation. Steamboat’s trademark champagne powder is smooth and dry, which means snow that you can whoosh through like flying through fluffy feathers. Steamboat’s snow has 6 percent water content, whereas many other areas have snow with 15 percent water content. Steamboat averages 319 inches of annual snowfall.
Before you head up the mountain, consult a trail map so you have a sense of where you are heading. Keep in mind that those runs are a lot longer than they seem on paper! The mountain’s longest run, the 3-mile Why Not, is a green run, accessible by all skiers. The trails at Steamboat are 14 percent Beginner (green) runs, 42 percent Intermediate (Blue) and 44 percent Advanced terrain. Those designations are relative to Steamboat and a blue run there might be a black at another resort. The mountain caters to a more experienced skier — you just might have some Olympians passing you by — so knowing where to find the right terrain for you is key. Beginner and emerging intermediate skiers will enjoy the Sunshine Peak Sunshine Express lift (to the upper right on the map), Christie Peak Express, Christie II lifts and Thunderhead Express near the lower part and base. Preview lift offers a nice short run for absolute beginners just getting used to the sport. More experienced skiers and riders will be racing toward the more advanced runs off Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Morningside Park and the Pony Express lift.
If you are looking for Freestyle Terrain parks, Lil’ Rodeo is perfect for entry-level riders. It’s located off Christie Peak Express near the base area. Take Christie Peak Express to the Bear Claw run to access three other terrain parks. Rabbit Ears offers bunny hill riders (who are feeling a little more confident) the next step up, with plenty to keep beginner to intermediate skiers and riders busy. Mavericks is the largest terrain park with large features, as well as a half pipe and jumps reaching up to 70 feet. Are you ready for the Big Leagues? The Bashor lift will keep you in the zone.
Before you hop on that first lift peruse the Daily Grooming Map to get a sense of where to find corduroy vs. fresh powder — whatever floats your board or skis. Locate the areas you would like to ski and the lifts to take you there.
Steamboat is one of the few resorts that offer night skiing. You can find it near the base and off the Christie Peak Express lift.
Where to Eat in Steamboat
For on-mountain dining, keep in mind that it can be a long ride back to the base and Gondola Square from many areas on the mountain. So on-mountain restaurants can be the most convenient place to eat lunch. The choices range from normal ski cafeteria food at Four Points, Thunderhead and Rendezvous to table-service dining at Hazies, Ragnar’s and Stoker.
For a relaxing table-service lunch, make a reservation for Hazie’s at the top of the Gondola. They have salads, starters, French Onion soup, Kobe beef burger, pork belly sliders, lobster mac & cheese and smoked salmon croquet madame to name a few. They also serve dinner and have holiday brunch or Valentine’s dinner.
Other special dining options that might make your trip extra special include a weekend sleigh ride (pulled by a snowcat) followed by dinner at Ragnar’s. You can book a one-hour moonlit snowshoe tour and dinner at Hazie’s or a morning guided snowshoe tour followed by a gourmet buffet brunch.
In Gondola Square, the tadpoles got a kick out of the family-friendly Gondola Pub & Grill, which has an actual gondola hanging above the tables.
For Apres ski, there are bar and restaurant locations around the mountain and base area. Rye has happy hour every day from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Bear River & Umbrella Bar in the center of the base area has happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. It’s also a great spot to grab lunch or a $5 homemade breakfast burrito in the morning. Stumble in to the Truffle Pig for tasty grub, drink specials and live entertainment in a casual and inviting atmosphere. There are sunset happy hours with entertainment at the top of the gondola at Thunderhead (21 and over recommended).
What Not to Miss at Steamboat Colorado
At the end of your day, don’t miss the complimentary hot chocolate and Champagne Powder donut holes at 3 p.m. You can find them at the Steamboat Covered Wagon, across from the Steamboat Stage.
