Although the Sisters in Steamboat festival might be taking time off this year, our town still has two siblings it’s happy to have in the family.
Through Sister Cities International, which operates in 136 countries on six continents, Steamboat has two sister cities in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, with which it struck a relationship in the late 1980s, and San Martin de los Andes, Argentina, which became a sister city in 1996. “There’s a reason we’re aligned with them,” says Val Dietrich, of the city clerk’s office. “They’re both pretty similar to Steamboat.”
A sister city relationship is a broad-based, officially approved, long-term partnership between two municipalities in two countries. They allow mutually beneficial connections to form professionally and personally, from work visa assistance to student exchanges, and address issues relevant to both towns.
Following is a peek at our siblings’ statistics:
With a population of 1,759, German-speaking Sass-Fee, known as the Pearl of the Alps, is the main village in the Saas Valley of Switzerland. While Steamboat has such neighbors as Oak Creek and Hayden, Saas-Fee is surrounded by such villages as Saas-Almagell, Saas-Grund and Saas-Balen.
Just as Steamboat is nestled at the base of Mount Werner, Saas-Fee is located close to the Dom and Allalinhorn glaciers, giving them one thing we don’t have: skiing in the summer. Surrounded by 13 peaks more than 13,000 feet high, Saas-Fee’s winter recreation offerings include such activities as skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing and more. The ski area has a vertical drop of 5,906 feet to our 3,668, five gondolas to our one, and a top elevation of 11,647 feet, eclipsing Mount Werner by 1,083 feet.
While we head to the Flat Tops and Mount Zirkel wilderness areas in the summer, locals there summit such peaks as Weissmeis, Nadelhorn and Lenzspite. It also counters our Colorado Mountain College with the European Graduate School. As for claims to fame, Saas-Fee has the highest underground funicular railway in the world as well as the highest revolving restaurant in the world at 11,500 feet.
Fun fact: No cars are allowed to enter the city (they have to be parked in a car park outside), and design guidelines require all buildings to be 40 percent wood.
San Martin de los Andes, Argentina
As its name implies, San Martin de los Andes is at the foot of the Andes in the southwest province of Neuquen, Argentina. Like Steamboat, its nearby Chapelco ski area is home to renowned skiing and riding and is one of the biggest ski vacation destinations in South America.
While Steamboat might have its namesake reservoir and a handful of smaller lakes, San Martin is located on the shores of Lake Lácar, complete with beaches for swimming. Visitors also frequent the famous Seven Lake Road, traversing other pristine lakes in the region. The town also is near Lanin National Park, home to the Lanin volcano and diverse tree life, many of which are not found anywhere else in Argentina.
Come spring and summer, San Martin is known for its bird watching, hosting the South American Bird Fair, the main bird gathering on the entire continent. Summer sports include horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, trekking and mountain biking, with golf enjoyed about 10 months out of the year. Shelter from the Andes makes the climate sunnier and less wet than Chilean Patagonia, with its 2,100-foot elevation causing the occasional wet winter storm. The town is about twice as big as Steamboat with 23,519 residents.
Fun fact: The San Martin de los Andes Teahouses are known worldwide for their sweets, including chocolate and dulce de leche tortes.