|Old Steamboat Trail Maps:
The Ski area looking from Howelsen Hill.
By Bill Fetcher
Once Carl Howelsen had established skiing as a sport in Steamboat Springs
(See Howelsen Hill), skiers began looking toward broad-shouldered Storm
Mountain on the horizon east of town. A few intrepid souls would make the
hike to the summit, ski down and proclaim what a fine ski area this would
make if we could just clear a few trails and string a few lifts.
It would take the efforts of James Temple to see this plan from dream to
reality. The son of a North Routt County rancher, Jim had moved to
Steamboat in 1955 following ski patrol duties at Sun Valley, Idaho. During
the late '50s he organized ski trips and summer jeep and horseback rides to
the summit of Storm Mountain to explore possible routes for trails and lifts.
To promote his new ski area he got permission to use the phrase,
"Champagne Powder," coined by Kremmling rancher Joe McElroy who
operated a rope-tow hill on Baker Mountain.
Ground breaking took place 6 July 1958. A few trails and a liftline were
cleared on Christie Peak, formerly called Bear Claw. Lift service would wait
a few years till 22 December 1961 when a Pomalift on the Headwall
beginners slope (formerly Cub Claw) began operating. It would open for the
following 1962 season but not the expected Christie double chairlift. Built by
Cosmos, a Swiss firm, its U.S. agency was facing bankruptcy. Shipping
delays mounted, dragging out for weeks. The lift finally opened 12 January
1963. This date is used as the official opening date for the area. Christie
would offer a variety of runs, Swinger (green) through See Me (black-
diamond). Facilities included an A-frame warming hut at the base.
On 12 April 1964 an avalanche took the life of local ski racer Wallace
"Buddy" Werner while filming a movie in Switzerland. Storm Mountain was
renamed Mt. Werner on 15 February 1965 during ceremonies that were
part of the annual Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival. (The mountain is
actually made up of three peaks; Mt. Werner, Storm Peak and Sunshine
The area's first major expansion took place the summer of 1965 when
Thunderhead Peak was developed. The trails Vagabond through Heavenly
Daze were cleared, served by a Miner-Denver double chairlift.
Three more Miner-Denver double-chairs were to come. Four Points, built in
1968, would be the first in the country to feature "bullwheel loading and
unloading" whereby passengers move in line with the cable. The
Thunderhead cafeteria was built that summer as well; it would later be
expanded to incorporate the gondola drive terminal.
In 1969 the Headwall beginners lift and Burgess Creek lift were installed.
Four Points and Burgess Creek ("B.C.") would serve the "weather front"
runs, Cyclone through Norther.
Steamboat would be taken seriously as an up-and-coming ski area with the
installation of a gondola during the summer of 1970. Built by Bell Engineering
of Lucerne, Switzerland, it reached the top of Thunderhead Peak. Three
towers supported the bi-cable system, which carried 90 six-passenger
cabins. The summit of Storm Peak was reached that summer as well via a
Pomalift. This platter-tow, with its base near the top of the Four Points lift,
provided access to Buddy's Run and the Storm Peak face.
With the ski area now well established, the town of Steamboat Springs and
surrounding area would see the start of a building boom that continues to this
1971 would see the first beginners wire-rope handle-tow, a Mighty-Mite on
Headwall. It would be supplemented or replaced by similar Pony handle-
tows. In recent years all beginners' handle-tows have been replaced by
Magic Carpet conveyor lifts, which are safer for instructors and students
alike. The exception is a Doppelmayr platter-tow in Rough Rider Basin, laid
out in 1989.
In 1972 Heron-Poma installed three double-chairs; Christie II
(supplementing the first Christie lift), Priest Creek and Elkhead. Priest Creek
would take skiers to the tree and powder runs, Closet through High Noon
on the west and south flanks of Sunshine Peak. Egress is via the Elkhead lift.
Bashor Bowl was cleared as an additional beginners area in 1974 and the
Bashor double-chair installed (Lift Engineering (YAN)). Terrain park
facilities now occupy the site.
1977 saw two more YAN double-chairs: Bar-UE and WJW (removed in
1992). New trails are opened to the north; Big Meadow, Crow Track,
Flying Z, Triangle Three and Drop Out. Avalanche conditions are controlled
on Chute One, which is brought into the area boundary and opened for
The area's first two lifts are replaced in 1979 by two YAN triple-chairs. The
Southface replaced the Headwall Pomalift (1961) and Christie III replaced
the original Christie lift. The Thunderhead lift is supplemented by the
Arrowhead triple-chair, also by YAN.
Steamboat faced a snow drought in 1980 and was obliged to install
snowmaking systems to remain competitive. A previous drought in 1977
forced the area to close for a few weeks. The system has expanded over the
years to cover much of the mountain, particularly the runs that get heavy
Lift Engineering supplied five more lifts during the early '80s: Storm Peak and
Sundown, both triple-chairs, both in 1983. The Summit Pomalift was
removed. In 1984 runs in Sunshine Bowl were cleared, runs with a
"'mountain-man " theme: Flintlock, Quickdraw and Tomahawk. These long
boulevards are a favorite of many, particularly beginners and intermediates
who can enjoy what the top of the mountain has to offer. The Rendezvous
Saddle cafeteria, also built that year, would cater to their needs, served by
the South Peak triple-chair. A fixed-grip quad replaces the Elkhead double-
chair. At the base of the mountain the Preview double-chair is installed on
Headwall. The following year Doppelmayr would build a triple-chair for
Sunshine Bowl ("Wally World").
