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Steamboat Magazine

Celebrate Winter Carnival and Carl Howelsen

02/06/2018 11:15AM ● By Alesha Damerville

Image from Visual Hunt

By Candice Bannister

Rio has the Carnival. Louisville, Kentucky, has the Kentucky Derby. New Orleans, Louisiana, has Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. But the small town of Steamboat Springs is just as steeped in festive tradition--Winter Carnival, the oldest continuous winter celebration of its kind in the West. 

Founded by Norwegian ski jumping pioneer Carl Howelsen, the first Winter Carnival events took place in 1914 on Woodchuck Hill, present site of Colorado Mountain College. Howelsen and the first Carnival brought ski jumping and competitive skiing to Steamboat Springs and ignited a rich tradition and quest for athletic excellence that continues to this day. 

How did a Norwegian ski jumper end up in isolated Steamboat Springs you ask? It all started in 1913, in neighboring Hot Sulphur Springs, when Steamboat Springs resident and outdoor enthusiast Marjorie Perry (sister of Charlotte Perry, co-founder of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp) happened upon the former Barnum and Bailey Circus Star, Howelsen, and his “Winter Sports Carnival” while on her trip from Denver to Steamboat Springs by way of the Moffat Railroad. Ms. Perry was so impressed by the ski jumping events she witnessed there, she convinced Howelsen to come to Steamboat for an exhibition.

Howelsen soon made Steamboat Springs his home and greatly impacted the course of local history. Howelsen’s influence were long lasting. His contributions to the sports of skiing and ski jumping form the foundation of the history of these sports in this state and country. Locally, not only was he the founder and coach of the first Steamboat Ski Club (now the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club) and the Winter Carnival, but he also taught countless residents how to ski jump and ski for fun and competition, coached early competitors including Steamboat’s first Olympian ski jumper John Steele, built the first ski jumps on Howelsen Hill, and set ski jumping records.

Of all of Howelsen’s contributions to our community and winter sports, perhaps his most important gifts were those he imparted to the local youth, summarized in this humble tribute from the Steamboat Pilot: “During his time here, he taught the young riders to compete for the love of the sport, and has set an admirable example by never letting his medals get too heavy for him.”

Sources: The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs by Sureva Towler and The Flying Norseman by Leif Howelsen

This article was provided by The Tread of Pioneers Museum for more information visit