Summer in ski mecca Steamboat Springs, Colo., means great food, a beautiful mountain setting and tons of outdoor fun.
Skiers thrive during winter on Steamboat Springs’ trademarked dry “Champagne powder” snow, but outdoor pursuits on mild summer days can rival those mountain experiences.
Call it a back-to-the-future effect because travelers in the early 1900s first came here for seasonal hunting, fishing and the open-air hot springs.
On the Yampa River, you will find tubers floating under downtown bridges, sometimes joined by kayakers. Runners pace each other through shade and open meadow on multi-purpose trails lining the river’s banks. Hikers and mountain bikers can explore the surrounding mountain slopes.
And on the porch of the Haymaker Golf Course clubhouse, it’s not unusual to see bicycles with golf clubs stored vertically in the saddlebags as an alternative to motorized golf carts.
“People that play with them really enjoy them,” says Tom Taylor, head professional at Haymaker. He introduced the golf cycles in 2015 and ordered more for this summer. Walkers and golf cyclists outnumber the players who ride in carts, consistent with other physical activity that defines summer in this resort town.
The backdrop for Haymaker’s first hole is stunning: the western side of a high Rocky Mountain pass called Rabbit Ears, elevation 9,426 feet. You also take in dramatic views of the pass on the drive to Steamboat from Denver, a 3.5-hour trip via I-70, then north to U.S. 40 from the Silverthorne exit.
STAYING AND DINING AS A GROUP
But park the car once you arrive and walk or rent bikes if you’re staying in Steamboat’s center. That’s what my wife and I did during our stay in a 1,700-square-foot condo with a wrap-around balcony, outdoor grill and views of Mount Werner. The $450 nightly cost, split among friends, seemed like a bargain.
Galleries, restaurants, fly fishing and the colors and calming beauty of Yampa River Botanic Park’s trails, ponds and gardens are all within walking distance. The historic F.M. Light & Sons, a Western store heralded by ubiquitous highway signs since 1928, is a short stroll along the town’s main artery, Lincoln Avenue, as is Natural Grocers, where we bought tender grass-fed steaks and organic greens for a “stay-in” dinner on our balcony.
Around the corner was Winona’s, which deserved repeat trips for lunches of “Sunshine Salad” — curried chicken, sunflower seeds, grapes and berries — or traditional hoagies and gyros.
The new Salt & Lime restaurant has taken over the long-running Rio Grande Grill’s location, offering open-air second-floor seating, specialty tequilas and funky entrees like bison tacos. When I inquired with the Chamber of Commerce about Salt & Lime’s emergence, the receptionist said, “There’s already a crowd there on the roof.”
CONCERTS, HOT SPRINGS AND MORE
Steamboat is home to Texas emigre Verne Lundquist, the nationally known CBS sportscaster. “There is no celebrity factor, an element that defines some of the other resorts in Colorado,” he said, adding, “The best part of a Steamboat summer is the diversity of opportunities. On a Saturday night, you’ll find the rodeo arena filled to capacity, while two blocks away, a rock and roll group or a country band or a hip-hop star will perform a free concert in front of 2,000 at the base of Howelsen Hill, where the ski jumps are located.”
Four miles from downtown Steamboat is Fish Creek Falls, so take a car or, if you have the stamina, a bike. A spellbinding 280-foot drop, the falls are accessed by descending a quarter-mile from the parking lot (altitude 7,440) to its base. Beer aficionados may perceive something familiar; the fall’s image first appeared on Coors Banquet bottles and cans in 1937 and remains on those products today.
Our first night’s dinner was just across the street from the condo at E3 Chophouse, owned by the LaRoche family of professional baseball players. Why the name E3? Adam LaRoche won Major League Baseball’s Gold Glove Award for best fielder at first base while playing for the Washington Nationals. “E” is the abbreviation for “error” in a scoring chart and “3” is first baseman, so “E3” means “error on the first baseman,” LaRoche’s nod to humility.
Brother Andy, a former major leaguer, plays for the minor-league Sugar Land, Texas, Skeeters, and Jeff LaRoche is on the scene in Steamboat, making sure the steaks are flash-cooked in his 1,800-degree over-fired broiler to seal juices. The beef comes from their ranch in Kansas.
“Hey, we had a ranch. The steakhouse would be a great opportunity to get rid of our beef,” quipped Jeff. After baseball, he moved to Vail, but didn’t like Interstate 70 “in my backyard.” On to Steamboat Springs, because “you have to want to get here. There’s nothing past us.”