Work A Ski Season at Steamboat
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Steamboat is a beautiful little town in northern Colorado, home to ‘champagne powder’ as the resort calls the fluffy snow that falls in this area.
It is also home to a strong cowboy culture and western heritage. Seasonal workers will enjoy living in such a cool little town, and the powder really is exceptionally dry in Steamboat. However, as virtually all the resort lies below the tree-line, seasonal workers who are after chutes, steeps and bowls might find the terrain a little lacking.
Location and Getting There
Steamboat Springs is located along Highway 40 and takes about 3.5 hours from Denver (157 miles/250km).
If you would like come directly, Steamboat Springs has its own airport called Hayden Airport (HDN). There are direct flights from 11 major airports in the U.S. including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, L.A., Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, on carriers Alaska, American, Delta and United Airlines. Hayden Airport is 30 minutes away.
Once in town, the Steamboat Springs Transit takes you around the ski area, downtown and most restaurant, shopping and nightlife areas for free. The shuttle runs from 7am until 1.45am every day with a stop at each location around every 20 minutes. It also makes a stop at employee housing and it is 10 minutes to the ski village.
The ski area is located 3 miles/4.8kms away from downtown Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat Town and Resort Vibe
Steamboat Springs is an old mining town with a cowboy heritage of which it is very proud. As such, there is a good chance you will see people walking around in cowboy hats, and plenty of live country music in the bars. You will likely even see jeans and cowboy hats on people up on the slopes.
As the town has a permanent population, you will find all the usual shops and grocery stores of a regular mountain town. This helps to keep prices down in Steamboat.
Steamboat Springs has a downtown area but most of the action takes place at the village area near the base of the ski resort. In particular, most of the bars are located in the village area.
The mix of country music and snow is an interesting one, but it helps to keep the après-ski and nightlife fun, and among the best in Colorado even if it is not in the same league as the famous après-ski of Europe or Whistler.
The resort is very family focused and has plenty of hotels and condos to cater to the holiday-makers.
The Terrain at Steamboat
Steamboat is heavily geared towards intermediate riders and lacks big steeps or rocky big mountain. The entire resort is located below the tree-line which means tree-skiing is awesome at Steamboat, with a beautiful spacing of trees allowing you to dip into the trees all over the mountain. While intermediate on-piste cruisers are abundant at Steamboat, which helps to attract families, for some the resort is a little flat.
There is 2,965 acres/1,200 hectares of in-bounds terrain spread across six peaks which is one of the bigger areas in Colorado.
A beginner area is found at the base, but as a seasonal worker you will want to progress quickly to the intermediate terrain higher up.
There are plenty of groomed cruisers at Steamboat including a few steeper ones at See Me and Vortex which are nice for some speed. Nothing is too seriously pitched on-piste, however, at Steamboat.
For experts, the glade riding is the biggest draw card as most of the trees on the mountain are skiable.
The only steeper pitches are towards the back, near the Morningside Peak, but these are quite short and the trail back to the lift is quite long. Mt Werner has a bit of hiking terrain available too, including gated backcountry access. Expert seasonal workers will instead need to be sustained by the powder and the trees.
Steamboat has night skiing near the base on a few runs, giving you more time on the slopes even when you work during the day. This is generally a good time to hit the park too.
Snow and Weather
Remarkably, Steamboat is located in the middle of a desert. It is also the first major range in the Northern Colorado Rocky Mountains. This means that the resort, being a mountain in the middle of the desert, is a catch for snow.
The snow at Steamboat is known as ‘champagne’ powder because of how light it is and when it snows you can almost always see the snowflakes individually. The powder is genuinely some of the best you can find in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the snow isn’t necessarily well retained as much of the resort faces south and gets a lot of sun. The base is almost very low (the lowest base in Colorado) and the runs at the bottom can therefore get icy.
Average snowfall is 349 inches/886cm which is above Colorado average.
Crowds are quite good at Steamboat apart from weekends and major holidays. This is because the day-trippers from Denver generally don’t make it to Steamboat.
Steamboat’s park is located next to the Maverick’s Superpipe and has a number of small to medium features such as rails, sliders, kickers, rainbows and a mini-pipe. Maverick’s Superpipe is pretty legitimate. It is 450 feet long, 56-feet wide and has 18-foot walls, and a 22-foot transition. Fortunately, the park is often quite empty at Steamboat so seasonal workers can work on their style without competing with pro-riders.
