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travel: steamboat springs, colorado

Anyone who has happened upon this blog between October and May (sometimes June!) will have probably noticed that we like to ski around here. It’s hard to avoid when Colorado boasts about thirty ski resorts (give or take a few). Multi-mountain ski passes are popular because a single pass offers unlimited access to a handful of mountains plus a few free days at a sampling of other mountains. This year we have the Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus which allows unlimited skiing at Copper Mountain, Winter Park, and Eldora (our local hill), as well as some bonus lift tickets at other mountains including six days at Steamboat Ski Resort. Jeremy and I had only ever visited Steamboat Springs in summer, and briefly… but Steamboat always gets the goods when snow falls in Northern Colorado. The resort has even trademarked “Champagne Powder”. We had to see what all the fuss was about.

elevation map of colorado (warmer colors correspond to higher elevations)

Nestled in the upper valley of the Yampa River, Steamboat Springs rests at the base of the Park Range. As ski towns go, Steamboat is an actual town with services, a bustling pedestrian-friendly main street, cheerful residents (numbering around 12,000), and more terrific restaurants than you could shake a stick at. While the town has spendy options, folks aren’t there “to be seen” so much as to simply enjoy mountain living. It’s a good vibe.

The day we arrived, Steamboat was reporting seven inches of fresh powder overnight and continued snowfall throughout the day. We parked in the Meadows Lot (free) and caught one of the frequent (and clean) shuttles to the base area. From there, we hopped the gondola to mid-mountain and a lift to the summit where we began exploring a foot of untracked new snow in the trees. This was some of the fluffiest fluffy fluff I’ve ever had the pleasure to ski. Okay, Steamboat – you get to keep “Champagne Powder”.

from the lift – all that new snow

jeremy bounces his way through the aspens

We skied until our legs were jelly and took the gondola back down to the base area, not wanting to waste our energy on blue and green groomers as we had already scoped out more potential powder stashes for the following day. Once in town, we checked into the Rabbit Ears Motel – a good option for folks who are budget travelers. We got an especially good mid-week rate and AAA discount. While the lodging was decent, I think it may have been a little too budget for our tastes as we had almost no room for the both of us to sit down and work. Neva’s doggy daycare person suggested The Nordic Inn, which is a little nicer for a little more coin. From the motel, we walked several blocks to Sake2U – a popular spot right on the Yampa River – for a fantastic sushi dinner. Any day you can ski and sushi is a GOOD day.

sake2u under pillows of snow

hamachi (yellowtail) poke over seaweed salad with enoki mushrooms

kombat roll: spicy tuna, spicy salmon, spicy hamachi, with three tobiko and house fire sauce

ama ebi (sweet shrimp)

hamachi sashimi

In the morning, we got up early for breakfast at Creekside Café and Grill. We were greeted with big smiles and super pleasant staff. Aside from the fact that their sausage gravy isn’t as good as mine, the food here is solid. I mean, it is REALLY delicious in addition to being locally sourced. I ordered a side of bacon to go with the malted waffle (so good) and was given a choice of local thick-cut or something else. My ears shut off after I heard “local thick-cut” because that’s what I wanted. Oh man… that was hands down the best bacon I’ve ever had. Ever. Great flavor, melt-in-your-mouth, just the right crispness.

malted waffle with mixed berries and maple syrup

chicken fried steak with sausage gravy, eggs, breakfast potatoes, and biscuit (with apple cinnamon jam)

After that huge breakfast, we made our way up the mountain to ski off those calories. The weather was clearing, but the clouds still raced overhead dusting us with light kisses of snow. Most of the beginner runs occupy the lower mountain. You can bypass that by riding the gondola up to mid-mountain and taking one of many lifts that serve the upper mountain. While we didn’t ski many groomers, Steamboat does a nice job of grooming and maintaining their runs (hey, it’s easy to groom when you have great snow). As for the trees, which we skied the hell out of, Steamboat has some of the nicest glades and tree skiing. Jeremy and I were essentially skiing fresh tracks all day and still finding more stashes of powdery snow as we were leaving.

the view from mid-mountain looking toward four points

a very happy guy

loving some untracked powder


looking west toward town

The plan was for those big breakfasts to fuel us through the day to happy hour so we could ski through lunch, but by mid-afternoon our stomachs were growling and our legs were tired from all of the awesomeness. Walking around town afterward, Jeremy popped by The Ristretto for a latte which he said was excellent. [For those of you in Boulder, he ranks it above Ozo, but not as high as Boxcar.] The lounge is a nice space for working, relaxing, or chatting.

jeremy’s caffeine of choice

Around 4:00 pm, we returned to the mountain, but this time in street clothes. Yama was not on my original dining schedule, but after seeing mention of it online and then reading through the menu, I couldn’t pass it up. We arrived slope-side in time for happy hour and added a few items from the dinner menu. Yama’s happy hour has got to be one of the best deals on the mountain. The food is off the hook! All of it was well-prepared with fresh ingredients, great flavors, perfect textures. The portions were generous and the happy hour prices were ridiculously affordable for the quality. Jeremy and I basically wanted to move into the restaurant and eat their food forever. This is our current favorite in Steamboat.

jfc – japanese fried chicken with honey sriracha

jeremy’s yuzu-tini (perfectly balanced)

a platter of maki and nigiri sushi

the house ramen with pork belly, mushrooms, and sous vide egg

The next day we got ourselves to Milk Run Donut Café before the sun was up. I get excited at the prospect of finding a good doughnut shop and this one had plenty of buzz about it. The selection was okay, but the doughnuts themselves were just meh. Not bad, just not knocking my socks off. My socks remained firmly on my feet. I took a bite or two and packed the doughnuts away for later. Jeremy informed me that the coffee was horrible. So that was a bit of a letdown, but if you want a doughnut, this might be your best bet in town. Someone tell me if you know of a better doughnut or bakery in Steamboat. The masses need to know!