All this time, the Bell gondola had been performing well, despite an accident
in January 1972 in which an empty, descending cabin was dislodged from
the cables at Tower Three by gale-force winds. Strong winds would often
force closure of the gondola due to its height above the ground, 252 feet
over Heavenly Daze. On busy days skiers faced long lines for their first ride
up in the morning. Improvements in both areas were needed, something
closer to earth, with more capacity. Steamboat got it in 1986 when
Doppelmayr installed a new mono-cable gondola, with 128 eight-passenger
cabins, a world's first. Thirty, rather than three towers support the cable,
realigned along the south edge of Heavenly Daze. The increased capacity
would be welcomed with the inauguration of direct ski flights to the Yampa
Valley Regional Airport near Hayden.
In 1987 snowboarding was permitted. The rest of the decade saw a few
more trails cut and improvements to existing facilities.
The Storm Peak and Sundown triple-chairs were replaced in 1992 by
Doppelmayr high-speed detachable-quad chairlifts. The old (1968) Four
Points lift was removed; the Storm Peak triple (1983) shortened and
renamed Four Points. By 1992 extreme terrain on Mt Werner was patrolled
and brought within the area boundaries: Chutes Two and Three, Christmas
Tree Bowl, and East Face.
The Four Points Hut was built in 1993, replacing a warming hut that had
been part of the old Four Points lift drive terminal.
Two major expansions would follow: Morningside in 1996 and Pioneer
Ridge in 1997/'98. Morningside, on the east slope of Mt. Werner, has runs
with a "morning" theme such as Hot Cakes, Jump Start, Cowboy Coffee and
Alarm Clock, served by a Garaventa-CTEC fixed-grip triple-chair. The
extreme terrain on Mt. Werner is also reached by this lift.
The old Thunderhead lift (1965) and its companion Arrowhead were
replaced by a Doppelmayr high-speed quad, Thunderhead Express, in 1997.
Pioneer Ridge opened for hike-in skiing in 1997 and got lift service the next
year; the Pony Express high-speed quad by CTEC. Trails in this expansion
follow a western theme along with a few named for those "pioneers" who
built the area in its early years. Pioneer Ridge can be challenging to skiers
and riders due to its semi-developed nature.
The firm of Leitner-Poma would come to the fore, replacing the Burgess
Creek lift (1969) with a fixed-grip triple in 2004, and the Sunshine triple
(1985) with a high-speed quad in 2006.
Future upgrades include extending the Bashor lift farther up on Christie,
replacing the tangle of beginners lifts on Headwall with a high-speed "six-
pack," and the second phase of the Pioneer Ridge expansion should demand
Despite its difficulties getting started, Steamboat is now considered a world-
class resort. It was built, not with lots of outside influence and capital, but by
local ranchers, mechanics, businessmen and others whose love of the sport
drove them to further Steamboat Springs' rich skiing heritage.
The following table lists Steamboat's corporate management and
- 1958-1964: Storm Mountain (Ski) Corporation; Storm Mountain Ski
- 1965-1969: Mt. Werner Inc.; Mt. Werner Ski Area
- 1969-1979: Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) Recreation Development,
Inc.; Steamboat Ski Area
- 1979-1989: Northwest Colorado Ski Corporation; Steamboat Ski
- 1989-1997: Kamori Kanko Company, Ltd.; Steamboat Ski and
- 1997-2007: American Skiing Company
- 2007-Present: Intrawest
|The summit of Storm Peak.
|The Silver Bullet Gondola
|Steamboat's Base Area at Dusk
|A cold day riding up the Storm Peak
|Skiing down Heavenly Daze.
|Pros and Cons to Skiing Here:
|+ Located in the northern snow
|- Gondola can have long lines
in the morning
|+ Fast ski lifts translates to
more skiing time
|- The area is far from Denver
|+ Great bumps and tree skiing
||- Lower elevations can mean
early spring time conditions
|+ Varied terrain from each lift
||- Base area is in need of repair
|+ Town has authentic western
|- Lift tickets are becoming
|The view from the summit of the Storm
|Insider Tips to Skiing Here:
|Looking up Sunshine Peak.
|Copyright © coloradoskihistory.com
All Rights Reserved.
*Resort Stats Current for 2009-10
Steamboat Ski Area
The Fetcher Collection
|The Steamboat Balloon Festival
Steamboat Springs from Howelsen Hill
|Riding up the Sundown Express
|The Original Christie Chair
|An Overview of
Mountain) in the
Fall of 1960.
|The Removed Christie II Lift
|Looking down over Steamboat Springs
from the ski area.