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Steamboat Magazine

Fun & Free Things To Do in the 'Boat

12/01/2011 01:00AM ● By Jennie Lay

by Jennie Lay

Steamboat Springs, CO - Winter offers a slew of opportunities guaranteed not to break the bank. Step into the snow and explore something free – there is no need to pay to play for these entertaining adventures.

Hitchens Brothers’ Wednesday Night Ski Jumping 

Wednesday night ski jumping allows kids of all ages to get out and try launching off the ski jumps with Steamboat’s up-and-coming Nordic kids. Jumping divisions are based on the size of the jump and type of skis. At the end of the night, awards are given for each division. Watch closely for future Olympians; Wednesdays (Jan. 5, Jan. 26, Feb. 16, March 2) at the Howelsen Hill ski jumps, downtown Steamboat. 


First Friday Artwalk

First Friday Artwalk is a chance to check out what’s neon the Steamboat art scene while socializing with resident artists and plenty of their local fans. Art venues throughout downtown and the mountain stay open from 5-8 p.m. the first Friday night of each month so you can mingle with the artists, catch new openings and linger over museum and gallery shows. Walk or ride the free bus. 

A map and info about each month’s Art Walk participants are available at

Free Concerts

Ski. Ride. Dance party. Steamboat’s legendary summer free concert series extends into the snowy season with the Bud Light Rocks the ‘boat Free Music Concert Series in Gondola Square. The lineup ranges from bluegrass to funk – and the concerts are outside at the base of the ski area so you can ski or ride right in. 


Storytime for Grownups

Story is why the library exists and storytime isn’t just for kids. Storytime for Grownups is an hour of compelling contemporary and classic short stories read aloud by some of the Yampa Valley’s finest voices. Expect suspense and humor, big characters and intriguing twists of plot. Always at noon in Library Hall at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.


Foreign Films at the Depot

Bud Werner Memorial Library and the Steamboat Springs Arts Council host the free Third Friday Foreign Film series at the Depot. See foreign and independent award-winning films hot off the film festival circuit at 7 p.m. on the third Friday of each month – plus there’s a cash bar and free popcorn. 


Self-guided Snowshoe 

Two do-it-yourself hikes near downtown Steamboat:

Lower Spring Creek Trail: A relatively flat, packed trail beginning as a dirt road at the end of Amethyst Drive and E. Maple Street downtown travels for about a half mile before climbing. A covered shelter at the reservoir creates the perfect rest stop where the trail then gently climbs for another mile-and-a-half along the creek. In winter posted signs indicate where the upper section of Spring Creek is closed for wildlife habitat. 

Howelsen Hill: The extensive system of groomed trails on Howelsen Hill downtown Steamboat is available for snowshoeing. Snowshoers are requested to remain on the perimeter of trails to preserve the surface quality for skiers.  


Visit a Real Ranch

Experience the winter environment on prime agricultural land along the Yampa River. The working Legacy Ranch includes 132 acres of conserved hay meadows, pastures and riparian habitat, plus a 1917 ranch house, a 1930s bunkhouse, machine shed, pole shed, coal shed and barn. It is also home to Yampatika’s Environmental Learning Center. Enjoy the historic buildings, scenic views and exhibits about wildlife and snow science over hot tea – or snowshoe around the ranch. On Fridays, take a guided Snowshoe Back in Time with “Elizabeth Hutchinson” in period costume, the woman who homesteaded the property in 1899.

Open to the public Wednesdays and Fridays 10 a.m.-noon 970-871-9151

Winter Traditions

Steamboat Springs harbors a long tradition of winter festivals, celebrations and feats  of community-inspired athleticism.  Dress warm and join the fun.

Fireworks & Torchlight Parades 

Steamboat loves fireworks. Our pyrotechnic passion is exemplified by extravaganzas over Howelsen Hill during Winter Carnival and blasts that light ups the Steamboat Ski Area on New Year’s Eve (Friday, Dec. 31), Valentine’s Day (Monday, Feb. 14) and St. Patrick’s Day (Thursday, March 17). Adding to the illumination, a trail of skiers and riders schuss and slide down the nighttime slopes, their path lit only by torches. 



