Steamboat: Where Champagne Powder meets world-class terrain | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat: Where Champagne Powder meets world-class terrain

Steamboat local Billy Gimes floats through the trees.

— Three things have always made Steamboat stand out from the crowd: its hospitality, tree skiing and world-class snow. All three just keep getting better.

Its friendliness owes itself to the town's ranching heritage. It was a ranching town way before it ever became a world-class resort, meaning everyone treats you like a neighbor. Pretentiousness dissolves like the sulfur in its many hot springs — yet another characteristic separating it form most other ski towns.

The resort's ski host program ensures visitors get a friendly reception, pine beetle mitigation efforts continue to open up even more glades for skiing and riding, and even in off years it still serves up heaps of bottomless Champagne powder (on Feb. 20 last year, it set a single-day mid-mountain snowfall record of 27 inches).

It's the region's snowfall that truly separates Steamboat from most other resorts. Snowfall totals have surpassed 400 inches during four of the past seven winters, including 433 in 2011 year, jump-started by a record-setting 90 inches in November.

The record winter of 2007-08 saw 489 inches of snow, including three consecutive months of 100-plus inches (the total would have eclipsed 500 had the resort stayed open a day longer). This meant 58 powder days of 4-plus inches of snow.

"It's truly what distinguishes Steamboat from other resorts," says local Olympian Nelson Carmichael. "There's no buts about it — Steamboat gets some of the best snow in the country."

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It's also there for the tracking longer than it is at other resorts. Its 2,965 skiable acres make it one of the largest ski areas in Colorado, and it's world-class tree skiing in places like Closets and Shadows maintain powder stashes for days after a storm.

Add 3,668 feet of vertical and 165 named trails (not to mention the countless routes through its trees) and you get a resort for skiers of all abilities, with 14 percent of its runs for beginners, 42 percent for intermediates and 44 percent for advanced. The mountain's four terrain parks, highlighted by Mavericks Superpipe — a 500-foot-long halfpipe with 18-foot walls and 22-foot transitions — as well as a new skier and boarder cross course provide fun for the whole freeride family.

To maximize your visit, arrive early. Lifts open between 8:30 and 9 a.m., with the gondola taking its first passengers at 8:30 a.m. (if it's a powder day, take advantage of the resort's First Tracks program, which gets you up ahead of the pack). The ski area also has made great uphill capacity strides, with the addition of the base area's Christie Peak Express.

For lessons, Steamboat's award-winning ski and snowboard school includes six Olympian instructors, as well as the new FLAIK GPS system, which lets you monitor your kids' whereabouts on the mountain (and relive it on the computer back home). The Kids' Vacation Center offers a variety of kids programs as well, and is just one reason Steamboat has been named the No. 1 Family Resort in the West by SKI magazine.

When your legs need a deserved rest, on-mountain facilities include the newly renovated Thunderhead Lodge at the top of the gondola (offering commanding views of the Yampa Valley far below), Rendezvous Saddle and the Four Points Hut, perfect for that quick warm-up stop off the top of the mountain. Fine dining can be found at Hazie's and Ragnar's.

For celebrating afterward, a variety of bars and restaurants line the slopes at the resort's base, including the newly renovated outside deck and Umbrella Bar at the Bear River Grill, the famous ice bar at Slopeside and the locals hang-out of the T-Bar. The ski area also hosts the Bud Light Rocks the 'Boat concert series, featuring free music in gondola square, as well as the Steamboat MusicFest and Ski Jam. Other special events take place throughout the season.

So enjoy your stay — chances are you won't find friendlier people or more Champagne snowflakes anywhere.