City braces for costly Howelsen Hill repair bill

Scott Franz
The remnants of a spring landslide on Howelsen Hill are visible next to the Alpine slide. The landslide is believed to have moved one of the chairlift towers and shifted some of the tracks on the slide.
Scott Franz

— Howelsen Hill is very restless this mud season.

“With all the rain, it’s still moving,” City Manager Deb Hinsvark said Monday of the city’s historic but notoriously unstable ski hill. “It’s not even dry enough right now to look at what this year’s final slump will look like.”

A small spring landslide on the saddle of the hill damaged a lift tower and the Alpine slide.

The shifting earth moved the tower and displaced some of the tracks on the slide that is known as “The Howler.”

Because of the damage, Hinsvark said the popular summer attraction on the hill won’t open Memorial Day weekend as it usually does.

The Steamboat Springs City Council also could have a tough decision to make next month when it finally gets the bill.

The city is bracing for a six-figure repair bill, and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which operates the slide in partnership with the city, is hoping everything can be fixed in time for the ride to open sometime before July 4.

But a lift tower needs to be relocated and The Howler needs to be fixed before that can happen.

The Alpine slide provides the Winter Sports Club with a source of revenue and also provides its members with summer jobs.

“We do believe if we open before the Fourth of July, the impact won’t be significant from a funding standpoint,” Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne said. “We’re also looking at alternative funding sources in the event that it doesn’t open until much later or not at all. We’re hopeful that’s not going to happen.”

Boyne said a little more than 60,000 people slid down The Howler last year, while just under 60,000 riders went down in 2013.

The Howler opened in summer 2000.

City staff is in the process of compiling more information about recent utilization of the chairlift during the winter so the council will have it when it considers the repair costs.

The city also has called together a team of experts in the fields of soil engineering and lift mechanics to assess the latest landslide on Howelsen and give the city some options for repairs.

Hinsvark said the city should have some options to consider within two weeks.

“It’s going to be a six-figure cost,” she said.

Hinsvark recently told the council repairs likely cannot start until June 1. But first, the council will have to consider the bill.

The city estimates it has already spent $730,000 repairing at least six landslides on Howelsen throughout the past 10 years.

Council member Kenny Reisman said last week he wants to see data on the chairlift’s usage before he considers a “big spend” to repair the hill.

He suggested that if the repair is costly enough and the council finds the utilization of the chairlift isn’t high enough, the council should consider asking whether Howelsen should be a “poma-only hill.”

The council is likely to discuss the Howelsen repairs and their cost by June 2.

Hinsvark said the lift is mostly used by the Winter Sports Club, and she believes most of its use comes in the summer when Alpine slide riders use it to get up the hill.

Boyne said if the slide doesn’t open, it will negatively impact both the club’s finances and the community.

He said the summer attraction brings in tourists, provides jobs and keeps the park busy in the summer.

“The cost of the repair is important, but we’ve got to keep in mind that the chairlift serves multiple purposes,” he said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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