Steamboat Springs, Colo.: Like No Place Else
Here, the shops, spots and traditions make this mountain town unique.
These places and events give Steamboat Springs its distinctive character.
This silly race is a Steamboat rite of spring: Every April, families, Boy Scout troops and groups of friends create elaborate cardboard vessels and race them down the ski hill. Recent years have featured pirate ships, bulldozers and space shuttles. Not all of them arrive at the finish line in one piece, but the madcap display of cardboard carnage is half the fun.
An annual variety show that spoofs life in Steamboat Springs, Cabaret is sidesplittingly funny if you get the inside jokes. Newcomers might miss out on some of the humor, but anyone who’s followed the past year’s local news will laugh at the SNL-style skits and musical performances.
Since 1914, when Carl Howelsen staged the first ski-jumping competition on Woodchuck Hill (where Colorado Mountain College is now located; see below) Steamboaters have held the annual Winter Carnival to dispel mid-winter blues. Ski-jumping events remain a carnival mainstay, only now, a smorgasbord of stunts rounds out the weekend of fun: High schoolers get a day off school to build snow sculptures along Lincoln Avenue, horses pull skiers during skijoring races, and the Lighted Man makes his shimmering nighttime appearance.
Strings Music Festival
Orchestra members from across the country spend their summers at Strings, a summerlong program of first-rate classical music. Longtime locals and early retirees sip Chardonnay on the lawn and then retire to the new concert hall for encore-worthy performances. A handful of events also take place from fall through spring, and chamber music, jazz, rock, country, bluegrass, folk and world rhythms round out the classical lineup.
WORLD-CLASS OUTDOOR GEAR
This boutique bicycle company is known for building incomparably smooth titanium road and mountain bike frames. In fact, in 1989, Moots founder Kent Erikson invented the first full-suspension mountain bike, the YBB, which revolutionized the industry. The Moots factory is still located in Steamboat Springs, but Erikson no longer runs the company: He’s returned to making custom bicycles in a back-alley shop downtown.
In 1994, ski instructors Peter and Patty Duke started using merino wool to make incredibly comfortable, itch-free socks. Their company, SmartWool, repopularized wool for outdoor pursuits: Now, several companies make merino wool socks and base layers, but Steamboat Springs-based SmartWool remains an industry leader.
The little red house on Oak Street sells outdoor sporting equipment made by three separate companies, all founded by Steamboat Springs entrepreneur Bill Gamber: The BAP! line of fleece clothing; Big Agnes tents and sleeping bags (which have won numerous gear awards); and Honey Stinger energy gels and protein bars. Gamber himself is a dedicated skier and biker, so when he isn’t running operations at BAP! he’s hitting area trails.
EDUCATION AND ENTERTAINMENT
Colorado Mountain College
The Colorado Mountain College has campuses statewide, including the Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. Students sometimes compromise their studies for skiing, and two-year programs in outdoor education and resort management are particularly popular. But a variety of courses is offered, appealing to local adults who sign up for everything from yoga and avalanche safety to conversational Spanish.
Tubing the Yampa
In late June and July, after the river has quieted from spring’s raging torrent of melting snow, locals embrace tubing season: When families, couples and cliques of teenagers grab inner tubes and float downriver for a relaxing kickoff to summer. Put-in at Rotary Park and take-out at the Bud Werner Memorial Library for a watery ride that lasts about two and a half hours and intersperses splashy rapids with mellow flatwater.
First the Ute Indians, then white settlers, enjoyed soaking in the thermal springs clustered near the Yampa River. Unfortunately, the town’s namesake spring (which once chugged like a steamboat) was destroyed when track was laid for the railroad in the early 1900s. But others, such as the opaline Lithia Spring, remain intact and are well-signed. The 104-degree Heart Spring is now managed by Old Town Hot Springs, a health and fitness facility that’s popular with locals and visitors. The Heart Spring eventually drains into the Yampa River at Dr. Rich Weiss Park, and in summer, bathers enjoy taking a free dip in this soothing pocket of warmth along the riverbank.