milk run donut café at dawn

what to choose…

My disappointment melted away as we returned to the ski resort for a few powder runs in the morning. We still found fresh and fluffy snow in the trees – perfectly preserved because the high temperature never got above freezing. The views from the summit (and from most parts of the mountain) are expansive. To the east, we could see our home mountains (the Indian Peaks). To the west, the Western Slope. But all I could think about on our gondola ride down was how I couldn’t wait for lunch.

jumping for joy

riding down in the gondola

Driving back into town one last time, we made a beeline for Back Door Grill. A burger ranks up there as one of the best things to eat after skiing and these burgers fit the bill. I asked Jeremy if he was hungry and he said, “Kinda.” I ordered the Twilight Zone (peanut butter, cheddar, bacon, creamy sriracha) because I was curious to try a peanut butter burger and he opted for the Umami burger (Swiss cheese and mushrooms). By the time I had finished photographing my burger, Jeremy was nearly done eating his. Funny how a damn good burger can enhance your appetite. My Twilight Zone was great, but I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to order a burger with peanut butter in the future. The fries and onion rings? Equally delectable. Jeremy’s chocolate milkshake was good. Not awesome, but good.

back door grill in snowy steamboat springs

the twilight zone, garlic fries, and chocolate milkshake

Now, I realize that the town is named for the hot springs and we didn’t visit any. I am not supposed to sit in hot tubs or hot springs due to my lymphedema, but friends of mine love soaking in the springs and report that they are quite nice.

And that wraps up 48 hours in Steamboat Springs! We had such a wonderful time skiing the mountain and barely making a dent in the Steamboat food scene that we cannot wait to come back again and again. Steamboat makes for a fun getaway, so definitely put this ski town on your radar.

Full disclosure: All trip expenses were paid for by me. I was not compensated in any way by Steamboat Ski Resort, the town of Steamboat Springs, or any of the dining establishments mentioned in this post. All opinions are my own.

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8 nibbles at “travel: steamboat springs, colorado”

  1. Claudia says:

    Your review is awesome and makes me want to go to Steamboat Springs. As it happens, I’m in Mont Tremblant, Quebec skiing with my father. I wish the food options were as good here. There are some decent options, but nothing I’ll be dreaming about, and the beer selection, even at the local microbrewery is just okay. I also wish I were as good a skier as you and Jeremy, but I do what I can. Congrats on a great trip.

  2. Alison says:

    Peanut butter hamburgers sound like something dogs would love more than humans would!

  3. Irmi says:

    Loved to read on your ski and food adventures of your excursion to Steamboat Springs. Feel now as if having been with you … So lively and nicely told. – You should send your story to a holiday magazine, Jen. Or do you do so anyway? It would be a great advertisment for that skiing region. – Beautiful photographs. Love the wintery mountain and tree landscape. Just gorgeous.

  4. farmerpam says:

    I’m so, so envious. I spent some time there this summer and would seriously move there. Yes, I would. Great town, and the hot springs, Strawberry hot springs that is , one of the best (commercial) hot springs I’ve been to. Magical. Sigh. I loved this post. We are so lacking snow here in New England, so sad to see all that snow last week miss us and head South where it’s of no use to them. :( I’ve been checking out Steamboat’s live web cams this winter, just for a thrill. Thanks a million times over for the winter update on what I considered a very welcoming place. 9MTs

  5. LePetitCochon says:

    Where did Neva stay while you guys were skiing? I am curious how dog friendly ski resorts in Colorado are.

  6. Alanna Kellogg says:

    When I saw your title, I thought, Oh! I sure hope they hit Creekside! We’ve done several stints in Steamboat, once in summer, usually in the fall during elk season. And yes — we stay at the Rabbit Inn, love the old-timey neon sign! But Creekside is our favorite, it’s what turned us onto staying in Steamboat in the first place. The homemade bread makes excellent toast, in the summer you can sit outside and it’s just so pretty and pleasant. But the big thing is the ambience — each time, we’d be “guests” the first day and “regulars” from that day on. Love it —

  7. Suzanne says:

    My brother is a longtime ski patroller for Steamboat – I’ll ask him for his favorites (although raising a family on a ski patroller’s salary doesn’t allow for too many meals out! – but they love Creekside) and pass them on. When we last visited in December he got us a great rate at the Sheraton which is dog friendly and right at the base of the mountain (and right where the mountain has its night skiing).

  8. jenyu says:

    Claudia – Not every ski town offers everything, but I think Steamboat is one of the good ones! You should definitely come to Colorado for a ski trip :) Our snow is quite different from the East Coast!

    Alison – they’re pretty good, actually. I just like to get my calories without the peanut butter given my druthers.

    Irmi – You’re very sweet. I don’t submit my writing for jobs in general because I hate writing and I don’t consider myself a writer :) I’m pretty sure Steamboat gets LOTS of publicity and PR from better sources than me!

    farmerpam – Steamboat is fantastic in summer, but yes – lady, you need to get yourself out here in winter! And if it’s not Steamboat, then you should consider Crested Butte because that’s my favorite town of all :)

    LePetitCochon – there are several pet-friendly motels and hotels in Steamboat Springs, but because Neva really doesn’t like car rides, we try to minimize them as much as possible. So we kenneled her at home with her daycare provider in Nederland. Colorado is pretty dog-friendly in general. People LOVE their dogs in mountain towns.

    Alanna Kellogg – Creekside was superb! Neva’s doggy daycare person recommended it!

    Suzanne – thanks! The locals will know what’s good and what’s not. And thank your brother for the work he does to keep all of us safe on the mountain. Ski patrollerers are not only important, but underappreciated. xo