Boasting 40 bands over six days, MusicFest brings together some of the hottest names in Texas and Americana music with up-and-coming artists, independent musicians and singer/songwriters. This year’s lineup includes Rodney Crowell, Band of Heathens, Jack Ingram and more. Venues range from a tent at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area to smaller bars and ballrooms around town – and frequently feature an enticing hodge-podge of multi-artist jam sessions.

Wednesday-Monday, Jan. 5-10

Winter Carnival

Since 1914, February has lured locals and visitors alike to downtown Steamboat to embrace winter events like ski flying, skijoring and shovel races. Amateur and 

professional gelandesprung jumpers shatter world records as they take to the ski jumps with alpine skis, boots and poles. Kids on skis fly behind galloping horses along Lincoln Avenue in order to slalom, ring hoops or launch the farthest jump. Adult daredevils are pulled on a shovel behind a horse — competing to hang on as long as possible. And if all that’s not enough, there’s the annual appearance of the Steamboat Springs High School band, “marching” on skis to kick off the Diamond Hitch Parade, and The Lighted Man, who skis down Howelsen’s steep slope with fireworks launched from a specially designed backpack during the Night Show Extravaganza.

Wednesday-Sunday, Feb. 2-6 Howelsen Hill and downtown

Winter Carnival is sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club to raise money for scholarships for young athletes. Buy a Winter Carnival button for admission to all events. 970-879-0695 x100 

Steamboat Pentathlon

It’s grueling and it’s fun. Steamboat’s winter pentathlon includes a 400-foot vertical sprint up Howelsen Hill in ski or snowboard boots, a three-mile snowshoe, a four-mile skate-ski, a 12-mile bike ride and a five-mile run. Saturday, March 5 Howelsen Hill 


Penguin Plunge

Are you brave enough to dive into a half-frozen swimming pool? Do you fancy a lap, even though it took crews a week to chop through the ice in your lane? This is the Steamboat’s coolest fundraiser, benefiting the Healthcare Foundation of the Yampa Valley. Wildly costumed plungers leap into the unheated swimming pool to raise money for emergency medical care in Northwest Colorado.  

Saturday, March 26 Lake Catamount pool


Håkan Memorial Nordic Fest

The theme is always Viking for this springtime Nordic festival that includes open trail skiing, riding bicycle bumps on skis and members of the U.S. Ski Team on hand for autographs. The day winds up with music and a pig roast, and donations for all festivities benefit scholarships for Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

Saturday, March 26 Steamboat Ski Touring Center 


Splashdown Pond Skim

The costumes are wild. The daredevils who ski and ride across water get wet. And the crowd is uproarious.

Sunday, April 10 Base of the Steamboat Ski Area  


Cardboard Classic

The Cardboard Classic is a perennial closing-weekend favorite. Cheer and jeer good-natured competitors as they slip, slide and drag their eclectic cardboard and duct tape crafts through the spring slush at the base of the ski area. Sleds occasionally speed to the finish line, but often vie for the honor of making it down the run intact. 

Saturday, April 9 Base of the Steamboat Ski Area


Clinics - Ski & Ride Better

Go beyond regular ski school. Specialized clinics help hone your skills. 


When moguls debuted in the Olympics in Albertville, France, Steamboat’s own Nelson Carmichael brought home a bronze medal. Drop in on select Sundays for a free bump tour with the medalist on his namesake run. Check the grooming report or signs at the top of the gondola to verify he is on the mountain. Then head to Four Points Hut at 1 p.m. 



The Steamboat Ski Touring Center offers classic and skate skiing clinics from noon to 1 p.m. three days a week. Equipment rentals available. 



Three-day Billy Kidd Race Camps are 

designed to improve racing techniques and the perfect carve while skiing with Steamboat’s best coaches – all of whom are hand-picked by the silver medalist himself. 


