Five Days and Five Nights: A Ski Vacation In Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Blue Bird Morning

As the sun rises on Storm Peak, Steamboat has joined a larger family of the Alterra Mountain Company. Always a major destination in the Rolodex of powder hounds, Steamboat’s unique western atmosphere and non-resort feel make Steamboat a must visit this season (not to mention the boat loads of light powder that fall from the sky during the winter).  If you are traveling here for the first time, use this guide to maximize five days and five nights in Steamboat.

Before You Go:

Five days isn’t a lot for a ski vacation, here are some things you can take care of before hand that will save you lots of time and headaches while you’re there:

  • Book your lodging:  There are two distinct lodging areas in Steamboat; On the Mountain and Downtown.  Neither one is far from the other and can be reached quickly by bus, lodging shuttle or car.  Both have their high points and neither area is disappointing, click to learn more.  Pro Tip:  Book direct with a local lodging company and avoid extra fees that you would incur if you used a third party such as VRBO.
  • Pre-book your lift tickets:.  Generally, the most expensive ticket rate is the walk up rate at the ticket window.  Avoid lines and save money by searching ticket packages and booking online.  Follow this link to see the combinations of passes Steamboat has to offer.  Pro tip:  Steamboat Lodging Company will help you with this task and will be able to get you the best rate available.
  • Plan your mode of transportation: Steamboat’s airport is located in the town of Hayden about 40 minutes away.  Local shuttle service, Alpine Taxi, runs shuttles from Hayden airport and also from Denver International Airport (three and a half hrs away).  Car rentals are available at both airports.  At Steamboat Lodging Company, we will help you take care of your transportation needs.
  • Drink water: Steamboat Ski Resort summits at 10,568 so you will be exercising at high altitude.  Drinking lots of water before and during your vacation will help combat high altitude sickness.
  • If you need rental gear use a home delivery service and have them show up the day before your first full day on the mountain.  We recommend Ski Butlers
  • Don’t show up with old equipment that hasn’t been used in a while.  Day one of your ski vacation is not the time to figure out your old boots don’t buckle anymore or the heel of your ski boot is worn off.
  • Make Dinner Reservations: For small groups, the day of is ok. For large groups, plan well in advance.
  • Check the forecast but don’t rely on it:  Long range forecasts are not very accurate in the Rocky Mountains, especially Steamboat!  Remember Presidents Day, 2012 when 2 to 4 inches were forecasted overnight and Steamboat woke up to 27 inches (aka Big Monday)?!!  Mention Big Monday when you’re in Steamboat and people will immediately stop what they are doing to tell you their story of that awesome day (I had to work all day but still was able to get neck deep turns before the lifts opened!)
Day One: Arrive In Steamboat

Steamboat is an old ranching town that never experienced any gigantic booms; no gold rushes, no overnight fortunes, just families living, working and playing hard in the fruitful Yampa Valley since the 1800’s.  Because there were no giant booms there were also no giant busts and therefore the feel of the old west has survived.  Travel in any direction out of Steamboat and you will see cowboys and cowgirls on working ranches.

So you have taken care of your pre-trip checklist, have had a quick history lesson and have checked in with the family.  Now what? Drink water.  Go night skiing, most ski packages make this an easy add-on!  Hopefully, you have planned ahead and your ski delivery service is at your condo and making sure everyone’s equipment fits perfectly and is ready to go.  Night skiing is a great way to get your ski legs back.  Steamboat has a few trails lit up from Christy Peak down and even offers ski lessons at night.  There is a mid station lift stop that offers access to beginner terrain and a terrain park.  WARNING: if you go all the way to the top the only trails down at night are intermediate and advance trails.

Don’t burn out here, just get warmed up and ready for a full day of skiing and riding tomorrow.  When you are done with a few laps it’s time for dinner.  I recommend Fiesta Jalisco, a family friendly authentic Mexican Restaraunt with a great menu and delicious margaritas, try the carne asada y camarones and small original margarita (comes in its own shaker). Beware of le-hoof! Fiesta Jalisco will not break the bank.

