Dates of Operation: 1914 - Present
* Elevations: Summit 7,136 ft; Base 6,696; Vertical Drop 440 ft
* Terrain: 12 slopes, 37.5 degrees grade
* Ski Jumps, snowmaking, night skiing, alpine slide
Lifts: 1 Double chair, 1 Pomalift, 2 Magic Carpet conveyor lifts
* Season: December 15 - April 1
* Rates: 1984: $5.00 adult, $3 child; 2006-2007: Adult, $15.00, Child, $5.00.
By Bill Fetcher
Howelsen Hill, located across the Yampa River from downtown Steamboat
Springs, and owned and operated by the city, has the distinction of being one of
the country's oldest ski areas in continuous use. It is the only ski area listed on the
Colorado State Register of Historic Places. Over the decades nearly 70 Winter
Olympians have trained on its slopes and jumps. Prior to its use as a ski hill it was
the town's Elk Park, a small wildlife preserve. And prior to the arrival of
Norwegian skier Carl Howelsen in 1913, skiing was regarded only as a practical
means of getting about in snow during Colorado's long winters. Howelsen would
introduce the sporting aspects of skiing to the populace with ski jumping and
cross-country competitions. His influence would be felt throughout the Rocky
Mountains. He made his home in a cabin in Strawberry Park just north of town
and found work as a mason and bricklayer when not involved with skiing.
Early 1914 found Howelsen organizing the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports
Club training program for youngsters, and the first Winter Carnival that featured a
ski jumping exhibition on Woodchuck Hill, site of the present Colorado Mountain
College. Convinced that ski jumping records could be broken if he had a steeper
slope, he looked to the north-facing hill across the river that abutted Elk Park.
That fall, trees and brush were cleared and a jump built, ready for the town's
second Winter Carnival. The slope was named Howelsen Hill in 1917. The elk
herd was relocated a few years later.
Howelsen Hill, with a vertical rise of only 440 feet, would remain a jumping hill
through the 1920s when interest in the Alpine disciplines, slalom and downhill,
would surface. In 1931 a slalom course was cleared on the east flank of the hill
and the first slalom events held.
The first lift on Howelsen Hill was a boat tow, built in 1934, nothing more than a
sled pulled by cable to haul lumber and other construction materials up to repair
and maintain the jumps. By then there were two take-off platforms. Because this
crude lift was found to be useable by skiers, in 1937 it was relocated and
extended to the top of Howelsen Hill and rebuilt as a double-reversible, or
"jigback," with two ten-passenger sleds pulled by an electric winch at the base.
This homemade tow, with a length of 1000 feet and vertical rise of 440 feet,
would see service till 1970.
In 1935 the first Winter Carnival Night Show, with torchlight parades, ski jumping
through a fiery hoop and fireworks was presented on Howelsen Hill. The
following year would see the first "Lighted Man" spectacle.
Night skiing was offered as early as 1937 and is still featured.
In 1945 a rope tow for beginners was built on Sulphur Cave Hill just west of the
jumps. Work began on the base lodge: it was completed in 1946. Mechanisms
were in place, namely Steamboat's skiing heritage, post-war optimism, and
possible competition with two major Colorado areas, Aspen and Winter Park,
for this little ski area to consider expansion.
Construction of "The World's Longest Single-Span Ski Lift" began in 1947. With
a length of 8,850 feet and a vertical rise of 1,440 feet, it would pass over the top
of Howelsen Hill and continue to the summit of Emerald Mountain. It was built by
the Mine and Smelter Supply Co. of Denver using patents by Ernest G. Constam,
Swiss inventor of the T-bar. The lift had 120 T-bars and 60 single chairs passing
through 22 wooden, portal towers, all driven by a 75 hp electric motor at the
base. A handsome, log Tow House was built to house the lift's drive machinery as
well as the winch for the boat tow. The lift began service at the end of January
1948. The chairs were combined with the T-bars, two T-bars between each
chair, for the lift's opening season and the following 1948-'49 season. Beginning
that summer the chairs were only used for sightseers and would be replaced by
the T-bars for ski season.
Unfortunately the Emerald Mountain Lift would become a victim of inferior
technology. Lifts from that period had been built with tower and terminal sheaves
with rubber liners. Constam's patents specified unlined steel sheaves, which were
not only noisy but the ensuing vibration caused the cable to wear prematurely.
