Ski on the cheap: Tips to make your Steamboat ski vacation more affordable
December 17, 2017
Newspapers and magazines around the country often gush about Steamboat's $21 plates of lasagna, luxury condos with views of the slopes and vibrant downtown nightlife.
But what if these things, plus the gear rentals, plus the airline tickets, plus the $7 pints of craft beer at a local tavern break your ski vacation budget?
We've rounded up some options from lodging to activities to transportation for the budget-conscious traveler.
Do some of these and consider splurging on lodging.
Or set up your winter vacation base further out of town at cheaper lodging to make that $21 plate of lasagna in Steamboat easier for your bank account to digest.
Ski for free
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Lift tickets at the big hill continue to climb and climb.
The good news for the budget traveler is lift ticket prices at the city's most historic downtown ski hill have gone in the opposite direction as long as you ski on Sundays.
Starting today and every Sunday after that until March 11, you can ski at Howelsen Hill for free.
Thank the city's strong Olympic heritage for the free turns, as the promotion was approved this year ahead of the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea specifically to honor how Howelsen has produced nearly 90 winter Olympians.
Free skiing will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Advanced skiers will get a thrill racing down the expert-level face of Howelsen, while the young ones can start their Olympic training on the Magic Carpet.
There are also Nordic trails, snowshoeing trails and trails for fat bikes.
For more information about this ski hill, visit steamboatsprings.net/ski or call 970-879-8499.
Hit Stagecoach at the right time this winter, and you can fulfill your dream of riding a bicycle equipped with winter tires across a frozen reservoir.
If gliding on ice isn't your thing, the state park also boasts more than seven miles of groomed trails to ride a fat bike on.
The bike rental is free with the purchase of the $7 day pass needed to enter the park.
Park visitors also can rent ice fishing kits and snowshoes at no charge.
Park Manager Craig Preston said the free fat bike rentals have proven very popular, so the park this year purchased another fat bike to add to its fleet.
There's a two-hour time limit on the rental.
"That's enough time to explore the park a little bit and get used to the bikes," Preston said.
But the rentals can be extended if nobody is waiting for their turn.
Preston recommends calling the park at 970-736-2436 to see if the bikes are available on any given day.
Stagecoach used to take reservations for them, but the situation got "a little hectic," Preston said.
The bike fleet includes three adult-sized bikes as well as two for children.
Visitors should ask about ice conditions before cycling above the water.
Hit the arcade
Both kids and adults can have fun at the same time at In Celebration of Kids, Steamboat's biggest arcade and children's store in the heart of downtown.
While the kids (and adults if you're into that) race each other in Mario Kart, adults can enjoy tasty adult beverages.
Learn more at incelebrationofkids.com.
Hit the museum
If you have kids in tow, consider stopping by the Tread of Pioneers Museum to allow the kiddos to experience what life was like for Steamboat's pioneers way back in 1900. Children can spend some time in a "pioneer bedroom" and try on pioneer clothes and play with replica toys that children here enjoyed many decades ago. It will be an interesting history lesson and might also let the kids appreciate their modern Christmas gifts a bit more. The museum is located at 800 Oak St. Learn more about the exhibits at treadofpioneers.org.
Hit the ice
Spend a day off the ski slopes slamming into your friends in bumper cars at Howelsen Ice Arena. The city recently got a brand new fleet of the very popular bumper cars over the summer.
Make a reservation by calling 970-871-7033. The ice arena also has public skating hours and ice skate rentals.
See the barns
Steamboat has two iconic, history-filled barns that have been used in advertisements for the ski area.
Perhaps the most famous one is right across the street from City Market in a development called Barn Village.
Despite recent construction of tall modern homes behind it, photographers can still find a sweet spot to get a postcard-worthy shot of the More Barn with Mount Werner glowing red behind it at sunset.
And if you park in the Meadows lot to ski, take some time to check out the recently-stabilized Arnold Barn, which was built in 1928 to house dairy cows on the Arnold family farm. A sign in front of the barn helps explain the history of the structure.