Women Only

Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong and a crew of female instructors help 

women fine-tune their skills. Three-day clinics (for intermediate skiers and above) include breakfast, lunch at Hazie’s, First Tracks sessions, gear talks and an après ski party. 



Free your heel on Fridays. Group lessons are offered weekly from December to March from 8 a.m. to noon. Many of Steamboat’s finest instructors freed their heels long ago and live to share the love. 



Get off of the snow and get into the air. 

Snowboarders and skiers attend the Mavericks Freestyle Park & Pipe Clinic to perfect terrain park skills and learn new tricks  Clinics are Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. (age first grade and up), and helmets are required. 


Nordic Skiing 

Steamboat Springs pioneers used skis daily. Since then, cross country skiing has become a groomed walk in the Nordic park.

Steamboat Ski Touring Center

Fifteen kilometers of groomed cross country trails for all ability levels wind through

 aspen glades and along Fish Creek. Tours and lessons are offered for classic cross country, skate skiing and backcountry, plus masters’ and lunch hour clinics. 

All-day passes are $18 for adults, and $12 for kids 12 and under and seniors 65 and over 970-879-8180

Howelsen Hill 

Ski like an Olympian on this 21k-trail 

system. The city-owned park has hosted Nordic Combined World Cup races and other high level competitions and offers some of the most challenging Nordic trails in the area. 


Lake Catamount

Flat and easy rolling terrain around Lake Catamount provides 30k of easy to 

moderate skiing. The $18 day pass lets skiers 

enjoy expansive views of the valley surrounding this private development. Skate and classic ski rentals are available and lessons are offered. 


Steamboat Lake State Park

An easy 26-mile drive north of Steamboat brings you to 6.8k of groomed beginner and intermediate trails surrounding Steamboat Lake below towering Hahn’s Peak. There is no trail fee, but Colorado State Parks 

vehicle passes are required ($6 daily fee). 


Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Passes

These backcountry trails are marked but not groomed. See the Outdoor guide starting in the VG, and stop by the Routt National Forest office for detailed topo maps before you go.

Nordic Extreme: Coureur De Bois

Go the distance: A 45k-marathon and 90k-ultra-marathon cross country ski race traverses the Continental Divide from Steamboat Lake to the Wyoming border. You’ll cease to wonder why Steamboat grows a stellar Nordic team.

Saturday, March 19 North Routt County

More about Nordic ski centers and races?  Steamboat Springs Nordic Council


Guides ease you into a new view of the Yampa Valley landscape.

Cat Skiing

Insert yourself in the classic picture of a skier floating through waist-deep powder with an unflinching smile. A comfortable snowcat trip on Buffalo Pass is an easier way to access the backcountry – and the snow that earns that shot. No skins, no unforeseen cliffs, no frenzied diehards pushing you to log 30,000 vertical feet in a day. Steamboat Powdercats offers an all-inclusive, daylong backcountry experience, from a shuttle in the morning to a cold beer at the end of the day. They separate groups by ability (intermediate, advanced and expert) to ensure your trip is tailored to your skills. They also provide the fat skis and snowboards, precautionary avalanche beacons, guides, catered lunch, water and snacks during the day – plus a CD of yourself in the aforementioned photos. Children 12 and over are welcome. And the guides are happy to offer powder skiing tips.

BONUS!  Try a moonlit powder ski. They offer monthly dinner skis during the full moon. 


Snowshoeing with a Naturalist

Yampatika is the Yampa Valley’s nonprofit environmental center. Their naturalists give field-based lessons on local ecology and geology, cultural heritage and sustainable living – and in the winter they use the outdoor classroom to lead snowshoe and skiing excursions with lessons on snow science  animal tracking and wildlife’s winter adaptation. Take a snowshoe tour up Emerald Mountain from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturdays, where you will climb Howelsen Hill onto public lands adjacent to the city. Ski with a naturalist on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:30-2:30 p.m., as you wind down the Why Not? trail from the top of the gondola. Snowshoe to the historic Uranium Mine near Fish Creek Falls on Thursdays, 10 a.m.-noon. And try a moonlit snowshoe during the full moon. Check with Yampatika for weekly updates and meeting spots.


