Steamboat story highlights History Colorado Center opening

Nicole Inglis
Denver resident Connie North takes in the “Jumping for Joy” exhibit Saturday in the History Colorado Center on its opening day. The exhibit features memorabilia from Steamboat skiing history such as a gondola car and the Lighted Man costume.
Nicole Inglis

Denver resident Connie North takes in the “Jumping for Joy” exhibit Saturday in the History Colorado Center on its opening day. The exhibit features memorabilia from Steamboat skiing history such as a gondola car and the Lighted Man costume.
Nicole Inglis

— Several years ago, History Colorado State Historian Bill Convery stood at the banks of the Yampa watching tubers sail by against a backdrop of rich history and compelling cultural stories.

When History Colorado’s new museum finally became a reality as the $110 million building was erected in downtown Denver, Convery wanted Steamboat’s story to be part of it.

“We really wanted to tell a ski story, and for all sorts of reasons, Steamboat really rose to the top,” he said.

He recalled that summer day when he felt out of place in a suit in downtown Steamboat while watching the town engage in its one of its favorite summer activities.

“There was this exuberance, this joy,” he said. “The (Steamboat) exhibit is called ‘Jumping for Joy’ because we though it really represented the spirit of Steamboat.”

The new, 200,000-square-foot cultural center opened Saturday to crowds of Front Range residents and visitors excitedly exploring the state’s most captivating stories.

In the case of the skiing exhibit, Convery said he and a team of researchers looked around for a story “that was unique to Colorado, that would represent an experience that people wouldn’t have if they just bought a lift ticket.”

And skiing history in Steamboat — from Carl Howelsen’s ski jump in 1914 to Steamboat Ski Area to today’s Olympic tradition — stood out.

“It’s an important story about our ski history, that transformation from enthusiastic amateurs to a commercial, competitive endeavor,” he said.

‘Flying Norseman’ sails again

On Saturday morning after the ribbon was cut outside the building at 1200 Broadway, crowds swarmed one particular attraction on the second floor. In the Steamboat Springs exhibit is a virtual skiing experience: a simulator that sends riders flying off one of the Howelsen Hill Nordic jumps via a video screen.

Children and their parents flocked to the Steamboat corner of the Colorado Stories room and felt the simulated wind in their hair as they placed their feet on a real pair of Elan jumping skis. After a brief video introduction from a narrator playing Carl Howelsen, the platform tilts forward and the rider is propelled off a jump, the streets of Steamboat Springs in winter spreading out just beyond the skis’ tips.

Convery said several teenage Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club skiers were great sports about strapping on cameras and jumping their hearts out on a bluebird day in January to create the footage for the simulator.

“They were beating their personal bests,” Convery said. “They were really pushing the envelope for us.”

In the simulator, the rider can get a gold medal, a silver medal or crash.

But none of the Winter Sports Club skiers wanted to commit to a full-on crash, so for that sequence, they tossed a helmet with a camera strapped on down the hill.

Steamboat Olympian Johnny Spillane, who provided several medals and pieces of memorabilia for the exhibit, got a chance to try the simulator before the opening.

“I crashed the first time I tried it,” he admitted. “But I nailed the second one.”

Spillane said that the attraction really does provide a unique perspective on what a Nordic jumper actually sees and that the exhibit as a whole is a “nice tribute to the town.”

“It talks a lot about the history of skiing in Steamboat, from the Lighted Man to what we’ve done with the Nordic combined program,” he said. “It’s neat that they recognized Steamboat’s role in skiing in the United States.

“I would recommend everybody go down and see it. … The rest of the museum is really cool.”

In addition to Steamboat Springs, the Colorado Stories exhibit on the second floor offers an interactive look at a Silverton mine, insight into the Ute Indian tribe in Colorado, the heart-wrenching story of the Sand Creek Massacre and inside looks at five more communities across the state.

Statewide collaboration

Bill Convery said Steamboat’s story wasn’t the only thing that drew him in. The resources and support provided by the Tread of Pioneers Museum also were an important motivator.

“They’ve really provided context and reviews of our information,” he said. “They’ve been extremely hospitable.”

Candice Bannister, Tread of Pioneers executive director, said it was an honor working with History Colorado to find photos and other archives to use in the exhibit.

“You can tell they were in agreement that there are so many special intertwined stories here; it really puts Steamboat on the map,” she said. “We’re not similar to any other place in Colorado. It was thrilling they could see it and that they chose it.”

Museum officials even used the ski jumping exhibit in marketing campaigns that included billboards and television spots.

“Think about the thousands of people that are going to go through this exhibit. Some of them have been to Steamboat … and some won’t have been, but they’re all going to learn our unique history,” she said. “I think everyone will have a really special idea of who we are.”

And Bannister thinks a prominent exhibit like this could help bring visitors to Steamboat year-round to explore the area’s cultural heritage.

“It’s such a big jump forward,” she said.

To reach Nicole Inglis call 970-871-4204 or email

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.