80 years of Winter Carnival: Traditions are big part of Heid’s legacy
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With his cowboy hat and trademark elk hide duster, 83-year-old Ray Heid is the rugged icon that has come to represent Steamboat Springs’ western heritage.
The lines on his face reveal the experiences of love and adventure he has collected over the years, but its the childish twinkle in his eyes as he talks about the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival that reveals his passion for the signature event.
“I have a photograph were I was 3 or 4 years old, and I’m wearing a little bib I think that was for a skating type race in the Winter Carnival,” Heid said. “So it’s probably 80 years ago that I started participating in the Winter Carnival, and it was a big event.
“The first pictures I’ve got there’s not an automobile in the pictures anywhere, but lots of people, wagons and hay wagons,” Heid continued. “That’s when the jumping was on Woodchuck Hill, then they moved it over to Howelsen Hill the next year.”
In the middle of the winter, when Routt County ranchers had not gotten to town for anything except absolute necessities, Heid said the Winter Carnival was a great excuse to visit Steamboat and for the community to come together. It also provided an opportunity for the children to test their skills in cross-country relay races, jumping or being pulled down Lincoln Avenue in events like the ring and spear — one of Heid’s favorites.
“The same thing they are doing now they were doing in the early 1940s,” Heid said. “My favorite thing was of course the night shows. We always had the flares from the railroad, and every pair of skis I ever owned had burn marks from the flares, and most of my clothes did as well.”
He also remembers being pulled out of school the week of Winter Carnival to work on sculptures created from the nearly 7-foot high banks that were left by the plows clearing main street.
For the Heids, including his older brother Corkey and younger brother Delby, the Winter Carnival events were a place to make memories — a tradition passed down through the Heid family for six generations.
Heid’s new book, “Ray Heid: Man Behind the Duster,” documents much of the family’s history in the Yampa Valley going back to his great-grandfather Grouse Creek Jones, who homesteaded just south of Steamboat in the 1890s. His mother Ruby Ralston was sister to Hazie Werner and Bonita Bristol.
Heid grew up in the shadow of Howelsen Hill and was part of a generation of children who grew up with the boat tow.
“Ma would leave us over there all day and let us play around,” Heid said. “I remember one night I rode (the boat tow) clear to the top, and when I got to the top, it was dark. I guess I sat down and cried for a while because I was scared and somebody came by and said, ’Ray they’re going to turn the lights off here in a little bit, so you better go down.’ I set up my skis, and by the time I got to the bottom, I couldn’t wait to turn right around and go back up.”
It was a strong start for the young Steamboat skier who skied four years on the University of Wyoming ski team — a team that placed third in the NCAA Championships during a time when skiers competed in downhill, slalom, cross-country and ski jumping.
He was offered a job as an assistant coach with the Wyoming team when he was wrapping up his final credits for his college degree and then the following year took a position as the head coach
In 1964, Heid went to Winter Park to work on a master’s thesis on ski area management and development, but before he completed it, he relocated to New Mexico where he taught members of the Mescalero Apache tribe to operate the Sierra Blanca Ski Resort, which today is known as Ski Apache.
Heid only expected to spend a few months on the job, but he ended up meeting his wife, Franziska (Valentin) Heid.
Heid would manage and became a partner in three ski shops in Sierra Blanca, and then he and a partner acquired four more ski shops in Breckenridge. But he said his heart never really left the Yampa Valley, and he visited frequently with his wife and children to help with his brother Delby’s ranch in North Routt.
“I’d come up every summer and help him do his summer pack trips,” Heid said. “He introduced the kids (daughter Hillary and son Perk) to the back country and packing on horses. I would come up every fall and help him with hunting season.”
When Delby passed away in 1985, the family invited Heid and his son Perk to come back and run the ranch. The first winter Heid also worked as a groomer on the mountain, but business boomed after placing an ad in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Heid said.
Now, Del’s Triangle 3 offers scenic trail rides in all seasons. The ranch has built a following with visitors, and Heid is well known for his famous western hospitality.
“I ride horses for a living six days a week, I ride for the fun of it on Sunday, and when I go on vacation, I load up my horses and go someplace else and ride,” Heid said. “They call me a cowboy, but I’ve never owned a cow in my life.”
The Heid family’s Winter Carnival traditions run deep.
“I’m the fourth generation, my kids are the fifth and my grandkids are now the sixth generation,” Heid said.
Daughter Hillary was a Winter Carnival attendant and his granddaughter Sawyer was a princess. Heid knows that this year’s events will look different because of COVID-19, but he has hope.
“I mean it’s the 108th Winter Carnival, and I’ve participated in almost 80 of them over the years,” Heid said. “I never thought we would see Steamboat without a Winter Carnival. It’s just really hard to try to fit everything in and figure out how we’re going do this. It’s going to be interesting.”
This year’s Winter Carnival will be held Feb. 3 through Feb. 7 with a different schedule of activities planned with COVID-19 health protocols in place.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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