Making houses out of candy and things a holiday tradition for Steamboat woman

Valerie Bush stands in front of the "gingerbread" house she created this year. The house is on display from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Waterside Day Spa & Salon.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

For the past 30 years, artist Valerie Bush has used items such as jellybeans, pretzel sticks and frosting to fashion scenes that capture the holiday spirit in Steamboat Springs.

This year is no exception. Bush, who is the manager at Waterside Day Spa & Salon, said she spent 40-50 hours creating a winter scene of downtown Steamboat Springs during the holidays. She brought the “gingerbread house” into the spa and salon on Wednesday with hopes of adding a little spirit to the downtown business.

“It’s the iconic view looking down Lincoln Avenue,” Bush said as she pointed to the different buildings in the creation. “This is supposed to be Salt & Lime, that’s supposed to be OTP, and this is the Chief Theater, and of course the mountain is in the back.”

Building “gingerbread houses” is a tradition for Bush, who uses pretzel rods, pretzel sticks, crackers and an assortment of candy including items like gum balls, jelly bellies, sour candy strips, peppermints and Lifesavers, as well as additional items she picks up at area dollar stores.

The one thing Bush said you will not find in her creations is gingerbread.

“I like to call them candy houses because they have zero gingerbread,” Bush said. “I don’t like working with gingerbread — it’s so hard, and it’s frustrating.”

Several years ago, Bush started using cardboard to create the structure for the houses and buildings, and wood for the base and the mountains. Bush, who won the “Fairy House” competition at last year’s Routt County Fair, said she has always found joy in making gingerbread houses and has been displaying them for the past five years at the Waterside Spa & Salon.

Artist Valerie Bush invites people to come in and see her creation of this iconic downtown Steamboat Springs scene. The house is on display from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Waterside Day Spa & Salon.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“Frankly, after living in a resort town for 40 years, I don’t get to celebrate the holidays like everybody else does,” Bush said. “This is really the only tradition that I have for Christmas.”

She said she came up with the idea last spring and began working on it a month ago, using her free time creating the scene.

“I think this one turned out pretty good this year,” Bush said. “In past years, I’ve done one of the (Waterside Day) Spa with Santa getting a massage, and I’ve done Howelsen Hill and also the base village.”

Bush, who won first place at the Routt County Fair for building fairy houses, said she hopes other businesses in Steamboat Springs will start doing their own houses, and maybe someday it will become a walking tour or contest.

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