Aah. Hot water never felt so good.
The frigid mountain temperatures and snow all around us in Steamboat Springs, Colo., made the natural 30-foot wide hot springs all the more inviting. Despite the chill, we'd whipped off our clothes (we had come prepared with bathing suits underneath) and jumped into the large, 4-foot-deep, 104-degree pool, where other families already were soaking away skiing aches.
After a day of skiing, we'd wound our way six miles up the mountain north of town to Strawberry Park. Entrance fee is $5 for adults and $2 for kids. (Prices go up to $7 for adults at night and $10 on weekend nights. Children are not allowed after dark when skinny-dipping is the norm. Whenever you go, don't attempt the drive without a four-wheel drive vehicle. Shuttles are available from town or the ski area.
The springs gave this northwestern Colorado town its name. Three French fur trappers on the Yampa River heard what they thought was the chug-chug sound of a steamboat. When they saw the bubbling spring, they dubbed the place Steamboat Springs.
Besides Strawberry Park, kids also will like Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Department's hot springs swimming pool and water slide, located downtown. Admission for adults is $5 and for children $2.
These days, Steamboat Springs has become a mecca for families seeking a Western ski resort that has as much to offer children as adults (call  922-2722). Consider:
More than half the ski area's million skiers each season are parents and kids. Children 12 and under ski free when a parent buys a five-day lift ticket. Steamboat ski instructors shepherd as many as 1,000 kids a day through a first-rate ski school.
Teen Ticket allows 13- to 18-year-olds to ski at the reduced rate bTC of $34 a day when parents buy a five-day lift ticket. One paid parent ticket qualifies for a Kids Ski Free ticket as well as one Teen Ticket. (For the teens who say they've outgrown ski school, from mid-February through March Steamboat will offer a program [$57 a day, $155 for three days] for snow-boarders and skiers.
Skiers from 3 1/2 to 6 years old (private lessons can be arranged for those younger) meet inside the Kids' Vacation Center for ski school, sheltered from the crowds at the base, where they can have a snack and watch a puppet show before heading out on the mountain. The children's instructors get coaching during the season from child psychologists.
Day care is available for children starting at 6 months right on the mountain ($57 a day, $155 for three days).
Parents can get a night out by dropping kids as young as 2 1/2 at the Kids' Adventure Club every Tuesday through Saturday in the Kids' Vacation Center. There are snacks, games and movies. (The first child is $9 an hour, the second is $3 and each additional one is $2.) Ask about evening outings for the 8-12 crowd.
Teens can spend an evening with the "Night Owls" going to a movie, the Vertical Grip Climbing Gym or eating pizza. Activities are offered Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights for $35.
Reservations are required for all the youngsters' programs. Call (970) 879-6111, Ext. 469, for more information. You can also visit Steamboat's Web site at http: //www.steamboat-ski.com.
Pub Date: 2/02/97