STEAMBOAT SPRINGS evokes an era when cattle ranchers roamed its streets and locals preferred Stetsons to ski vests. But in recent years, Steamboat has sought to shed a bit of its family-friendly image as a cowboy theme park and embrace its inner Breckenridge. The town, nestled along the Yampa River in northwest Colorado, has installed an array of new après-ski bars, haute cuisine restaurants and late-night haunts, as well as upscale lodgings, like One Steamboat Place, that can rival anything at Vail or Aspen. The centerpiece of Steamboat's face-lift, which coincides with the resort's 50th anniversary, is a redeveloped promenade at the base of its gondola, with a heated walkway, a musical stage and a three-tiered ice castle. Families still flock to Steamboat for its dude ranches and hot springs. But after the children are put to bed, its downtown comes alive with an impressive night life and innovative culinary scene. "It's still a cowboy ski town," said Gerry Verdoner, bar manager of Sweetwater Grill. "But now there's more balance."
5 p.m.1. JOHN WAYNE'S WARDROBE
To get a sense of Steamboat's Old West ambience, take a stroll down Lincoln Avenue. The main drag is lined with the usual tourist traps but also has a few surprises, including shops that feel like time capsules of Steamboat's cattle ranching past. A case in point is F. M. Light & Sons (830 Lincoln Avenue; 970-879-1822; fmlight.com), which looks as if it hasn't changed since it opened its doors in 1905. The shop sells Stetsons cut from real buffalo fur and fire-engine-red rodeo shirts emblazoned with poker cards. Look for the retail shrine of sorts to John Wayne tucked within the store.
6 p.m.2. TOP CHEF STEAMBOAT
Until recently, fine dining in Steamboat was limited to Café Diva (1855 Ski Time Square Drive; 970-871-0508, cafediva.com), whose red velvety interior and refined menu appeal to well-heeled visitors who don't mind forking over $40 for their somewhat predictable but nicely presented entrees of elk and other wild game. Now a new wave of restaurateurs is colonizing Steamboat with inventive menus, ranging from farm-to-table to tapas-style cuisine. A spot that has become popular among locals is Bistro C.V. (345 Lincoln Avenue, 970-879-4197; bistrocv.com), with its industrial-chic décor -- including a curvilinear ceiling spangled with funky minimalist light fixtures and a blond wood bar -- and colorful dishes to match. The chef, Brian Vaughn (the "V" in the title), tops his wagyu-beef burgers with foie gras ($21) and marinates his chicken in maple syrup ($26).
8 p.m.3. GHOST BUSKERS
For something a bit more rustic, head to the multilevel saloon Ghost Ranch Steamboat (56 Seventh Street; 970-879-9898; ghostranchsteamboat.com), revamped and under new management. But its Wild West trimmings are still intact, including the animal trophies adorning its walls, the old wooden booths that look as if they've been lifted from the set of "Deadwood" and the spacious dance floor that fills up most weekends with a tipsy, all-age crowd two-stepping to the live music.
8 a.m.4. SWEET ROLLS
A cinnamon roll arms race breaks out every morning in Steamboat. First, there's Freshies (595 South Lincoln Avenue; 970-879-8099; freshiessteamboat.com), which serves up gooey cinnamon rolls ($4.95) glazed in melted cream cheese. Then there's Winona's (617 Lincoln Avenue; 970-879-2483), a homey spot whose cinnamon buns ($4.50) literally spill over the plate. For something less sweet or sticky, try MountainBrew (427 Oak Street; 970-879-7846), a relaxed cafe with tasty scones and smoothies ($5.25).
10:30 a.m.5. SNOW TIRES
For the past 30 years, a cow pasture outside Steamboat gets coated every winter with a quarter-million gallons of water that freezes into a treacherous sheet of ice: the perfect terrain track for the Bridgestone Winter Driving School (2300 Mount Werner Circle; 970-879-6104; winterdrive.com), which bills itself as the longest continually running school of its kind in the country. In a yurt students get a primer on transferring weight, handling slick conditions and braking on ice. Then they take a test spin on the icy tracks with two hours of training in a fleet of Lexus S.U.V.'s and sedans. Half-day sessions cost $270.
2:30 p.m.6. DUDES ON SKIS
A handful of dude ranches ring Steamboat Springs, several of which are a winter wonderland for cross-country skiers. Whether you prefer open meadows blanketed in snow or winding paths through the aspen woods, the area boasts some of Colorado's best trails. Though most ranch trails are closed to nonguests, one exception, if you don't mind the one-hour drive, is Latigo Ranch (201 County Road 1911, Kremmling; 970-724-9008; latigotrails.com), which grooms over 65 kilometers of backcountry trails with sweeping views of the Continental Divide. Day passes for adults are $16. In town, the Howelsen Hill Ski Area (845 Howelsen Parkway; 970-879-8499) has over 20 kilometers of groomed paths; $10 per skier.
