Planning a winter vacation can be a challenge when some of your friends and family members are hard-core skiers, while others aren't into the sport. The good news is that more and more ski resort towns are catering to this need by offering plenty of activities besides hitting the slopes. And travelers are catching on. In fact, one in three non-skiers took a ski or snowboard trip with family or friends last winter (a 10 percent rise from the previous year), according to a recent survey by Wyndham Vacation Rentals.
If you're looking to try this travel trend, Steamboat Springs, CO's light and fluffy 'champagne' powder combined with natural wonders such as hot springs and a cowboy feel from its strong ranching history make it a destination both skiers and non-skiers can love. Here is what you need to know to plan your trip.
Fly to Your Destination
Steamboat Springs is 160 miles northwest of Denver, so it's about a three-hour drive if you're renting a car from this airport (we recommend four-wheel drive!). There are also direct flights on major airlines such as United, AA, and Delta from almost a dozen U.S. cities, including New York/Newark, Atlanta, Seattle, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago.
Where to Stay
Hands down the most convenient place for a group to make a home base in Steamboat Springs is Trailhead Lodge, where you can rent a home for anytime from three nights to three weeks. Located in the mountain village, rentals range from studios to three-bedroom condos with a den and four baths. With fully-equipped kitchens and washer and dryers, you'll feels at home away from home (except that you get housekeepers every other day).
The gondola is right outside your door so you can easily hit the slopes or the restaurants in the village, and a free shuttle runs until 11 p.m. so you can just as easily get into town. If you're traveling with kids, the heated outdoor pools, hot tubs, and game room will keep them entertained. Free coffee, hot cocoa, and newspapers are available in the lobby. There are also outdoor community grill areas, a fitness center, and free bike and ski storage.
Time to Ski
Any level of skier can appreciate this mountain range, which has nearly 3,000 skiable acres, 165 marked trails, and a peak elevation of 10,568 feet. With 16 lifts – including an 8-passenger Gondola that runs through April – skiers and boarders will find plenty of variety so you don't have to repeat the same runs all day (unless you prefer to stick to a favorite).
Freeriders can check out the Mavericks Superpipe, which is 450-feet-long, 56-feet-wide, and has 18-foot walls. Novice riders might prefer the terrain park right next to this daredevil's delight.
Even nonskiers will love watching the Cowboy Downhill contest, where ProRodeo cowboys strap on their skis for a downhill race.
More to Explore
Non-skiers and skiers alike can savor the view on top of the mountain with a gondola ride to 9,100 feet, followed by a one-mile moonlight snowshoe tour and ending with dinner at Hazie's Restaurant. Or explore the Yampa River valley with a horse-driven sleigh ride. Outdoor adventure enthusiasts can sign up for everything from snowbike lessons to snowmobile rides to hot air balloon tours.
Learning to Relax
Home to more than 150 mineral hot springs, French fur trappers from the 1860s named the town Steamboat Springs because they thought a hot spring near the Yampa River sounded like a—you guessed it!—steamboat. If you want to relax in nature, try going for a soak in the popular Strawberry Park Hot Springs, which can get as hot as 104 degrees.
About a 15-minute drive or shuttle ride from town, be sure to bring $15 per person (cash or check only), a flashlight if you're going after dark (there is no electricity), flip-flops/water shoes and a towel. Kids aren't allowed after sunset when bathing suits become optional.
Sitting Down to Eat
For casual dining and a fun happy hour scene, try Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill on the main street. For the liveliest experience, belly up to the bar and order a creamy Powder Clause Pale Ale that's hand-crafted on site. Their menu offerings range from Onion Ale soup to Buffalo Sausage in a Blanket to Adobo Colorado Lamb Loin.
Steak lovers should hit up E3 Chophouse, located on the Yampa River. Baseball-brother owners Jeff, Adam, and Andy LaRoche supply the hormone- and antibiotic-free meat from their family-owned ranch in Kansas. In addition to all kinds of steak, Yampa Valley Bone-In Pork Chops and Lobster Tail also make the menu. Just be sure to call for reservations as the restaurant often books up quickly.
Another popular eatery which started out as a wine bar serving appetizers is Cafe Diva, headed by chef Kate Rench. Their wine cellar now has more than 300 varieties of vino. The seasonally-inspired menu features local produce and sustainable seafood with plenty of gluten-free (such as peanut butter and bacon) and vegetarian (such as kale, roasted mushrooms, and butternut squash) options. A romantic ambiance makes it a good date night spot.
You'll find plenty of kitschy shops filled with cool keepsakes along Lincoln Avenue, the town's main street which was originally made extra-wide to fit the cattle drives heading through during the 19th to 20th centuries. Get yourself an authentic pair of cowboy (or cowgirl) boots at F.M. Light & Sons, which has been on the main street for more than 100 years. Stock up on organic bath products made with ingredients right from the Rocky Mountains (think: sweet grass and lavender) at Ranch Organics.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with some dark chocolate almond bark at The Homesteader Kitchen Store. Or just spend an afternoon wandering and window shopping, breathing in that fresh mountain air.