Why you need Steamboat and Winter Park in your snow life

Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Imagine this: it’s December 2021. International travel has opened up again. Your snowboard and ski gear is whispering to you from the garage – let’s go on an adventure.

You’re wanting to go somewhere that has plenty of snowfall, plenty of charm and plenty of runs to get those skier and boarder legs moving again. But you’ve only got a few weeks of annual leave, and you want to pair some resorts together to see the best of a completely different world.

We have the best combination for you: Winter Park and Steamboat. Both in Colorado, and easy to get to from Australia. While they’re both perfectly set up for a single destination holiday as well, visiting both gives you a huge variety of terrain and experiences.

Snowfall? Big tick. Some of the best terrain in the state? You know it. Both covered by the Ikon Pass? Yep. And with a side of cowboy history, quirky accommodation and famously friendly locals, it’ll be one to remember.

First stop: Winter Park

Fly to Denver via Los Angeles or San Francisco, acclimatise in the mile high city for one or more nights and explore the city’s new gentrified inner city districts from LoHi to RiNo and LoDo.

Then rent a car at the airport, take the Winter Park snow train or jump on a shuttle for the 90-mile (144km) drive to Winter Park, the closest major resort.

It’s close enough to the city for Denver day trippers, and that makes sense; the mountain originally opened in the 1930s as a winter playground for the city folk, and it’s morphed into one of the biggest and best resorts in a state famous for ski and snowboarding destinations. USA Today has recently even ranked the resort as the number one in North America for two years in a row.

What to expect.

3000 acres of skiable terrain with 914 metres of vertical over two interconnected mountains with all kinds of terrain to explore from groomers to glades, steeps and powder stashes. While Winter park is famous for moguls, they serve as the perfect little entry gate to some of the lesser-known powder stashes; again, check in with a local on the chairlift or a Winter Park guide.

315 inches of annual snowfall. That’s over 8 metres per year, but still with over 300 days of sunshine every season. Not bad, not bad.

Ski-in, ski-out accommodation at the base of the resort. Because nobody has time for commuting while they’re on holiday. With many condos available, it’s perfect for those who want the opportunity to whip up something in the kitchen while they’re away. But if you are out and about to explore town, there’s a free shuttle to take you everywhere.

Adventures beyond the slopes. Winter Park also offers snowshoe tours, snow biking, stargazing snowcat rides, dog sledding, tubing and freshly launched ice bumper cars (yes, really). Or – our pick of the lot – year-round hot air ballooning, with a bird’s eye view of the mountains complete with champagne toast.

The restaurants in town are all local and so, so good. From cocktail bars to burgers restaurants and good, old-fashioned ski grub, you have over 60 dining options to choose from. Hit up the Goodies Mountain Creperie for fresh raclette and fondue, try a high-altitude beer at the Hideaway Park Brewery or head up the gondola to Sunspot Mountaintop Lodge for après with a view at 10,700 feet and a Rocky Mountain rainbow trout dinner.

The cocktails. Idlewild Spirits is the home of the best Moscow Mule on the planet, mixed with housemade booze and ginger beer, and their entire cocktail menu is a treat.

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Next stop: Steamboat

If you like your powder served with a side of cowboy town, it’s only two hours to get to Steamboat from Winter Park.

Steamboat started as a ranch town; the main street that runs through the heart of the town was designed to be wide enough for ranchers to be able to drive their herds of cattle through it. There’s still a Wild West vibe, despite Steamboat diving headfirst into the 21st century with a lot of restaurants, brew pubs and bars on offer.

And we haven’t even got to the slopes yet.

Try the following on for size…

A whole lot of skiing and boarding to be done. 169 trails with 18 chairlifts and gondolas servicing the 2965 acres of terrain, along with over 1000 metres of vertical.

Champagne powder by the bucketload. Steamboat is so confident in the quality of their snowfall that they’ve trademarked it as Champagne Powder®. Translation? It’s so light, dry and fluffy that you’ll be lucky to be able to make a snowball.

Tree skiing. On your powder days, head to the forest. The tree-skiing in Steamboat is magical, with perfectly spaced pines and aspens all over the mountain, and you’ll be the hero of the back-country style terrain – except in bounds and lift served.

So many activities that tap into that western heritage. This includes winter horseback rides, snowmobiling, sleigh ride dinners, fly fishing, winter photography tours to iconic local spots and more.

The Outlaw Mountain Coaster. It stretches over a mile, with all-season sleds that carry riders past the Christie Peak Express chairlift as they descend more than 400 vertical feet, rise up to 40 feet above the ground, and follow winding dips, waves, and 360-degree turns. Shotgun the first ride.

You can’t avoid the locals. There are 12,000 local folks in town who also love skiing and snowboarding and eating and drinking and such, so expect to make some new acquaintances in this very genuine place.

Strawberry Park Hot springs. The perfect way to unwind after a big day on the slopes, featuring all-natural, therapeutic mineral pools.

Allllll the food, and the drinks, and the après. There are too many restaurants to name, both on-mountain and off-mountain; but some highlights include evening snowcat rides up to the Four Points Lodge for a 5-course Northern Italian feast; or all the craft breweries scattered around town. Fine dining shines at the intimate Café Diva, and The Laundry is the hip place for happy hour fun or shared plates dinner.

Find out more about Colorado and get planning here.

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Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.