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How to Vacation in Steamboat on a College Budget


“Ski trips don’t have to be expensive,” is a phrase I use confidently when explaining to my parents how I afford bi-monthly ski trips around the state. Rarely are “budget” and “ski” in the same sentence, but I am here to debunk the myth that ski getaways have to break the bank. Of course, skiing is an investment, but there are ways to make it more affordable.

Thanks to a snowstorm and a spontaneous friend, I was able to make a vacation out of a weekend in Steamboat Springs. This was my first time skiing in Ski Town USA®, so I was excited to figure out why Steamboat gets its hype.

Before departing from Denver, I asked myself: what makes Steamboat so great? Maybe it’s the picturesque downtown steeped in cowboy history. Maybe it’s the town’s claim of having the driest snow in Colorado. Maybe it’s because the only mode of transportation in town is snowmobile or horse. Or, just maybe, it’s because it’s a destination resort that’s actually affordable.

Although most of the statements above aren’t 100% accurate, the last is. At least if you can channel back to your 22-year-old way of seeking out the best deals.

As a college student, I am always looking for simple ways to save money on ski trips, while still getting to enjoy the best parts of weekend vacationing. This usually means ordering the cheapest beer on draft, packing lunch in my pockets, and crashing on my friends’ couches. While this isn’t the most glamorous way to enjoy a ski getaway, it’s the most cost effective. Budgeting myself throughout the weekend puts emphasis on skiing longer days, which means I won’t be tempted to spend recklessly. Plus, spending less money on the hill allows me the opportunity to spend more at the bar later. Logic.

But in a town like Steamboat Springs it can be tough to find good deals. The two biggest expenses for the weekend will be your hotel room and lift tickets. If you’re broke-as-a-joke like me, I suggest staying at the Rabbit Ears Motel, just three miles from the base of the mountain. Now, I know what you might be thinking…but don’t. This place has more amenities than you’ll need for a weekend of ski bumming. Plus, the free Steamboat shuttle service picks up right outside of Rabbit Ears and will drop you off at the base lift. Between my friend and I, we each spent just under $100 on two nights at the historical lodge off Highway 40. If you plan far enough in advance, another valuable option would be booking through AirBnB.

As for tickets, there’s not much you can save at the ticket window. But, you can save 15% if you buy your tickets seven days in advance online. Steamboat also offers discount packages on lodging and lift tickets through their website. Or, earn your turns and try skinning up the mountain for free. Steamboat provides no-cost wristbands to those who wish to skip the lift lines and tour instead.

Much of Steamboat’s terrain exists below tree line, therefore the tree skiing is abundant. There were few times I popped out of the trees other than to hit the cat track to the lift. While Steamboat offers 165 trails accessible from their 18 lifts, some locals find the goods in the backcountry just off the resort. However, only expert skiers with the correct safety equipment should be heading into this variable terrain.


If you’re anything like me, you love to après. Arguably the best part of skiing, après ski is the necessary cap to your day on the hill. The ski-in-ski-out TBar, located in Ski Time Square, is the local’s spot for snagging a cold one after lapping the resort. Coined the “5-star dive bar,” the TBar offers an array of libations and creative bites to rejuvenate fatigued skiers. Fitting an après tab at the TBar into your budget should be a no-brainer and the easiest decision you’ll make all weekend.

While pocket-sandwiches sustained us on the hill, dinner on Main Street was the main eating event. We hit up Salt & Lime for tacos and margs just before bopping our heads to some live bluegrass at Schmiggity’s.

Two days of skiing “Champagne Powder” earned us a visit to the iconic Strawberry Hot Springs on the way out of town. Nestled just outside of Steamboat Springs, Strawberry Hot Springs is the getaway destination in the getaway destination. Soaking in the outdoor pools was the cherry-on-top to ripping it up on the slopes. Keep in mind, from November 1st to May 1st a four-wheel drive vehicle with snow tires is required on the road that funnels into the springs due to snow and ice.

Although I didn’t run into any Olympians, skiing the ‘Boat proved why so many Olympians come out of this town. The legendary snow, impressive terrain, charming Western culture, and local pride are their claim to fame, and they’ve earned it. As for mine; my legendary budgeting skills. I did a weekend in Steamboat for around $200, and still lived like a queen. I’d say this college girl deserves an A.