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Steamboat Springs - A Cowboy Town With a Ski Problem

Story by Max Ritter

It’s got cowboys, fireworks, pow, Olympians, hot springs and all sorts of other winter goodies. 

Local Ray Heid was once asked, “How do the cowboys get along with the skiers?” His simple answer sums up the vibe of Steamboat Springs, Colorado perfectly. “Well, the cowboys are the skiers.” The cowboy turned skier turned cowboy, who has called Steamboat home for longer than he can remember, made the 1960 Olympic ski jumping team, and still skis nearly every day at age 82, has seen a lifetime’s worth of change in the town. However, one thing has never changed – the vibe that permeates everything in town. Whether it’s the skiing, the nightlife, the carnivals, or the food, a visit to Steamboat will always be an authentic Western experience.

Champagne Powder ® Snow

Steamboat has long been famous for its uniquely dry and low-density snow. Champagne Powder® snow, as the resort calls it – they’ve even gone so far as to trademark the phrase first coined in the 1950s by local rancher Joe McElroy – flies all winter long. Averaging 6 percent water content, McElroy was heard saying that the snow tickled his nose like champagne. After dropping into some powder stashes, like the famous Christmas Tree Bowl or the Morningside area, it’s no surprise where that statement came from – and it’s certainly true.

One of the longest-running traditions in Steamboat, skiing pow never ceases to impress. Walter Wood photos.

If there’s one thing to know about cowboys, it’s their work hard – play hard lifestyle. Every year, Steamboat’s Winter Carnival channels that mantra, with an epic combination of cowboys, fireworks, Olympians, and pow. Hosted by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club – one of the largest and oldest winter sports clubs in the U.S. – the carnival went into its 106 th year this past February. The whole town transforms into a winter wonderland with racing, ski jumping, ski joring, the Lighted Man, and a parade featuring the only skiing high school band in the country. Talk about tradition.

Whether its training for the Olympics or competing in them decades ago, Steamboat is home to some legends of the sport. Walter Wood photos.

After spending a full day on the mountain, ripping laps through the trees or venturing out of bounds through one of the many backcountry access gates (safety first – always bring proper gear and knowledge), there’s nothing better for those tired legs than a session at the local hot springs. Luckily Strawberry Park Hot Springs, nestled just outside town, operates year-round. It offers everything from 104-degree mineral water springs to private massages at the spa or Watsu aquatic therapy in a private pool. For those looking for the ultimate in relaxation, the Hot Springs even offers overnight stays in log cabins during the winter.