On Ice

Try one of Steamboat Springs’ icy adventures this winter.

Fish a frozen lake (or an icy river)

The Yampa River is famous for its year-round fishing. Go ice fishing with the locals at Stagecoach Reservoir (a state park 16 miles south of Steamboat) or snowmobile in with an expert guide to fly fish below the dam – Stagecoach’s tailwaters float a constant 54 degrees and deliver a rich food supply to hungry trout. Looking for equipment, advice or a winter fishing guide? Check out the Fishing listings on VG39.


Discover Steamboat’s only year-round ice. The Howelsen Ice Arena’s Olympic-sized ice rink means plenty of room to test your budding hockey skills or tempt your first twirl. Hockey and figure skate rentals available on site. 


Take a winter drive

The Bridgestone Winter Driving School takes the fear out of driving on slick roads, snow and ice. Specially designed tracks allow drivers to practice and perfect their skills for winter road conditions. Under the close eye of professional drivers, students gain control and confidence on turns and hills, and learn to avoid accidents during half-day and full-day courses. 



Spiky crampons and ice axes aid your ascent of frozen Fish Creek Falls. Even never-ever beginners can do it. Rocky Mountain Ventures’ half-day trips teach you to climb the frozen face as water tumbles behind it – then peer over wild Fish Creek Canyon from the top. 


Wild & Scenic Rides

Go fast. Climb high. Grab a glimpse of Steamboat Springs you’ve never seen before.

Hot Air Balloon 

Soaring at heights of up to 3,000 feet, hot air ballooning is one of the most coveted ways to see the local landscape. The Yampa Valley is renowned as a balloon pilot’s dream with “box winds” that keep flights contained in a circular pattern over the open valley floor. Bundle up and look straight down on the world below. 

Wild West Balloon Adventures


Water Slide

Old Town Hot Springs has two exhilarating 230-foot water slides designed for bathing-suit-clad adventurers to speed down the loops before splash-down. It’s fun for kids of all ages (or for tired parents who want to sit in the nearby soaking pool and watch the excitement). Slides are open from 4-8 p.m. daily in the winter and a bracelet for unlimited rides costs $5. 


Horseback Rides

Steamboat was a ranching town before it became a ski town, so you don’t have to look far to find real cowboys. Climb atop a gentle horse and take a pristine two-hour tour into the deep, unbroken snow. Guided winter horseback rides showcase local ranch land and forests – with spectacular views over the surrounding peaks and the valley. 

Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch


Saddleback Ranch


Dog Sledding

Let a team of dogs guide you through the Yampa Valley landscape. Tucked into a sled, watch the dogs’ steamy breath rise into the air as you take in views of the surrounding Flat Tops and Mount Zirkel wilderness areas – and even try your hand at mushing.

Grizzle-T Dog & Sled Works



Take an adrenaline adventure as you squeeze the throttle and rocket across meadows blanketed in deep, fresh snow: Steamboat is powder paradise for the motorized set too.  On a snowmobile, the surrounding Continental Divide’s thick forests and expansive high-mountain meadows promise plentiful snow, views to take your breath away and a chance to get the lead out. Guided tours range from two hours to all day – and no experience is required.

KIDS’ BONUS! Age 6 - 12 and under 110 pounds? Rev a mini snowmobile around the oval at Saddleback Ranch. $2/lap

For a complete list of snowmobile trips 

see page VG41 in the Activities guide.

Sleigh Rides

Soak up Steamboat’s authentic Western atmosphere during a sunset sleigh ride – and don’t forget to listen in for local cowboy lore along the way. Real horse-power transports you to a cozy cabin, a rustic tent or a fine-dining restaurant with delicious options for every age and atmosphere. 

Savor the beauty of a starry Colorado night with moonlit trails.