Much of the tourism in the Western United States centers around ski resorts, even in summer. A welcome exception is Steamboat Springs, a real Colorado town with a heart, history and local flair. Not to diss Vail, Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne and Winter Park, but they feel like Disney World compared to Steamboat Springs.
“The Boat,” as Steamboat is affectionately known, got its name from steam boat-like chugging from natural hot springs that were found in the area in the 1800s. The northwest of Colorado community sits along the Yampa River in an area that was originally the hunting grounds of the Ute Indian Tribe before trappers settled there and the mineral waters drew homesteaders.
With the arrival of the railroad in the early 1900s, the valley became a ranching haven and, soon thereafter, a ski destination—thanks to Norwegian Carl Howelsen, a ski jumper for whom the town’s prominent ski jump is named.
Skiing remains the area’s main draw and the Boat has even trademarked the phrase “champagne powder” for the local snow, which is so feather-light its known to tickle the nose. But there’s more to the Boat than sliding on snow. That’s why the little city of approximately 13,000 residents is so proud of their community.
Steamboat residents are there year-round, unlike Colorado’s many seasonal resort municipalities where the populations ebb and flow and the change of season turns them into ghost towns.
Given the residential pool and outdoor sports draw of Steamboat’s road and mountain biking, running, hiking, horseback, triathlon, fly fishing, standup paddleboarding, river floating, Frisbee, golf, hot air ballooning and winter sports of all kinds, it’s spawned some successful outdoor sports brands.
For example, Smartwool started in the Boat before VF Corp bought them and brought the headquarters to Denver. Plus, Steamboat remains homebase for the Honey Stinger food company and camping gear maker Big Agnes. Honey Stinger and Big Agnes’ head honcho Bill Gamber’s grandfather helped design the iconic honey bear container.
Gamber is also an avid outdoorsman who walks the walk or, more appropriate to Steamboat, rides, runs, skis, climbs and everything else. Gamber appreciates that his companies’ backyard serves as their testing ground for sports nutrition and camping gear, keeping their products as authentic as they can be.
True to its heritage, Honey Stinger sponsors the Steamboat Stinger, a two-day event that combines a 25- or 50-mile mountain bike race on Saturday and a marathon or half marathon trail running race on Sunday. Racers can even combine the two disciplines.
The Boat also boasts a summer series of free outdoor concerts. When Lettuce played on August 10 it felt as though the whole town came out to enjoy the jazz-jam band’s tight tunes. The Strawberry Park Hot Springs are certainly worth a visit, especially after a day of enjoying Steamboats’ many miles of trails, some rolling and others rather steep. And, after a soak, you can hit the many restaurants, breweries, bars and galleries in the Western downtown.