Tom Ross: Digging into the nitty gritty of Winter Carnival history

Tom Ross
Tom Ross

— The glorious history of Steam­­boat Springs’ Winter Carnival is so familiar that Claudius Banks and his son Jon, the lighted men, and Norwegian ski jumper and stonemason, Carl Howel­­sen, who changed Steam­­boat forever, are permanent figures in local lore.

However, I would submit that if you aspire to become a true local, you would do well to kill an hour in the Tread of Pioneers Museum poring over Winter Carnival minutiae. Where else could you find an original commemorative paper placemat of the 50th Win­­ter Carnival in 1963? It was sponsored by long-gone businesses such as the Skee Inn Cafe, The Dor­­o­thy Shop, Lucky Liquors (734 Lincoln Ave.) and Boys Super Market. It’s a real treasure.

Most are familiar with the ski history collection in the Tread at Oak and Eighth streets. And you’ve likely been through the Victorian rooms in the museum. But too many Steamboat devotees are unaware that they have access to the museum’s research room, full of file cabinets packed with historical documents, videos and oral histories preserved on CDs.

That’s where I spent part of Friday afternoon, scanning newspaper clippings and carefully typed results from Winter Carnivals of the 1950s and ’60s.

And that’s where I found a copy of the winter 1966 issue of Men of Action magazine bearing a photograph of a skier being pulled down Lincoln Avenue by a cowboy on horseback in the skijoring events.

The subhead on the cover reads: “There’s a law against this.”

The magazine article goes on to explain that the Colorado Legislature had passed a law against skijoring on public highways because the burgeoning pastime was causing too many near wrecks. However, once every winter, skijoring is legal on Steamboat’s main street.

Did you know that the Winter Carnival queen during the 53rd carnival in 1966 was 16-year-old Sanse Neish? The Rocky Mountain News ran a photograph of Sanse that year wearing a crown fashioned out of ski tips.

“Not since Skeeter Werner has a Steamboat girl piled up such a record on the junior ski course of the country,” the Rocky wrote about Miss Neish.

That also was the year that the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad ran a special passenger train from Denver to Steamboat and back on Sunday for the Winter Carnival, allowing Front Range enthusiasts to catch the majority of the skiing events without having to make the long, snowy drive.

Steamboat had some curious guest accommodations for Winter Carnival celebrants and competitors from distant cities in the 1950s. A newspaper article in 1959 promised that visitors would have room to sleep in Steam­­boat’s schools and vacant storefronts as well as in the county’s equipment storage shop. And they would be made extra comfortable thanks to the loan of 200 cots and 400 blankets from Fitz­­simmons Hospital in Denver.

If you want to know who won the women’s slalom race in 1954, you can look up the name of Ann Otteson, of Denver University, at the Tread of Pioneers. By the way, a future publisher of the Steamboat Pilot named Chuck Leckenby, racing for the University of Colorado, won the men’s B slalom that year.

Three of the best skiers in city history swept the top three places in the ring and spear competition during the 44th Winter Carnival in 1957. Loris Werner took the race, pulled by a horse ridden by L. Lighthizer. Delby Heid was second, and future downhill champion Jim “Moose” Barrows settled for third.

Delby isn’t around anymore, but Moose and Loris could settle that old score during this year’s Winter Carnival. Who wouldn’t like to see that?

If you find yourself tempted to dig into Winter Carnival history, call ahead to 970-879-2214 to let the museum know you are coming. That way a curator can be on hand to orient you to the collection. They’ll give you a cute pair of white cotton gloves so you can handle the historic documents with care.

I promise it will be an hour or two well spent.

And if you spot Sanse at the Night Extravaganza this year, tell her I said “hello.”

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