The Yampa Valley, with its wide-open plains, big sky, ranching history and ski town flair is unlike any other part of Colorado. Here are 10 things that make Steamboat unique.
#1) You live by the “Six Inch Rule.” “If there’s three to six inches on top of my grill, I know there’s double that on top of the mountain,” said Steamboat local Byron Carney in a recent interview for our blog on Location Neutral Workers in town. Like most Steamboat locals, Carney knows six inches qualifies as a powder day, and a powder day means no one is actually expected to show up for work. The best part? Chances are good you’ll run into your boss in the gondola line.
#2) You’ve skied behind a horse. Only in a town with a rich history in skiing and ranching would someone come up with the bright idea to drag a skier down Lincoln Avenue behind a galloping horse, especially one under the age of 10. But every year for 103 years, that’s exactly what happens at the Steamboat Winter Carnival during the street events when kids of all ages test their skills and their will as they hold on for dear life as this massive animal kicks up snow behind its hooves making for quite the bumpy ride. And no one—not the spectators or the parents or the kids themselves bothers to stop and ask, “Is this a good idea?” Because for over a century, to celebrate both skiing and ranching, even simultaneously isn’t just a good idea—it’s a Steamboat idea.
#3) You know Sleeping Giant isn’t a fairly tale. You can see it from almost anywhere in town: the mountain known as Sleeping Giant, which (it just so happens) really does look like a sleeping giant. The 8,744-peak, officially known as Elk Mountain, stands alone, a blanket draped along his flanks, his profile broad and strong like an Indian chief’s. So it’s no surprise that there are many legends surrounding this iconic mountain, dominating the skyline on the north side of the valley. Some say the Giant is responsible for the “Yampa Valley Curse,” which makes people yearn to return to the valley. Long before that, it was a sacred mountain for the Ute Indians who lived here long before fur trappers settled in the valley. Either way, its presence lends a feeling of protection to anyone who is lucky enough to call Steamboat home.
#4) You bask in the glow. Sunsets and sunrises are overrated compared to the alpenglow that descends upon the Yampa valley every evening at dusk like a spectacular curtain of color slowly making its descent and bathing the surrounding mountains in an unmistakable pastel glow. Unlike sunset or sunrise, the light that causes alpenglow is reflected off airborne snow, water or ice particles low in the atmosphere. After the sun drops below the mountains, shades of pink, purple, and even a rose gold intensify until night falls like a velvet curtain at the end of another spectacular show. Since the sun is below the horizon, there is no direct path for the light to reach the mountain. These conditions differentiate between a normal sunrise or sunset and alpenglow. Whatever you want to call it, it never gets old.
#5) Wildlife is out your front door … like literally. Close encounters of the moose kind are becoming more and more common in Steamboat because of the increased snow depth that resulted from big, early season storms. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife the moose are choosing the path of least resistance and using Nordic trails, ski runs and bike paths to move more easily between areas where they have forage and cover. There’s also been an increase in bears, elk, and mountain lions sightings around town. As reported in the Steamboat Today, “It’s apparent that moose, mountain lions, elk and bears find Steamboat Springs as appealing as tourists looking for a ski vacation getaway, so it’s imperative people use common sense when they encounter wildlife outside their homes or while they’re exploring the great outdoors.”
#6) Your snowplow bill is more expensive than your mortgage, at least in January. According to onthesnow.com, Steamboat reported 28 days of snowfall in January and February this year, with over 130 inches of accumulation in two months. That can get expensive when it comes to having your driveway plowed day after day after day.
#7) You speak the language of snow. Like the Eskimos who have 50 different words for snow, Steamboat locals have many ways to describe the champagne powder that earned the town the title of “Ski Town USA.” From champagne powder and windblown cream cheese to crud every skier and snowboarder knows it’s never the same two days in a row—which is why, when you live here, it’s important to log as many days on the mountain as you can.
#8) You know at least one Olympian. Steamboat is known for producing more Olympians than any other town in North America, with a record 88 and counting. Steamboat’s Olympians have represented twelve different countries, and made 151 Olympic appearances during 19 Winter Games.
#9) Your mountain bike costs more than your car. The average Steamboat cyclist will spend between five and ten thousand dollars on their bike,” says Brock Webster, owner of Orange Peel Bicycle Service. “Double that if they mountain bike and road bike.”
#10) Your life is better than my vacation. Enough said …
Photography by Elly Girty