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Chasing Icons: Wrangling Cowboys and Olympians Out at Steamboat

Story by Teton Gravity Research

Opened in 1963, Steamboat was first nicknamed Ski Town, U.S.A.. Since then the area has blossomed into a unique community—a blend of western and Olympic heritage—rooted in one major passion: a love for that sweet champagne powder.

Lore has it, when asked to describe the quality of the snow at Steamboat Resort in Colorado, a local rancher said it “tickles your nose like champagne." Ever since, Steamboat has proudly claimed ownership over the phrase, "champagne powder"—it’s even trademarked it.

A luxurious soak in Strawberry Hot Springs is must for any visit to Steamboat. We much appreciated the dip after many days on the road. TGR Photo

For us, no champagne pow this time, but we did find something equally as great: Billy Kidd. You know, the first American male to win an Olympic medal in skiing. 

Not only did he win a silver in the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, Billy Kidd is also a downhill combined World Champ and starred in numerous Warren Miller Films. This cowboy even has own statue. TGR photo.

What’s next on the legend’s agenda? Kidd now resides as the director of skiing for the mountain, which contributes Steamboat’s great Olympic legacy.

When you're riding the gondola, there's a chance you'll share the seat with an Olympian. Ligare finds himself sandwiched by two: Kidd and Berend. TGR photo.

A heritage that passionately runs deep in a town once nicknamed “Ski Town, U.S.A.," the area has cultivated more winter Olympians than any other town in the US. 98 to be exact. 

Arielle Gold recently added to that legacy by winning bronze at PyeongChang in the snowboard halfpipe. Remember Ester Ledecka? The Olympian who stunned the world by winning a gold in skiing AND snowboarding? She's from the Czech Republic, but made the trek over to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club to train with the coaches there.

The passion for the Olympics is an obvious component of the community, seen in the plethora of training facilities–like the aforementioned Sports Club–and coaches who call Steamboat home. For Ben Berend, who grew up in Steamboat, that love of the Olympics was contagious. 

The steamboat community is focused on helping athletes realizing their winter dreams. With this incredible community, for Berend the Olympics were never out of reach. TGR Photo.

Dreaming about the greatest winter stage since he was a wee 7-year-old ripper, Berend took a field trip every year to watch the World Cup for Nordic Combined skiing, which takes place annually in Steamboat.

“That’s where I decided I wanted to be an Olympian,” said Berend. He achieved that goal this year in PyeongChang. “If the Olympics are your dream, Steamboat is a great spot to start working towards that.”

"He is such an icon within the sport, and it's so inspiring to meet someone who is still so in love with skiing," Engerbretson tells us about Kidd. She was smitten when Kidd told her she was a beautiful skier. Look out Ligare. TGR Photo

"Locals show up and never leave," said Ligare. "There is a certain vibe that is attractive and pulls people in here." TGR Photo.

After a much needed pre-ski soak at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, we followed the advice of local Olympian to ski classic Steamboat lines. Berend’s favorite run is Heavenly Daze—which also happens to be where Kidd offers free ski clinics—and is best hit towards the end of the day. With some of that champagne pow present, the trees are where the snow holds the best after a storm. Shadow, 2:30 Trees, and the terrain off of the Morningside chair are the absolute favorites of locals.

Tree skiing with western flare; that's the essence of Steamboat. TGR Photo.

The West lives on strong here with 400 ranches in the Yampa valley, and it blends with the local ski culture. We just missed the winter carnival—every early February—in which little skiers are towed throughout main street by horseback. Yeehaw indeed Steamboat.

Ligare and Engerbretson are fully soaking up Steamboat's western vibe. No word when the duo will be dropping their latest country EP. TGR Photo