I had heard that Steamboat Springs, Colo., mixes the charm of a small Western cattle town with a world-class ski resort.

So my expectations were high when I chose Steamboat as a winter destination from several weeklong ski trips offered by Central Florida Snow Skiers & Snowboarders Travel Club.

Central Florida Snow Skiers (CfssSnowSkiClub.com) is one of many ski clubs in Florida that is affiliated with the Florida Ski Council. Did you know that there are more snow ski clubs in Florida than almost any other state?

I pleasantly discovered that Steamboat is not a pre-fabricated town carved out of the base of a mountain to provide a cookie-cutter shopping and dining experience for visitors. Steamboat (also called "the Boat"), with a year-round permanent population of about 10,000, is an authentic Western cattle town with a long, rich history and cowboy flair.

For being an internationally known winter resort destination, I was impressed by its convenience and affordability with a festive atmosphere and a laid-back casual Western presence.

We stayed at The Ranch at Steamboat, which is comprised of condominium town homes with all the amenities, including balconies overlooking wooded areas populated by squirrels, rabbits and an occasional red fox darting around the trees.

The Ranch has complimentary on-demand shuttles that provided us with door-to-door service to and from town and the ski resort. It was great to call the shuttle service before my last run of the day (or my last apr�s ski toddy at "Slopeside") and have it waiting for me at the base of the mountain.

The snow at Steamboat, known as "Champagne Powder," lives up to its name -- light and perfect for smooth gliding down the slopes. Billy Kidd, the 1964 world and Olympic ski champion, operates a world-renowned ski school for all types of skiers and snowboarders -- from beginners to Olympic hopefuls.

Although neither my ski buddies nor I were having a ski lesson, imagine our delight and surprise when we looked to our right and saw Billy Kidd joining us for a run down an "aqua" trail -- our term for a trail that is in-between a green (beginner) and blue (intermediate) run. He even gave us some pointers on the way down.


More than skiing

I made sure to make time for other activities that Steamboat has to offer.

I had a great time snowmobiling along the continental divide at Rabbit Ear's Pass. It was an exhilarating ride with gorgeous views.

The first time I ever went dog sledding was in Steamboat. At Grizzle-T Dog and Sled Works, I was able to drive eight dogs along a glistening, snowy trail. I learned that some of the dogs in their kennel had run in the Iditarod race.

The trainer said these highly intelligent dogs would look over their shoulders at the driver -- me -- if the driver's applying the brake too much or not guiding the sled correctly. I got quite a few "looks" -- nothing like being reprimanded by a dog.

Upon completion of our ride, we drank hot chocolate as we played with the husky pups that would be part of the dog teams in years to come.

Tubing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides are only a few of the other activities that Steamboat has to offer.