Steamboat Springs got its name in the 1820s when three French Trappers traveling through the area heard the “chug chug” sound near the Yampa river. They thought it was a steamboat, only to discover it was a natural mineral spring. You can visit various kinds of hot mineral springs while in Steamboat. The easy access commercial Old Town Hot Springs is located in town. Its main pool is heated to 98° Fahrenheit. It has waterslides, a rock climbing wall that emerges out of a pool and several very hot pools. If you are up for the adventure, you can take a drive out to natural hot springs like the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. It has various pools with different degrees of temperature. Hike from the changing hut through the snow to submerge yourself in the healing waters. Visit during the day with the family because it is very dark at night and becomes clothing optional. You can drive yourself or take a door-to-door tour.
If you want to ski with an Olympian, you might have an opportunity to ski with Billy Kidd and get some pointers as a bonus. Check the sign at the top of the gondola to see if Billy will be skiing that day. If so, meet him by the Billy Kidd sign at the top of the Why Not trail at 1:00 p.m.
If you want to give some other winter sports a chance, you can go cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, fat tire snow biking at Emerald Mountain, snow tubing at Saddleback Ranch and snowmobiling at Rabbit Ears Pass. Have you ever seen or climbed a frozen waterfall? Here’s your chance at Fish Creek Falls. You can even take an early morning winter hot air balloon ride for fantastic views overlooking Steamboat Springs and Yampa Valley.
If you are visiting during a holiday, don’t miss the fireworks! You can have a blast while celebrating New Years Eve, Winter Carnival (in February), Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. For a special thrill, take a ride on the Outlaw Mountain Coaster or try night skiing. To learn more about what Steamboat has to offer, be sure to hop into the Welcome Center in Gondola Square.
What About Altitude at Steamboat?
Even though Steamboat is just below some of the other family ski resorts near Denver, Colorado, it is still a high altitude environment. Steamboat’s base elevation is 6,900 feet. It’s best to sleep below 7,000 feet, so Steamboat will keep you in that sweet spot. If you live in a low-altitude area and are planning to visit Steamboat, take measures to prevent altitude sickness. Symptoms of altitude sickness may include headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing, coughing, diarrhea, loss of appetite or restless sleep. If symptoms persist, you’ll need to seek medical attention. Follow these tips to help prepare for altitude:
- Start out your journey well hydrated (begin drinking water before the trip).
- Continue to stay hydrated with water and electrolytes throughout the journey.
- Allow time to gradually acclimate to altitude.
- Avoid alcohol and salty foods.
- Eat frequent meals. Carbohydrates are helpful in helping to acclimate.
- Get plenty of oxygen.
- Lower thermostat to under 68 when you sleep (avoid high heat).
- Get plenty of rest — don’t overdo it.
- Have ibuprofen or acetaminophen with you in case of headaches.
When you arrive in Colorado, give yourself time to acclimate by staying under 7,000 feet for the first day. Because Steamboat’s base is just under 7,000 feet, you can take it easy the first day.
If you fly into Denver, it can be a good idea to stay the night at a hotel near the Denver area, which is at 5,280 feet. Then take the drive out toward Steamboat the next day. Having a good night’s rest and some time to acclimate to altitude should ease you into it. Be sure to get plenty of rest during your journey. If you start to notice signs of altitude sickness, drink more water and try to get to a lower elevation if possible. If you plan to visit other ski resorts on your trip to Colorado, going to Steamboat before visiting ski resorts with higher elevation can help prepare you for the higher altitude.
With this family insider’s guide to Steamboat, Colorado, you can plan your next ski vacation to Steamboat Springs. You’ll find a variety of family winter activities on and off the mountain. If you are still looking for a ski hotel or rental car for your journey, check out the hoppin’ deals at Undercover Tourist. Be sure to hop over to some of our other ski planning posts and insider’s guides to other Colorado ski resorts, like Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge if you want to visit some other great family ski resorts on your journey. With Breckenridge just two hours away from Steamboat, it can be a great resort to visit after Steamboat if you are flying in and out of Denver.
Hoppy Skiing (and Riding)!