Howelsen Hill Park: Dreaming the Dream
● By Alesha Damerville
By Suzi Mitchell
A former circus performer dreamed a dream more than a century ago. Carl Howelsen’s vision made him a ski industry pioneer and gave Steamboat Springs the oldest continuously running ski area west of the Mississippi, more than 89 Olympians, and the title Ski Town USA.
Time and the vision of another pioneer, Jim Temple, put Howelsen Hill in the shadows of a much larger ski area – the Steamboat Ski Area, only a couple miles away. Currently in the center of city-owned land-use debates, Howelsen sits at the epicenter of town like a favorite relative: taken for granted most days, but hailed and honored on holidays.
Some see Howelsen as a steep face with terrain suited only to racers, jumpers, cross-country skiers and a playground for Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club participants. Those who use it know otherwise. It’s terrain in its purest form. Thirteen miles of snowy ribbon weave through towering pines and aspen glades. Views uninterrupted by condo complexes reward skiers, bikers and boarders of all levels. It’s small, but small can be good. Where else can you ride a chairlift with Nordic or alpine boots strapped to your feet, watch ski jumpers and boarders get air and know that if you are separated from your kids, it’s no big deal?
The city’s $600,000 annual operating budget is a stretch. Limited lift opening hours and few available marketing dollars hinder profit potential. Facilities are timeworn and maintenance is heavily supplemented by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. It is underutilized by locals and relatively unknown to first-time visitors. Yet this hill has hosted World Cups, Continental Cups and has elevated Steamboat to the international athletic stage.
Few locals want future generations to hear Howelsen Hill mentioned only in “back in the day” conversations. What if future generations knew Howelsen as a hub of winter sports oozing Western heritage, where access is affordable and the atmosphere is social?
Steamboat Magazine decided to dream a dream for what Howelsen Hill Park could be in winter.
Learn to ski free program aimed at local children
Outdoor survival days for youths
Historic, guided Nordic ski and snowshoe tours
Team-building packages for businesses, offering exclusive use of hill with Olympian-led clinics and motivational talks
Family fun days and evenings with night skiing, biking, jumping and tubing