Steamboat Springs: A Taste of the Old West

Many BridgeEnglish Denver students come to Colorado not only because it is a great state with beautiful weather and magnificent natural scenery, but also because they have read or heard about “the Old West” or have seen John Wayne movies about cowboys and wagon trains. While it is true that these things used to exist, they are not so much in existence anymore, in Denver anyway. However, there is a small mountain town (which incidentally is also one of the major ski areas in the state) by the name of Steamboat Springs that still bears themes of the Old West. It is located way up in the northern corner of the Rocky Mountains, far away from any urban city; it is at least a three-hour drive from Denver in good weather. If your desire is to see real life cowboys, old barns, and a taste of the Old West in the New Millennium, then Steamboat, is definitely a destination during your stay at BridgeEnglish Denver.

You may be thinking that the name Steamboat is an odd name for a landlocked town in the middle of the mountains. There are neither rivers big enough nor an ocean in which to even carry an actual steamboat. So, why the strange name? Steamboat Springs is located in the Yampa Valley which was the summer hunting grounds of the Ute Indians for hundreds of years. The Yampatika Ute and Arapaho tribes also visited the area for its natural mineral or “medicine” springs considered sacred places of physical and spiritual healing. There are many natural hot and cold springs scattered throughout Steamboat and its outlying towns.

Around the early 1800’s French fur trappers migrated to Steamboat during the fur trade. Amongst the many natural springs that the town possesses, one in particular used to make a loud chugging sound of a steamboat’s steam engine. The sound turned out to be a natural mineral spring which the French fur traders aptly named the Steamboat Spring. Even though the original Steamboat Spring no longer makes the chugging sound due to the installation of the railroad next to it, the name remains.

Another interesting fact about Steamboat is that it is home to more Olympians than any other town in the United States. With Howelson Hill, Colorado’s oldest ski area in continuous use, and the world class skiing found at the Steamboat Ski Area, this small town has produced 56 Winter Olympians from 1932-2002, sending athletes to all but two Winter Olympics since 1932.

If you come to BridgeEnglish Denver in the winter and have a long weekend or vacation from classes Steamboat is a great way to spend some time soaking up the ski town culture and enjoying the powdery fresh snow it’s famous for. Of course, if you are a skier, you mustn’t miss the opportunity to ski and ride on the world famous champagne powder (a term coined to describe the light airy snow) and maybe the best tree skiing in the world. If you aren’t an experienced skier but would like to try it, then Steamboat Ski School has top quality, highly experienced instructors to get you started.

If skiing isn’t your thing there are still many fun winter activities to pursue, one of which is taking a trip to another famous spring, Strawberry Park Hot Springs. These hot springs are one of my favorite hot springs in Colorado. They are located up a windy mountain road lined with Evergreen trees and old farm houses, only a short distance from the town. The hot springs have two large pools, with the hotter of the two at 104 degrees. But don’t worry; if you get too hot, you can take an icy but refreshing dip in the river that runs right next to the springs. Massages and private cabins are available also. My favorite time to go to Strawberry Park is at night. There is nothing like relaxing in a pool of hot, therapeutic mineral water and having fresh snow lightly falling on your head and all around you. The locals have been known to take a pile of snow and make ‘snow hats’ in order to maintain their cool in 104 degree water.

Ever wanted to ride in a one horse open sleigh? In Steamboat, you can take a ride in a horse drawn sleigh around some of the outlying horse and cow ranches that the town is famous for. There is nothing quite as peaceful as taking a sleigh ride at night with only the sounds of the horses walking through the snow, the bells jingling on the harness and the distant howl of a coyote. Relax, cuddle up with a nice warm wool blanket (provided), and take a look at the stars and the moon’s light making the snow glisten like diamonds. For the students that hail from South America and Saudi Arabia, this is an adventure you will soon not forget.

If you come to Bridge in the summer, not to worry. Steamboat is a great place to visit in the summer months as well. The Aspen trees are a bright green and the wildflowers cover the mountain. I don’t know why but the sky in Steamboat is the bluest sky I have ever seen in both winter and summer. The summer activities outnumber the winter activities plus you don’t have to wear as many clothes! You can take a mountain bike ride on one of the many mountain trails Steamboat offers. If relaxing is more your speed then perhaps lazily floating down the Yampa River on an inner-tube is more your thing. During the summer months, Steamboat hosts an excellent free summer concert series that welcomes many top name performers. But it doesn’t stop there. You can take a hot air balloon ride, shoot down the water slides at the Recreation Center, go for a nature hike, camp, rock climb or just lay down on a blanket next to the river and listen to the pleasant sounds of the Yampa River.

Many students opt to go to world-renowned Aspen, home of celebrities and expensive everything. Not to knock Aspen, it is very beautiful, but Steamboat was a town before it was a ski area, unlike most of the ski towns in Colorado, and therefore has more of a community feel to it and a warmer welcome. People live there year round, raise their families there, have their ranches and family businesses there. You won’t see any limousines or rich women wearing fur coats in Steamboat. But you will meet warm, welcoming people who take pride in their beautiful town and you will get a feel of how the Old West was.