Drink water, seriously, it will only make you feel better.  The age-old rule is one glass of water for every one alcoholic beverage.

After dinner, head home, have a soak in the hot tub, drink water and rest easy…..

Day Two: Family Ski Day

Time to get up and do what you came here to do, go ski!  Since you have done all your legwork beforehand, all you and the family have to do is walk up to the lifts and get on!  Eat a light and healthy breakfast, you do not want a full belly weighing you down out on the mountain and of course, drink water!

When times are busy the base area can get congested.  Beat this by getting to the lift or gondola lines before 9:00 am (or after 11:00 am).  If it is a powder day and you do not want to be skiing others leftovers, get in the gondola line before 8:00 am (gondola opens at 8:35 am) or if you do first tracks, get in line before 7:30 am.

First tracks is a program that if you pay extra, you can get an early shot at the goods. Steamboat sections off an area of the mountain for first track ticket holders only.  This essentially spreads out the powder crowd evenly over two sections of the mountain.  On a powder day, it can become very crowded.Pro Tip:  To truly have the mountain to yourself (for an hour) and run after run of fresh corduroy (freshly groomed trails), sign up for first tracks on a sunny non-powder day.

Assuming that at least on day one the whole family is going to ski together, here is a course of action to take so that everyone rides the chairs to together and everyone gets their fix, from timid skiers to rippers who can’t sit still.

Fresh Corduroy

Start with a lap on the lower Christy mid-station to get a quick warm-up.  Take headwall north for easy sweeping turns or hit Lil Rodeo terrain park.  Hop back on Christy Peak express and ride it all the way to the top.  Beginners can take Boulevard to Rough Rider Basin.  Rough Rider Basin is a kid’s specific zone with a rope tow and wooden cut outs of Steamboat characters and creatures.  This is a great learning area and provides seclusion from heavy skier traffic.  A perfect run back to Christy Peak Express is the green run, Swinger, a less crowded flowing green.

While the little ones play in Rough Rider, intermediate and advanced skiers and riders can enjoy Vogue and Bashor, two cruisey blues from the top of Christy Peak.  If you want to go a little steeper take a shot at See Mee or Lower Valley View for sustained steep pitches.  Check the grooming report to see if Lower Valley View has been

groomed (if it has been, game on!).  If you have terrain park lovers in the family both Rabbit Ears (medium) and Mavericks (large), as well as a Superpipe, can be accessed from Christy Peak Express or Bashor lift.

Take a family ride up the gondola and challenge yourselves a bit.  For Beginners to intermediates, challenge yourself starting with Why Not (easy green) merging to betwixt (easy blue), then merging to lower concentration (moderate blue, slightly steeper at the top but smoothes and widens out at the bottom).

Powder Skiing

 For you more advanced skiers, take a shot at Oops to Ted’s Ridge or Vertigo, all fantastic off-piste black diamond runs with great views.  At the bottom, rendezvous with everyone for lunch.

Recommended lunch spot: T-Bar.  Transformed from the once Ski Patrol headquarters,  the T-Bar is now a local favorite hangout with fantastic lunch options from soups, skillets, empanadas, enchiladas, paninis, and more.  Some will argue that this is the best food in Steamboat and their slogan “5-star dive bar” holds true.  Go to Item:  Peanut butter banana and bacon panini.  Another great lunch option nearby is the Paramount. Drink water.

After lunch, it’s time to go explore.  Hop on the gondola and head to the Sundown/Sunshine area known as “Wally World,” a low angle ski land full of nice groomers, easy tree skiing, and playful secrets that are fun for the whole family. Family challenge: find the hidden tree cave on the blue run “Baby Powder.”  This is a great place to start to enjoy one of Steamboat’s biggest claims to fame; the tree skiing.  This area is riddled with low angle aspen tree skiing allowing you to get comfortable with skiing in the woods.  My pick are the aspen trees located skiers left of Sunshine lift line.  Jump in and explore! Pro Tip: When skiing in the trees always look at the space between the trees and not directly at them.  Your skis will go where you are looking.