5 p.m.7. LATE NIGHT DIP
Strawberry Park Hot Springs (44200 County Road 36, 970-879-0342; strawberryhotsprings.com) is a secluded retreat nestled in the hills just outside of town. Cold and hot natural plunge pools carved along a ridge draw couples as well as groups of loud kids. To avoid the crowds, slip into one of the heated stone huts for a soothing massage ($90 per hour). Then snag a spot in one of the steaming-hot mineral baths, where you can gaze up at the stars. Even with the crowds, it's worth it. Entrance is $10 for adults.
7 p.m.8. CREATIVE CUISINE
When Laundry (127 11th Street; 970-870-0681; thelaundryrestaurant.com), a gastro-pub with a vintage feel, opened last winter, expectations were high. And, indeed, the restaurant's small-plate concept has proved to be a boon to Steamboat's growing culinary scene. Housed in an old brick laundromat retrofitted with teardrop-shaped light fixtures and Art Deco-style wine racks, Laundry has a noisy but festive atmosphere. Platters of cheeses, cured meats and fennel-heavy veggies are rich and filling, as is the taco-confit duck ($12). Try the savory fried chicken-polenta ($11) or the hickory-smoked brisket ($12). The bar offers inventive cocktails, like a fiery margarita infused with hot-pepper tequila ($6).
9 p.m.9. ON THE WATERFRONT
Night life in Steamboat used to consist mainly of sports bars with Western themes and bland menus. But over the past few years, the riverfront avenue Yampa has turned into a popular strip of night spots with eclectic bar menus. At Carl's Tavern (700 Yampa Avenue; 970-761-2060; carlstavern.com), it's pot roast by day, party atmosphere by night -- a roomy and festive space with live bluegrass most weekends and seemingly as many beers on tap as there are oversize TVs. Another local favorite and recent addition is Sweetwater Grill (811 Yampa Avenue; 970-879-9500; thesweetwatergrill.com), which has a large fire-pit-equipped back deck overlooking Howelsen Hill and a cozy lounge in front.
9 a.m.10. PARAMOUNT SUSTENANCE
Before hitting the slopes, hit the Paramount (1865 Ski Time Square Drive; 970-879-1170; theparamountcolorado.com). This unassuming spot with counter service and a rustic-chic feel opened recently to little fanfare, but boasts Steamboat's finest bacon, egg and cheese sandwich ($8).
10 a.m.11. GLADE RUNNER
What Steamboat (2305 Mount Werner Circle; 970-879-6111; steamboat.com) lacks in open-bowl skiing it makes up for in zippy lift lines, carved aspen glades and silky white Champagne powder. After taking the gondola up to the midstation, head left over to the Storm Peak Express to be whisked up to the summit. Warm up on Buddy's Run, a meandering trail with lots of dips. For fewer crowds, try Frying Pan off the backside. But Steamboat's main attraction is its glades, which are more manageable for intermediate skiers than on most mountains. Try Shadows or Closet for something less steep. A nice chaser back down to the gondola is Vagabond. Day passes for adults are $99.
3 p.m.12. SKI AND SKINNY PANTS
Après-ski starts early at Steamboat. Look for the unmarked trailer just north of the gondola called T Bar (2045 Ski Time Square Drive; 970-879-6652), surrounded by plastic chairs and picnic tables around which are seated the usual types: hipsters, ski bums and shaggy dogs. Housed in a former ski patrol trailer, the bar opened a few years back yet remained hidden from most out-of-town revelers. Its dive bar interior belies its tempting menu of borscht and grilled panini (try the peanut-butter-and-bacon panini, for $7.50). The bar's ethos, quirky yet simple, is emblematic of Steamboat's rebirth as a resort town in touch with its playful side.
IF YOU GO
Near the mountain, try Trailhead Lodge (1175 Bangtail Way; 970-879-9000; wvrsteamboat.com), whose roomy suites have kitchenettes and fireplaces. It even has its own gondola. A studio with kitchenette starts at $118.
Another alternative to the cookie-cutter condos right on the slopes is Home Ranch (54880 County Road 129; 970-879-1780; homeranch.com). Twenty minutes from Steamboat, its eight cozy cabins, all with private hot tubs, are surrounded by forests, fields for horseback riding and a rustic family-style dining room. From $490, meals included.travel
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.