Aspen groves, powder, and hot springs to soak your fried quads in afterwards—that's Steamboat Springs, as far removed from Colorado's other resorts as its low-key vibe is from Vail's furs. The term "champagne powder" was coined and even trademarked here for good reason; it's the first mountain range storms hit after pummeling the Wasatch, blasting Mt. Werner with some of the best snowfall in the state (nearby Buff Pass regularly competes with Wolf Creek Pass for top billing).
Located far enough from the Front Range to avoid Denver's day traffic, it also seldom gets the crowds to track it up. You'll wait longer to change your clothes in the teepee at nearby Strawberry Park Hotsprings than you will at any lift. As for the skiing, what it might lack in the steeps, it makes up for in snow quality and consistent vert that will toast your legs by the time you toast your beer (or champagne) at the end of the day.
On a powder day, if you have a willing driver, avoid the gondola bottleneck by getting dropped at the Thunderhead quad two miles from the base. Then get up top, lapping either the Storm Peak Express or Sundown quads. If you can resist the call of the lift line or other open run shots, head to Closets and Shadows for 2,000 vertical feet of stellar trees. You can also lap the lower-angle slopes of Pony Express before venturing out one of a handful of backcountry gates into cliff-riddled Fish Creek. For steeps, suck up the flats of the Morningside lift to get up to Chutes 1-3 and Gates A-D, which offers short-but-sweet blower lines. Hint: beetle kill eradication efforts have opened up new glade skiing on the lower mountain; try the trees to skier's left of Concentration and the new northern shots above the BC Skiway catwalk. You can also finance freshies through First Tracks, which lets you up at 8 a.m., a half hour before the masses.
You can't swing your suspenders and not hit an après spot at the base of the mountain. Ski right up to a table at Slopeside and order a pitcher of Fat Tire from its 500-block ice bar and gourmet pizza (try the ACL or Yard Sale). While the beers are more expensive, locals also like the T-bar just uphill, a renovated ski patrol shack that's more core and less corporate. You can also dance in your ski boots (actually, please don't) at the free Bud Light Concert Series at the base's new stage Saturdays from February through March. For nightlife in town, check out Schmiggity's on Lincoln Avenue for live music; it's the best sound system this side of Red Rocks.
There's a million, from five-star sit down to take-out falafels. For gut-fill, try Double ZZ BBQ downtown for ribs or its Buckaroo Burger. If you have an open pocketbook, E3 Steakhouse on Yampa Avenue chars steaks from its owner's ranch in Kansas (and it has a great happy hour). For quickie, carb-replenishing burritos, hit up Azteca Taqueria downtown as ask for it "The Good Way." For breakfast, grab a burrito to go from newly expanded Gondola Joe's at the base of the mountain and quaff it on the ride up (you'll have nine minutes).
Get Your Huck On:
Norwegian Carl Howlesen brought ski jumping to Steamboat a hundred years ago, and the tradition lives on today with four on-mountain terrain parks for whatever your airborne fancy. Highlighting the line-up is Mavericks Superpipe & Terrain Park, featuring a 500-foot-long halfpipe with 18-foot walls and 22-foot transitions, as well as slopestyle jumps, rails, and ramps. Rabbit Ears Terrain Park at the bottom of Vertigo features a variety of slopestyle features and the Lil’ Rodeo Terrain Park at the base offers boxes, easy jumps, and a mini-halfpipe for newbies. To really channel your inner Howelsen, hit one of the five Nordic jumps at Howelsen Hill downtown on Hitchen Brothers' Wednesday Jump Night, held on the second Wednesday of each month January-March
Soak Your Bones:
Steamboat Springs earned its named from early pioneers for the chugging sound of its springs. Soak it in at Old Town Hot Springs downtown, complete with a pool-plunging climbing wall. For something more rustic, Strawberry Park Hot Springs seven miles out of town lets you heal up like the Ute Indians once did under shoulder-caressing waterfalls with a creek to plunge into to cool off. Bonus: clothing is optional after dark.
Where to Stay:
Snowflower Lodge, across the parking lot from the base, offers discounted studios until mid-February. For slightly off-mountain lodging try The Ranch, whose 24-hour shuttle service will drop you off in the morning and pick you up at the bar at 2 a.m. The cheapest rooms in town can be found at Steamboat Hotel as you get into town, or at the ranch house-style Western Lodge on the far end of town.
Vertical Drop: 3,668 feet
Annual Snowfall: 334 inches
Getting There: From Denver, drive 70 miles west on I-70 to Dillon. Take a right on Hwy. 9 (north) and then a left on Hwy. 40 (west) in Kremmling. Steamboat's 65 miles away, just over Rabbit Ears Pass.
Marquee image: Kerry Lofy finding the goods in Fish Creek Canyon near Steamboat Springs, CO. PHOTO: Alex Sullivan