Explore Steamboat's gem
Howelsen is the biggest gem of em' all, Backdoor Sports' Pete Van De Car proclaims. And Van De Carr, whose shop is just steps from the city park along the Yampa River, can outfit winter enthusiasts for as little as $10 for a pair of snowshoes.
"It's right there," Van De Carr said of the groomed trails on Emerald and Howelsen that offer panoramic views of the city and mountains. "You can go as far as you want, and you don't have to worry about getting lost. You can even go up there at night."
Other gear outfitters close to Howelsen include One Stop Ski Shop and Ski Haus.
It's happy hour somewhere
There's almost no hour when it's not happy hour somewhere downtown, Main Street Steamboat Springs Manager Lisa Popovich said this week.
From $2 slices of homemade pie at Johnny B Good's Diner from 3 to 5 p.m. to a $5 classic cheeseburger special during happy hour at Backdoor Grill, deals can be found pretty much everywhere.
You can even get one of the most affordable pints of local beer in town at the local bookstore, Off the Beaten Path.
Some other popular happy hour deals include:
Late night at Mahogany: Several drinks and appetizers are on special from 9 to 10 p.m., including their must-get cheesy pretzel with a side of mustard and porter crème. Mahogany also boasts a $1 tapas menu and half-price drinks from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Low Country Kitchen:
$2.5 to $3 beers, with snacks ranging from $2 chicken biscuits to $5 crab cakes. Deals run from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Mazzola's: Fit dinner in early to take advantage of half-priced apps, pizzas and calzones from 5 to 6 p.m. Beer drafts are also $4 during happy hours, and glasses of wine are $1 off regular price.
Here is a map of several happy hour deals around town. Main Street Steamboat also maintains a list of happy hours here.
If a $300 a night or more bill will break your budget for lodging, consider spending a night or two having an adventure less than an hour north of Steamboat at the base of Hahn's Peak.
Memorable lodging experiences can be found for just $80 a night in small cabins at Steamboat Lake State Park.
For those who want to "rough" it a little more, there are heated yurts available at Pearl Lake for the same price.
To get to the yurts in the winter, you have to take a six- to 8-minute walk along a road on snowshoes or glide in on cross-country skis.
But you came to enjoy the snow, right?
Kirk Mahaffie, an administrative assistant at Pearl Lake, said the yurts book up quickly for the season on weekends, especially when there's a full moon to add some extra light at night.
"A full moon definitely makes it a cool spot to be," he said.
The yurts come with heating, solitude and panoramic views of the mountains.
Reserve the yurts at reserveamerica.com by searching for the accommodations at Pearl Lake.
Log cabins at Steamboat Lake also offer a unique lodging experience.
Some of the beds are handcrafted from locally peeled pine logs.
Cabins sleep up to six people and can be rented at steamboatlakemarina.com.
Other lodging north of Steamboat includes cabins at Hahn's Peak Roadhouse and rooms at the Glen Eden, which both have restaurants and bars.
Also try the Philly cheesesteak queso burrito at Hahn's Peak Café. You won't regret it.
Choose your moment
An Australia-based lodging company recently crunched hotel prices in various resort markets in Colorado to answer an important question: When is the best time to book a room in a ski town?
The analysis from HotelsCombined.com for Steamboat showed lodging in Ski Town USA is obviously the most expensive in December, with the prices going down in January before rebounding in February and then taking a steep dive in March.
Rooms are an average of $100 a night cheaper in March than they are in December, the study from last season showed.
While the average hotel price in Steamboat per night was $303 a night in December 2016, this city was significantly more affordable than Vail ($572-a-night average), Telluride ($417-a-night average), Aspen, ($340-a-night average) and Breckenridge ($380-a-night average).
Winter Park was the most affordable in terms of lodging for the seven resort towns polled.
Get around town for free
If you took a shuttle from Hayden to Steamboat, or even if you rented a car and drove up from the Front Range, consider saving some cash by utilizing the city's free bus system.
The bus connects the breweries, restaurants and dispensaries in west Steamboat to downtown to the base area to "condoland."
A bus arrives every 20 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes after 8 p.m.
Bookmark steamboatsprings.net/SST on your phone to get quick access to a live map showing where the buses are and what time they'll be approaching the stop nearest you.