The cost of replacing three miles of cable every two years was prohibitive on a lift
that was already a financial liability. In 1954 it was shortened to serve only
Howelsen Hill. Summer chairlift operation would continue for another two years.
The old liftline and ghosts of ski runs on Emerald Mountain can still be seen. The
lift rumbled on till 1969 when the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board
condemned it as unsafe as it lacked required safety devices. It was replaced in
1970 by the present (platter) Pomalift. The boat tow was removed as well to
accommodate grading of the jump outruns. Its right-of-way would be taken over
by the H.S. (Hill Size) 100 jump.
The rope tow was moved from Sulphur Cave in 1953 to serve the slalom hill.
This was unsatisfactory as the hill was too steep for a rope tow. In 1955 it was
relocated to the present beginners slope. It was replaced by a Pony wire-rope
handle-tow in 1989 and the beginners hill named Ponyland. A Heron-Poma
double chairlift was installed that year as well, transplanted from the defunct
Steamboat Lake area. The chairlift gets its most use in summer, serving the
"Howler" alpine slide, built in 1999. In 2003 a Magic Carpet conveyor-belt lift
was installed on the Ponyland slope. Four years later another conveyor lift was
installed replacing the 1989 Pony handle-tow. It's designed to accommodate
snow-tubes for evening tubing activities. Also in 2007 slope lighting was
improved. At present there are four lifts serving a dozen trails.
The lodge was expanded in 1991 to include the Olympian Hall meeting room,
offices and training facilities.
Since the beginning in 1914 the ski jumps would need rebuilding roughly every
five or ten years to meet new regulations as well as to counteract a tendency for
the hill to slide. In 1959 the two largest jumps, H.S.127 and H.S.100, were
contoured to meet FIS standards. After a fire destroyed the landing platform of
the H.S.127 jump in May 1972, it was decided to rebuild the entire complex,
taking advantage of Howelsen Hill's natural setting. A steel judge's tower built in
1975 replaced earlier wooden structures. Work was completed in the fall of
1977 and the Howelsen Hill Ski Jumping Complex dedicated in January 1978.
There are now seven jumps: H.S.127, 100, 75, 42, 28, 20 and 10. In 2005 a
plastic surface was installed on the H.S.75 jump, which permits year-round
The ensuing years would see the rise of freestyle skiing and snowboarding.
Howelsen Hill would be obliged to adapt to these new trends and provide training
facilities. Cross-country skiing, always popular given Carl Howelsen's Nordic
roots, would become more so and trails of varying lengths would be cleared. In
December 1996 the enclosed Howelsen Ice Arena was completed. No longer
did skaters have to shovel tons of fresh snow from makeshift rinks to enjoy their
sport. Prior to that date, ice-skating in Steamboat Springs was regarded as little
more than a novelty.
Summer activities offered at Howelsen Hill have increased over the years. These
include baseball/softball fields, a skateboard park, the rodeo grounds, tennis and
volleyball courts, the "Howler" alpine slide, horseback, hiking and mountain bike
trails, and concerts held in the bowl formed by the outrun of the jumps. Howelsen
Hill, steeped in ski history, will continue to provide a multitude of activities for
townspeople and visitors alike, usually at little or no cost, for many years to come.
Directions: Located in Downtown Steamboat Springs
|The Area's Heron
|Copyright © coloradoskihistory.com
All Rights Reserved.
Pictures thanks to Brad C. & Bill F.
* From 2003:
|Howelsen Hill base, Feb 1947,
prior to Tow House construction.
The crowds indicate Winter
Carnival. The shelter for the boat
tow winch is at lower left marked
by a power pole with transformer.
Restored Tow House and Pomalift.
|Howelsen Hill base, 1954
At left is the rope tow during its
brief stint on the H.H. slalom hill.
(Photo from Denver Public
|Howelsen Hill outhouse, built 1945,
|Sulphur Cave rope tow house. It's been
used for storage since 1955.
|Sheaves used on the Constam lift on
|Above pictures thanks to Bill Fetcher.
|New conveyor lift at Howelsen Hill for
* From 2009:
|Views of Steamboat Ski Area
|The Heron-Poma double chair from Steamboat Lake Ski Area