Fly in/out: Steamboat Springs (HDN)
Recommended ages: 5 and up
Ball Park Price: $600 per person (airfare not included)
Time Zone: Mountain (MDT)
Best Time to Travel: December-March
Steamboat Springs is a highly rated family ski resort with a very special STARS program providing kids with any developmental disabilities a chance to feel victorious as a developing skier. Two families with special needs children contribute their insiders’ tips on a fabulous ski vacation for the whole family.
We chose Steamboat Springs because we heard about the great skiing program called STARS through a friend. The STARS- Steamboat Recreation and Adaptive Sports program has a fully trained, competent staff serving kids with physical disabilities, kids on the spectrum and kids with any developmental delays. They also have a Kids Ski Free, a Grandkids Ski Free and a Kids Rent Free program for those 12 and under. When not skiing, there is a variety of family-oriented things to do including tubing, enjoying natural hot springs, a fun ice arena and a western themed city showcasing the western roots of a charming downtown area.
We made reservations in advance with the Steamboat Stars program and discovered they have programs for all kinds of disabilities and levels starting at the age of 5. The STARS one-to-one three hour lesson successfully build kids confidence at a fraction of the cost of a typical lesson. In addition, through Christy Sports, STARS participants can rent ski and snowboard equipment for free by calling in advance. STARS is located centrally in Gondola Square as is Christy Sports. There are accessible parking spaces in the Gondola Square parking lot next to the main access to the mountain. There is also a STARS drop off/pick up location and free 30-minute free parking for drop off/pick up as well.
With the private lesson, our son jumped three levels, was able take a chair lift and even showed us a GPS location system that tracked his vertical feet and speed skied. We eventually moved him to the Signature Five program which guarantees a 5:1 student teacher ratio. I honestly never thought I would see him skiing at an intermediate level skiing blue runs. Best of all, he had so much confidence and was so proud of himself. We skied as a family on our last day and were thrilled with how well he did.
We had easy travel arrangements by flying direct on American with easy transportation to/from the Wyndham Vacation Rentals. The Wyndham Vacation Rentals had a giant selection of 2-5 bedroom condominiums offering many with handicap accessibility at very reasonable prices. There were free shuttles running constantly to a variety of locations and by reservation so we didn’t need the expense of a rental car.
DAY ONE: Take a morning flight on American Airlines to Hayden/Steamboat (HDN). Arrange round-trip ground transfer on Go Alpine. Arrange for a late afternoon rental ski home delivery through Christy Sports. Check in at Bear Lodge at Trappeurs Crossing into a 3 bedroom villa. Enjoy a relaxing small dinner at Apres Ski at resort while kids enjoy the hot tub.
DAY TWO: Breakfast in the room while getting ready. Take gondola to the top which opens at 8:30 a.m. to try and avoid lines. Drop off kids at ski school in the main gondola base next to Chrissy Sports. Lunch at Rendezvous, a food court on the east side of the mountain which was a typical packed ski mountain food court. A little bit of a sensory overload. Hire a babysitter through the resort (expensive!) and enjoy a grown up dinner at Three Peaks Grill.
DAY THREE: Breakfast in the room again. Drop kids off at ski school and arrange a parent-only ski 2 hour ski lesson from 10-12. Splurge on Ragnars for lunch which is a full service Scandinavian restaurant on the east side of the mountain. Ski the afternoon and enjoy Apres Ski. Dinner at…..
DAY FOUR: Take a day off from the mountain and enjoy a morning of tubing at Howelsen Hill. (All kids must take their own tube) Take a shuttle to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Dinner at Rex’s Bar and Grill and request a booth to manage the sensory overload.
DAY FIVE: Depart AA to Chicago with transportation via Go Alpine.
- The STARS program was the “star” of the trip. We were overjoyed watching our son grow confidently and independently as a skier. The competent staff takes great pride in the work they do with children with all kinds of disabilities. STAR’s program mission and vision is: To empower and enrich lives through adaptive recreational activities and to provide life changing experiences for its clients. You can see them accomplish this every day while you’re there. It really is remarkable.
- Strawberry Park Hot Springs — Located 30 minutes outside of town, our kids enjoyed the scenic natural hot springs in Strawberry Park. Two companies offer service to/from Strawberry Park but it is not a long drive and the kids were fascinated with the “boiling” pools. Bring extra towels and a dry change of clothes!
Places to stay
- Wyndham Vacation Rentals, offer a variety of 2-3 bedroom condominiums at affordable prices. You can do an advanced search based on location to the ski resort, pools and accessibility. These rental provide all the amenities of a 4 star resort with all the perks of a multiple bedroom rental home. We enjoyed breakfast on our own in the morning with the full kitchen, and plenty of space to spread out all our ski gear, and a full pool/spa for the kids to enjoy.
- The Timberline Lodge has full kitchen, balcony, gas fireplace, master suite, a second bedroom and den. The amenities included a full shuttle to anywhere in town, happy hour/apres ski on Mondays and Fridays and coffee each morning in the lobby.
- Also recommended for more luxurious options and private decks is the Bear Lodge at Trappeur’s Crossing by Wyndham Vacations. Shuttles are also available to run anywhere in town.
- Consider packing a lunch or picking up a yummy sub at Cruisers Sub Shop to avoid the crazy crowds for the kids with sensory issues. There were plenty of picnic tables to eat outside, but restaurants at the resort were often loud or crowded.
- For healthy lunch options at the resort, the Four Points Hut, has a 13,000 foot two level dining facility. Located on the top of 4 points chairlift.
- Rex’s American Grill and Bar, is a family-friendly restaurant with good American cuisine for the kids.
- If your kids are hearty, big breakfast eaters, they’ll love the Shack Cafe in downtown Steamboat Springs.
- There are two highly recommended and popular fancy restaurant for a parents night out. The Cafe Diva and Three Peaks Resort.
- Book the STARS program at least three weeks in advance. Start with private lessons and then move to the signature program for best growth. Complete all paperwork online before arriving to minimize separation time.
- Have your basic ski equipment delivered! Christy sports offer delivery of rental skis and works with the STARS program for free equipment. We had our rental skis delivered in the late afternoon for proper fitting and operation. Christy’s is more convenient and also rents free to STARS participants if booked in advance. If there’s an equipment malfunction, we could go right to the center of the resort and get the equipment resized or fixed. You can also store your rental equipment at the ski school. Mention the STARS program.
- For adaptive rentals, contact the STARS program.
- If you’re staying at one of the Trappeur’s lodges, you do not need a rental car. There is a free shuttle to the resort about every ten minutes. They also provide free shuttles to the grocery store, restaurants and by request. You just need to call 15 minutes in advance.
- With a five day pass kids can ski free with a paid adult. Without the five day pass, kids lift tickets are very cheap when booked with lessons. Book at least 3 weeks in advance for best discounted pricing.
- To ensure plans go smoothly, make reservations in advance for skiing, tubing, and hot springs to avoid any disappointments in case they are booked.
- For total luxury and convenience, try “Fridge Fillers” to provide all grocery needs for the family vacation. The City Market grocery store also has a good pharmacy and deli.