Find great Apres at Bear River Bar and Grill with outdoor seating and close proximity to the Coca-Cola Kids Adventure Zone with an array of kids activities including the infamous sling shot bungee jump!

Before dinner, head to the Old Town Hot Springs in downtown complete with swimming pool, above water rock climbing wall, water slides, jetted tubs, all supplied with water from the natural hot springs near by.  The Old Town Hot Springs also offers weight room, fitness classes, and massage therapists.Tonight’s dinner recommendation is local family owned 8th Street Steakhouse, a unique style of a steakhouse where patrons actually grill their own steak.  It may sound ridiculous at first but is actually perfect family activity.  The restaurant still cooks sides, appetizers and is full service, even bringing your drinks to the grill.  They boast the best steaks in Steamboat and even have a kids steak (as well as a kids menu).  Pro Tip: save room for the 8th Street Tater (you’ll see). 


It’s been a good day.  Drink some water, head home and rest easy.

Day Three: Divide And Conquer

Taking it easy- Head back to Wally World play all morning exploring some easy blues such as kit, cub, and tomahawk.  Head for lunch in the Thunderhead Lodge by riding the Elkhead lift up and skiing Arc down to the lodge.


Mid-Grade Power- Join the beginner crew for a few laps in Wally World then drop over to Morning Side via Cowboy Coffee.  Challenge yourself on Huevos, a short lived black diamond (it’s easier the further skiers right you go).  The terrain quickly mellows out into evenly spaced trees and natural terrain features.  When it’s time to meet for lunch, prepare yourself for a long run and take Over Easy, to Buddies Run to Tornado Lane then ride Burgess Creek Lift up to Thunderhead Lodge.

Most Difficult

Hitting the Gas-  Stick with the mid-grade crew until they ski Cowboy Coffee.  Instead, ski Hot Cakes, a mini backcountry ski run. This will give you a small glimpse of what some of the hike-to terrain is like with natural features all around.  Meet the intermediate crew at the bottom of Morningside lift and join them for Morningside laps finding fun in the trees.


Full Throttle- If you have been awake since 4 a.m. because you can’t wait to ski, this is your course of action: Get to Strom Peak Express via Why Not, Norther, then Burgess Creek Lift Line.  Ski multiple laps from the Storm Peak Chair hitting runs such as Triangle Three, Bar UE Lift line (and the trees around it), Vortex, Nelsons Run, Tornado and the trees around it, and finally Closets or Shadows.  Join your crew for a run down Hot Cakes (you’ll love it) and then challenge your skills on the double black diamond, Chute One, before heading to lunch.

Recommended Lunch Spot:  Hazies at Thunderhead Lodge.  Hazies provides excellent views of the Yampa Valley with an exquisite menu.  I recommend getting the salad bar for lunch which is more like a buffet with soups, salads, crackers, cheeses, breads and more.  It is all you need and then some.

After lunch head back out to your favorites and ski till you drop (not really).  Steamboat has many hidden gems that can’t be seen directly from the chairlifts.  Explore, discover, and enjoy.  If you are up for it, some of the best snow of your life can be found on the hike to terrain, all of which are expert only steep treed runs.  Obey all signs and boundaries (they are there for a good reason) and be prepared for a long “slide out” when you are finished.

