Winter Carnival 2015: A close connection |

Winter Carnival 2015: A close connection

Howelsen Hill and Winter Sports Club are tightly bound

Steamboat Pilot Archives

For generations the history of Howelsen Hill and the legacy of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club have been joined in a lengthy partnership that has resulted in Olympic celebrations and has long been a source of pride for town residents.

“I’m not sure how long the offices of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club have been at Howelsen Hill,” said lifelong local and former ski racer Pete Wither. “But it’s been the home of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for as long as I can remember.”

Wither’s father, Bob, first joined the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in 1921 at age 6. He was a lifelong member and supported the club in many roles long after his skiing days had ended.

While some things have changed since then, Pete Wither said the basic idea to provide a place where children in Steamboat Springs can learn the basics of winter sports has never wavered. He said children gathered at Howelsen when his dad was young, they gathered at Howelsen Hill when he was a child, and they still gather there today.

“I can still remember walking over to Howelsen Hill to ski after school when I was a kid,” Wither said. “The area where the parking lot and ball fields are now was a swamp, but it froze over in the winter, and we could just walk across it. We would ski from after school until 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. and then we would go home, have dinner and then go to bed.”

According to Wither, dry land training included gathering willow sticks from the swamp area that surrounded Howelsen in the fall, so that they could be used as race gates in the winter.

“I could never get used to the new break-a-day poles they use today,” Wither said. “Back then, you normally made a pretty wide turn around those sticks. If one hit you in the head, and we didn’t wear helmets back then, it would knock you out.”

The roots of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club reach back to the start of the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival.

According to Sureva Towler’s book, “The History of Skiing in Steamboat Springs,” the club was formed in 1914 for the sole purpose of planning and promoting the first winter carnival on Woodchuck Hill. It was a group of local businessmen in the commercial club who agreed to put up prize money for the 1914 carnival and to assume any responsible expense in getting the course in shape for the 1915 carnival.

An executive committee was formed in February 1915 in order to create a permanent club associated with the National Ski Association in order to host the National Jumping Distance Championships in 1916, to build a municipal skating rink and to seek a tax levy to fund Winter Carnival.

In March 1917, a group of loyal boosters set up the Steamboat Springs Ski Club to create the biggest ski club in the country. The women followed suit with the creation of The S.K.I. Club, a ladies auxiliary to the all-male Steamboat Ski Club. In 1927, the two groups merged forming the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

But long before then, young children were busy training and racing at Howelsen Hill.

Throughout the years, the club’s administration has grown and adjusted to meet the community’s needs, but the group’s goal of promoting skiing, especially with the children of the community, has remained consistent. The club, at one level or another, has also always been anchored at Howelsen Hill.

“I can still remember the mothers and other volunteers setting up long registration tables in the fireplace room at Howelsen,” Wither said. “I think there were a few offices upstairs, but it was still pretty laid back.”

Things have changed a bit these days. Upstairs, you will find the offices that house the Winter Sports Club adjacent to Olympian Hall. The Alpine coaches offices are also upstairs, the Nordic coaches offices are downstairs, and the many other disciplines the club now offers are spread throughout the building.

Today’s membership also has grown with more than 1,000 young skiers and snowboarders taking part in the club each winter. Howelsen hosts hundreds of events and skiers from the club travel around the world to national and international competitions.

There is no question that the facilities have changed over the years, but Howelsen’s connection with the Winter Sports Club remains strong thanks to the legacy left behind by skiers like Wither, and their memories of the hill where they learned to ski.

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