- Base Elevation: 6,900 feet/2103 meters
- Summit/Mt. Werner Elevation: 10,568 feet/3224 meters
- Vertical Rise: 3,668 feet/1118 meters
- Terrain: 2,965 acres/1,200 hectares
- Trails: 165 named trails
- Trail Classification: 14% Beginner 42% Intermediate 44% Advanced
- Longest Run: Why Not – over 3 miles/4.8km
- Annual Snowfall: 349″/886cm
- Snowmaking: 375 acres/152 hectares
- Lifts: 16 + 2 surface lifts
Finding a Job at Steamboat
Steamboat is part of the Intrawest group of resorts which includes Winter Park in Colorado, and Blue Mountain and Tremblant in Quebec, Canada.
Steamboat holds a job fair at the resort each year in September. This is a good way to secure a job for the upcoming season as you get to meet each department face-to-face. If you are presentable and courteous, you have a pretty good shot at a job. The job fair also goes up to Yellowstone.
There is also a community job fair held in Howelson Hill, right next to Steamboat, each year for jobs around the town. It is usually held in late October. See www.steamboatchamber.com
Ski and Snowboard Instructors
If you go into the ski school, you can get your level 1 certificate while you work. Ski School also has a good offer that, for every 80 hours you work, your pay increases. You could be on as high as $20 an hour by the end of the season. The tips at Steamboat are good too, to the point where you can live off them if you get good clients.
See Work a Snow Season in the USA for information on U.S. working visas.
Steamboat will accept J1 visa applicants but you need to be able to work from December 1 until March 31. If you have a J1 visa, you can apply for a job at Steamboat through the Steamboat jobs website like any U.S. citizen.
You are also able to apply for a job at Steamboat, receive a job offer, and then use that to get a J1 sponsored visa through a sponsoring agency. This is most common for South Americans through the Independent Work and Travel program.
As an employee, you are able to visit almost any other Colorado resort for free under the ‘Real Deal’ except the Vail group (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone).
Other perks include twelve $25 lift tickets for family or friends, free riding for dependents for full-time employees and access to employee housing.
Finding a Place to Live for the Season
Employee Housing Staff housing is offered to full-time employee only at ‘The Ponds’ but is available to everyone who wants it.
The Ponds is a cool community and a great place to meet people.
The Ponds is really spacious and is one of the better ski resort employee accommodations in Colorado. The Ponds has two bedroom/two bath units located around one mile from resort base. You live four to a unit which means sharing a room. but the units are fully furnished.
There are eight units to each block and around 10 blocks.
Rent is $360 per month including utilities. The newly renovated units cost $395 and are a little nicer. There is a $400 deposit and $50 non-refundable admin fee.
Other Resources to Find Accommodation
Steamboat Pilot and Today is a local paper which has classifieds for rentals. You can also find hard copies in town.
For those wanting to be close to the action, living around the village base is best as this is where all the bars and restaurants are. Living downtown is for those looking for a quieter season.
A Walmart is located close to staff housing where you can pick up everything you need for the season. There is also a Safeway within walking distance of staff housing for groceries.
The Steamboat Springs Transit takes patrons around the town for free, including to the ski village where most seasonal workers spend the majority of their time. It is about 10 minutes to the ski village while downtown is around 20 minutes.
Nightlife and Outside Work
There is a good staff house party scene at Steamboat and you can find something on most nights in staff housing as it is such a good community.
The après-ski is fun at Steamboat, although it is not in the same league as the famous spots such as Whistler. The T-bar has an outdoor area and is a nice place for a drink and some food after a long day riding. Slopeside Bar Grill gets going for parties a little later into the evening. They also do very tasty pizza and cheap deals most nights.
For later night revellers, the Tugboat Grill and Pub has a fun vibe, Laundry Kitchen and Cocktails has a more sophisticated vibe, while the Tap House Sports Bar is a good place to catch the latest sports.
For live music, the Ghost Ranch Saloon has a lot of bands passing through and is a great place for a dance late night. The bowling alley in town also has cheap drinks.
The girl to guy ratio is fairly even in Steamboat. In any case, there are a lot of people in Steamboat so you don’t notice the usual skewed ratio in favour of guys as much.
The Cowboy downhill event takes place later in the season. As part of this, they put a giant pool at the base, and on your skis or board you try and skim along the pool. It’s a lot of fun.
Outside town, Strawberry Park is an amazing hot springs that not many people know about, although you will need access to a 4×4 to get up there.