Superman Jr Challenge (all blue square runs):  One run from the top of Mount Werner (Morning Side lift) all the way to the base without riding any chairlifts and minimal cat tracks (that’s 3700 ft of decent!).  Here is the route:  Over Easy to Buddies to Calf Roper past Four Points Lodge and onto Rainbow to Rainbow saddle onto Park Lane and around to Why Not to Vagabond.  Finish with Vagabond all the way to the bottom of Thunderhead lift then take the easy slide down BC Ski Way to a well-earned end of the day Apres.Superman Legs of Steel Challenge (All black and double black diamonds):  Same starting and ending point but a  much more punishing run. The Route: Chute 1, take a hard left at the bottom (don’t get too low) and keep traversing hard left until you cross Buddies Run onto Calf Roper.  Ski under Four Points lift until you come to the elbow (known as the sushi platter) where Chisolm Trail intersects.  Take Chisolm Trail all the way to Rainbow Saddle and onto Park Lane. Take a right onto Steamboats signature bump run, White Out, and ski it to the bottom. When the bumps of White Out subside, find Flat Out on the left under the Burgess Creek lift just above the slow fences.  Slide across flat out, across Vagabond and down Betwixt, look for Mother Nature to the right.  Take a right onto Mother Nature and ski a few more bumps down to Lower Concentration, oh it hurts sogood!!  Finish with wide carving turns as Lower Concentration widens and flattens out.  Slide the rest of the way down BC ski way to the base. You should expect to get a trophy at this point, but alas, the only thing you’ll receive is a strong sense of self-accomplishment.  You’re done, get some water and a cold refreshment at Slopeside Bar and Grill, you have earned it!

You’re going to be exhausted after your second full day of skiing so we recommend heading home, relaxing and spending little effort on dinner.  Steamboats Drunken Onion has you covered with their heat at home menu of fully prepared meals that just need picked up and put in the oven.  Go to dish;  rotisserie chicken enchiladas and pizza for the kids.  Pick up a nice bottle of wine from Ski Haus Liquors, head home and relax all evening. Have dinner, hit the hot tub, watch some Netflix, and drink more water 😉

Day Four:  Take A Day Off From The Slopes (Unless It’s A Powder Day)

Although the skiing is awesome in Steamboat, you are probably a little worn out from getting after it the past two days.  Take some time to enjoy the plethora of other activities Steamboat has to offer, here is a list of some of our favorites:

Go Out to Breakfast:  Today is the day to indulge in breakfast and Steamboat has a number of options to do so.  Our top pick is Creekside Cafe!  Their menu offers exquisite omelets, benedicts, pancakes and even chili rellenos.  If you think you can take it on, try the Wafflelaughagus.  Bring your appetite.Winter Fly Fishing:  It may be the last thing you think of in the winter time but fly fishing in the winter on the Yampa can be down right epic.  There are a few areas around Steamboat that never freeze (due to their proximity to impoundments) and you can snowmobile right to them!  We recommend taking a guided trip with Yampa Valley Anglers, they will have everything you need for success.  All you need to do is show up with a good attitude and the same base layers you wear under your ski gear.  We offer our guests a 10% discount with Yampa Valley Anglers when they stay with us.

Snowy Fishing

Spa Day:  Everyone deserves a spa day.  We know that not all massage therapists are not equal, treat yourself to unmatched relaxation by booking a massage with LJ McVey.  She is extremely knowledgeable and cares about the full guest experience, she will erase the pain from your previous days of skiing.  You can even schedule an in home visit.

Hot Air Balloon Ride:  Grasp the unique layout of the Steamboat Area with breathtaking views of the ski area, Fish Creek Canyon, Buffalo Pass, Hahns Peak, Rabbit Ears Pass, and the Flat Top Mountains.  Pegusus Hot Air Balloon Tours include a continental breakfast and celebratory champagne flight after the ride.

Guided Snowmobile Tours: Just up the road from Steamboat lie the Zirkle Mountains with peaks towering above treeline.  Enjoy some throttle power on the snow by taking a guided snowmobile tour with High Mountain Snowmobile Tours.  Their knowledgeable guides safely take you into the Zirkels providing adrenaline opportunities and jaw dropping views at every turn.  Tours can be a full day, half day or even moonlight dinner tours.Dog Sledding: Summon you inner Gary Paulsen and take a dog sledding tour with Grizzel T Dog and Sled Works.  Guide your own team or ride along with a guide!!

Strawberry Park Hot Springs: A fifteen-minute drive out of town are the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a must visit for any Steamboat first timers. Located in a tranquil forest setting at the end of a dirt road, these natural hot springs offer a number of different pools, changing areas, and spa options.

