Check out some of Steamboat’s top sledding spots
March 14, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs is world-renowned as a destination for expert skiers, snowboarders, kayakers and mountain bikers.
The city's sledding amenities seem like they should be similarly up to snuff. It is the Rocky Mountains, for heaven's sake. Still, good sledding hills in Steamboat Springs can be difficult to find. Many of the best hills are on private property, and Steamboat Ski Area and Howelsen Hill do not allow sledders to use their lifts. Many other slopes simply don't measure up to the potential. Too steep isn't good. Neither is a stretch that's too flat.
"You want steep, but not super steep," said Miles Borden, a sixth-grader at Emerald Mountain School and an avid sledder who helped scout Steamboat's sledding options last week. "You want an even slope that doesn't slant to one side or another, and you need an outrun, something with a big area to slow down."
That eliminates any hills that would deposit a sledder in a thicket of trees, in an icy creek or in traffic.
Still, there are options. Maybe the best hills always will be in the backyard or on grandpa's ranch, but a day of searching yielded a few prime-time options for Steamboat sledders. With a couple middle-schooler's in tow, we went on a quest to check out some of them.
For the younger crowd
Steamboat II/Anchor Way Baptist Church
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Where: 40650 Anchor Way, just off U.S. Highway 40 in Steamboat II.
What's the deal: The groomed slope is probably the most accessible sledding hill in Steamboat Springs, and it's very popular on winter weekends when the kids are out of school. It's groomed, ensuring a long and smooth ride for sledders. But it's not very extreme and is likely to be more popular with the youngest sledders.
Comments from the testers: "If you're looking for a fast hill, this isn't the one," Marjorie Hellyer, 11, said. "You may have to push yourself when you get toward the bottom of the hill."
Top to bottom time: 30.1 seconds.
Make it extreme: There's a giant snow bank built right up to the parking lot that towers over the majority of the sledding hill. Start from on top of the pile for a wild first descent. It's hard to mount a sled there and the steep section is very short, but it does make for a moment of wide-eyed sledding.
Pro tip: Hike around the church sign to get back to the top of the snow bank rather than try to make the treacherous hike straight up the face.
Something for everyone
Steamboat II/Silver Spur
Where: It's located along the groomed cross-country skiing trail at Steamboat II, accessible most easily by car by parking near a cluster mailbox on the back side of the Anchor Way loop that circles the neighborhood. Hike down the trail for several hundred yards. On a nice Saturday, just follow the sounds of children playing.
What's the deal: A big, wide, groomed slope awaits and as far as accessible Steamboat sledding hills go, it doesn't get much better. The slope is steep enough to pick up some nice speed. It's wide enough to accommodate a crowd. And the outrun is long enough to allow plenty of time to stop.
Comments from the testers: “It’s probably not good for really young kids,” Marjorie said.
Miles added: “Drag your hands to straighten your sled out if it’s going sideways.”
Top-to-bottom time: 18.1 seconds
Make it extreme: Just off the groomed slope to sledder's right, there's a narrow path dug into the snow and a jump at the bottom. Big-time air awaits.
Pro tip: Much of the slope banks slightly off to sledder's left, just enough to unexpectedly bank a sled that direction. Start on the sledder's right side of the hill for a straighter descent.
Creme de la creme
Saddleback Ranch tubing
Where: 37350 Routt County Road 179, follow signs to tubing hill or grab a ride on one of the ranch's shuttles, which make trips to Steamboat Springs. Check out http://www.saddlebackranch.net for more information and reservations. A 90-minute session tubing costs $25 and is free for children five and younger.
What's the deal: Saddleback Ranch offers plenty of winter entertainment, but it's tubing hill stands out. When it comes to going downhill fast on something other than skis or a snowboard, there might not be a more awesome option. The ranch has a lift to drag you and your tube to the top of the hill, then three ways to slide back down, trails dubbed Larry, Moe and Curly. Each is a different difficulty level. Larry, the black diamond trail, has several rollers built into the middle of the run to allow some air.
Comments from the testers: "The intermediate run was the best," Miles said. "You didn't have to walk far from the bottom of it back to the lift, and it wasn't as bumpy."
"Sitting on the tub was better than laying on it," Marjorie said. "You didn't get a bunch of snow in your face."
Make it extreme: Ask for "the big spin" to get a huge swing from a ranch staffer at the top of the run, unless you've eaten recently or easily get motion sick. In that case, under no circumstance ask for "the big spin."
Top to bottom times: Larry, most difficult: 36.1 seconds
Moe, intermediate: 40.3 seconds
Curly, easy: 49.4 seconds
Pro tip: Girth is good, at least when it comes to sledding. It might not be healthy to be overweight, but the extra pounds do ensure a rider will go farther and faster. If you don't have that advantage, choosing the outside line on Moe might offer more of a slingshot effect at a low-on-the-run curve, which could prove decisive and help shave a little time off in a race.
Howelsen Hill tubing: Nothing beats Howelsen's tubing operation for convenience, and little sums up the Steamboat Springs better than a downtown tubing run. The hill opens for tubing at 4:30 p.m. daily and costs $25 for adults, $22 for teens ages 13 to 17 and $18 for children ages 6 to 12. Tubers five and younger are free. Check out http://www.tubingsteamboat.com for more information.
Use your imagination: Whether it's along Spring Creek Trail, tucked away up on Emerald Mountain or above the Steamboat Springs Middle School, there are plenty of hills locals love to sled. Use a bit of imagination, and any pile of snow can offer some thrills. Keep it safe and responsible, though. That means finding a spot with room to stop without running into danger and avoiding private property.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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