Officials eager to begin Howelsen project |

Officials eager to begin Howelsen project

Alexis DeLaCruz

— Not that Jeff Nelson is counting or anything, but there are 123 days left before Howelsen Hill Ski Area opens.

Nelson, the ski and rodeo supervisor at Howelsen, is excited about opening day but he’s even more excited to get started on a three-year project that will replace Howelsen’s nighttime lighting, snowmaking machines and communications.

The first phase of the project – replacing the nighttime lighting on the Alpine side of Howelsen Hill and improving snowmaking capacity and communications – will begin this fall. Similar projects are scheduled for Mile Run and Murri Peak areas in 2008 and 2009.

“Over the years I’ve seen a lot of little Band-Aids go up, and it’s time for surgery,” Nelson said Monday. “It’s time for a new knee.”

Nelson said the city has had difficulty securing a contract for the $440,000 project because of all the construction going on in Steamboat Springs and other larger ski areas in Colorado.

“I’m really hopeful we can put this together, but unfortunately we’re getting started the year Steamboat decided to get rebuilt,” he said.

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Chris Wilson, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the improvements have been years in the making. An advisory group drafted a Howelsen Hill Ski Area Master Plan in 1999 and revisited the document in 2005. The plan is a guide for future development and capital improvement projects.

The Steamboat Springs City Council approved the $440,000 for the 2007 improvements as a capital improvement project. Wilson and Nelson held a work session with the council July 24 to update them on the project.

“We’re excited the community supports Howelsen Hill as well as it does and that we’ve got some money to work with,” Wilson said.

City Council member Ken Brenner agreed.

“This is really overdue,” he said. “We’ve wanted to develop this since 1981.”

Nelson said most of the lighting and snowmaking projects are “underground infrastructure” projects that he hopes to begin in August.

Taking the hill’s nighttime lighting from orange high pressure lights to metal halide lighting will allow the city to host larger ski and snowboard races that have more demanding lighting criteria.

“(The lighting) will be more like the last two Olympics we’ve seen,” Nelson said. “Night racing is becoming more popular in the world. We’ll be event central down there.”

Wilson and Nelson said they have worked closely with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which utilizes Howelsen for its training programs, to develop the improvement projects.

“We’ve made sure that what we’re doing and that the timing of it is within the priorities of what they want,” Wilson said.

In addition to the larger projects that are on the horizon, city officials are looking at implementing a “test area” for winter tubing this season and installing a new “Magic Carpet” that would replace the Pony lift at the base of Howelsen Hill.

-To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

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