Dog Sledding

  Children are not permitted after dark when clothing becomes optional.We recommend using Sweet Pea Tour service because the road conditions can vary and rescue is not cheap.   If you decide to drive yourself, four wheel drive is required and know where you are going (we see a few people a year take a wrong turn and try to drive their car down a snowcat road, they don’t get very far before getting hopelessly stuck).

Go Out to Dinner:  Another favorite of ours is Mahagony Ridge Brewery and Grill which offers a wide variety of menu items ranging from burgers and sandwiches to steaks and seafood, and of course, home brewed beer! The tuna ceviche appetizer is out of this world.  If you’re looking for a taste of the Far East or sushi, Noodles and More is an excellent choice.  We recommend the shrimp pho bowl and the hot tuna juju-yaki roll.  Mmmm, hot tuna.

Get Trapped in a Live Puzzle:  Visit The Crookey Key, Steamboats escape game room.  Use clues, solve puzzles, and collaborate with your team to escape from a themed game room in an hour or less.  This a great team building and family activity!

Drink Water and Rest Easy

Day 5: Go Powder Cat Skiing With Steamboat Powdercats
Cat Skiing

If you have never experienced truly bottomless snow, here is your chance.  Steamboat Powdercats offers three levels of guided snowcat skiing catering from beginner to expert backcountry skiers.  With three heated snowcats and three professionally trained guides per cat, the only thing you have to think about is how awesome the next run is going to be (and if you look good for the photographer).

Each trip includes pickup from your accommodations, continental breakfast, Armada powder skis and poles or Never Summer snowboards, avalanche beacons for the day, a catered three course hot lunch in their heated cabin (levels one and two) or gourmet sandwiches in the snowcat (level three), transportation to and from the office to Buffalo Pass, a full day of guided snowcat backcountry skiing, professional photographer and photographs from the day, and finally an apres ski party at the end of the day.

Level Breakdown:

Level One (Beginner backcountry):  Low angle open meadow powder skiing with no or minimal trees, this would be like skiing Baby Powder all day but with powder.  This is a slow paced, no pressure level to get a feel for backcountry skiing and get a feel for snow with “no bottom”.  Guides are there to lead the way, offer instruction and a helping hand coaching you to become comfortable in the backcountry.Level Two (Intermediate backcountry):  Skiing in the trees all day!  Steamboat is world renown for its tree skiing and the tree skiing of Buffalo pass is the epicenter of it all.  Guides will take you on long sunny Aspen runs to deep north facing evergreen runs.  Bottomless turns, small airs, and face shots lurk throughout the maze of excitement and discovery of Routt National Forest.  These runs are comparable to shadows and closets on the Steamboat Ski Area (but with powder).

Blower Powder

Level Three (Advanced backcountry):  Steep and deep!  Welcome to powder hound heaven as the expert cat takes you deep into the Routt National Forest for the steepest and deepest stashes of Buffalo Pass.  The level three cat is a fast paced powder-fest through sometimes steep, sometimes treed, always amazing terrain.  Self-discipline is required here as dangers can lurk.  Your guides are there to direct you to the fun and away from the danger.  These runs are comparable to Chutes 1-3, No Names, and North Saint Pats on the Steamboat Ski Area.

For the time of your life on (or in) snow, sign up for a day of guided powder skiing with Steamboat Powdercats.  Seats fill fast so booking in advance is a must, your best bet is to book the same time you book your lodging in Steamboat.

After you have finished reliving your Powdercat day at the apres party it is time to follow up the best skiing with the best dining at Cafe Diva, Steamboats premiere fine dining establishment.  Cafe Diva is a repeat favorite among guests and locals alike offering up perfectly and thoughtfully crafted dishes with gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options.  Be prepared to be stuffed and be prepared to spend a few dollars but every ounce and every penny are worth it.  Our pick: The Surf and Turf and ending with the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcake.

Steamboat Moonlight

Head home for one more night of resting easy in the Yampa Valley, drink water, have a long soak and start thinking about your next Steamboat vacation.

Check out the next morning and make you way back to the real world with a un-erasable smile on your face. Drink some more water 😉

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