We had never thought about visiting Steamboat Springs before until we learned about the Ice Castles (see the blog post here: vaguelycrunchy.com/colorado/ice-castles). We knew we needed to see them, so the second week of December 2012 we left right after work on a Friday.
Our plan was to see the ice castles late that night, crash at a local motel, then drive back home the next morning. Not the most exciting weekend, but we were both in school and worked full time so we didn’t have the luxury of having multiple days off in a row.
We made it to the ice caves around 8pm after 6 hours of driving. But to our dismay, the sculptures were unfinished and not open to the public. Their construction process takes weeks to grow (see their site here: http://icecastles.com/) and we got there too early. We didn’t want 12 hours on the road and a night in a motel to be a total waste of time and money, so we talked to the crew members. They felt bad for us and asked the owner if it would be okay to show us around what they made so far, and he happily agreed.
The owner of Ice Castles strapped us into some crampons and led us on a private tour. He showed us what they had made so far, what they planned on making next, and explained the rigorous process of creating such massive ice sculptures. At the end of the tour he gave us a massive discount on some season passes so we could come back in a month or two to see the full creation in all its glory.
We happily paid for the passes, said our goodbyes, and then drove around the city until we found an open motel with vacancy. I can’t remember the name of the motel we finally settled on, but it was definitely a place we wouldn’t forget. The building looked like an old cabin with a few rooms. Everything was dark and foreboding, like a haunted house. We waited at the front desk for a few minutes and a tall, bearded old man greeted us.
He had a thick Russian accent. Though he seemed intimidating at first glance, he had an incredibly friendly demeanor with a dazzling smile. He talked for ages about his passion for business, his travels, and his busy life as the sole owner and employee of the motel. He cleaned all the rooms, checked everyone in and out, and maintained the building. He slept in a room right outside the front desk so he was always available. We thanked him after he let us check into the room and wondered if our room would be clean.
I’m not saying that it was the worst motel I’d stayed in before, but I definitely wouldn’t say it was the best. The sheets smelled funky and seemed a little too lived-in for a motel, the mattress was covered in plastic pee-proof bag, and the surrounding furniture was dusty. The trashcans were filled with random trash from previous guests and the bathroom towels smelled too similar to the bed sheets for my liking.
When we finally settled into bed, we heard strange scratching from the walls and random bumps from the ceiling. We guessed the noises were scurrying mice, enjoying the newly silent room. The building was so old though so who knows.
We checked out early the next morning, at some breakfast at Denny’s, and then drove the 6 hours back to Utah.
I spent the following weeks planning a Valentine’s Day getaway weekend in my free time. I booked a nice hotel, looked up local restaurants, purchased some ski passes, and scheduled a visit to the natural hot springs.
The day finally came and we happily drove back to Steamboat Springs. This time we checked into our cozy hotel and explored the little downtown area. Although we saw some interesting shops and art galleries, we were mainly interested in messing around with the statues.
For dinner we dressed up and went to 8th Street Steak House. This steak house is unique in that you get to choose your meat and side dishes, as well as cook the food yourself. We had a ton of fun choosing our own spices and grilling everything ourselves, and we really enjoyed their wine and beer selection.
After dinner we went to the ice castles and for the first time got to experience the full creation. The lights changed behind the ice and the sculptures were intricate and beautiful. The entire experience was unforgettable.
The next day we grabbed our snowboards and headed to Steamboat Resort under a bright blue sky. We enjoyed some runs over the champagne snow and had a few beers at the ski lodge. We then went to the ice castles again before picking up a pizza and beer. A night in was exactly what we needed.
For our final day in Steamboat Springs, we went to the famous Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs. We took a shuttle bus up a winding dirt road, free of cell phone service and busy tourist attractions like restaurants and bars. In fact, they don’t even have power outlets for hair dryers or other electronic features. They’re basically off-grid!
We changed in one of their little huts by the water and stepped in. We stayed for a really long time and once the darkness settled, we utilized their clothing optional after sundown policy and got to enjoy the springs nude while stargazing. You can learn more about the hot springs here: http://strawberryhotsprings.com/
We visited the ice castles one last time that night and left for Utah the next morning. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
This short trip may be a small blip in the massive list of adventures that Kevin and I have gone on, but it’s still one of my most favorite trips. The fluffy snow, cute little downtown area, delicious food, winter attractions, and friendly locals made the trip fun and memorable. I’d definitely love to go back.