City moves forward with Howelsen chairlift replacement, efforts to remedy soil slippage

The area of the Third Exit on the face of Howelsen Hill has been failing for the past four years, according to city staff.
Courtesy/City of Steamboat Springs

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Work is slated to proceed this summer to correct the years of land slippage on Howelsen Hill Ski Area and to replace the Barrows Chairlift.

Steamboat Springs City Council members discussed the multimillion-dollar project at a work session Tuesday and ultimately directed city staff to move forward with following recommendations for soil work and the chairlift replacement.

A part of council’s discussion of the project, however, dealt with city staff not securing a request for proposal for engineering on the soil work, a concern raised by council member Heather Sloop.

“(I) would rather roll the dice for one more season and get a bid in place instead of going with them because ‘everybody likes each other and works together,’” Sloop told her fellow council members.

Sloop explained the problem being the staff’s lack of putting the soil work out for bid and instead opting for the “only contractor we reached out to.”

“Anything above a $50,000 threshold needs to go to RFP (request for proposal),” Sloop said. “I don’t think this is isolated.”

Costs were nearly $500,000 for remediation work at the Third Exit area of Howelsen’s face. That work is to be completed by GeoStabilization International, a Colorado-based geohazard mitigation firm, also referred to as GSI. The city had used the company extensively in the past.

Sloop noted it was a massive amount of money, and she said to not first have a request for proposal to potentially attract other firms and obtain the best price for the work made her uncomfortable.

While it was the majority of the council’s decision to move forward without a request for proposal and to utilize GeoStabalization International, Council President Jason Lacy joined other council members in highlighting the need for the city to seek requests for proposals on projects moving forward.

It was the consensus of council that if a request for proposal was now sought, work on the Howelsen Hill project would likely be pushed from this summer and costs could potentially increase.

For the replacement of the Barrows Chairlift, council was presented with two options. One quote obtained from Austria-based Doppelmayr/Garaventa, the manufacturer of the new gondola at Steamboat Resort, was $3.03 million and a second quote from Utah-based Skytrac was almost $30,000 less.

The city had previously earmarked $1.65 million for the chairlift project with expected contributions of $1.5 million from the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Excess 2A lodging tax funds are expected to be the primary source of city funding. Funding must be secured from the Winter Sports Club to make a down payment and finance site preparation work this year, according to city staff.

Moving electric to the top of the lift, relocating infrastructure and clearing the new lift alignment of trees and brush are all items that should be completed this year, before the lift replacement in 2021, according to city staff. Plans include moving the location of the lift several yards to the west.

The new line alignment for the Barrows Chairlift is marked in red, with its current alignment in yellow.
Courtesy/City of Steamboat Springs

Council members asked for more information about both chairlift manufacturers that submitted bids, namely what projects they’ve completed in the region, to make a more informed decision at a future date.

For the city’s soil work project, the Third Exit area and Eastside ski run on the face of Howelsen Hill were the two major areas identified by staff for remediation, which is to be completed by the end of the summer.

Soil instability has been an ongoing challenge at Howelsen Hill, according to the city. This spring saw several historic areas of soil movement destabilized. A capital improvement project funded through the 2019 capital improvement project process was approved to help preserve Howelsen Hill infrastructure.

Work on the Eastside ski run was initially suggested in an effort to avoid further soil movement into seasonal drainage. In 2005, such an instance resulted in a mud flow that moved down the hill and ended in the Howelsen Tunnel on the Yampa River Core Trail.

“This is the type of thing we’re trying to avoid on the Eastside,” said Brad Setter, Howelsen Ski and Rodeo manager.

But recent analysis of that particular slide area suggested less of a potential for catastrophic failure than once thought, he said. Based upon that assessment and cuts to capital project funding due to COVID-19 impacts, city staff opted to forgo any remediation in the Eastside area. Staff instead recommended the area just be regraded and revegetated. The land’s continued creep would be expected and should be considered an annual maintenance item.

The Third Exit area, however, had even larger soil movement, according to Setter. Its slippage had been occurring for several years. To remedy that area, engineers suggested mechanical slope stabilization by drilling anchors into the mountain and attaching a chain link fence material to compact the land.

Infrastructure, including one of the Poma lift’s towers and a light pole, are in the area if a slide were to occur. Those repairs would be costly, according to Setter.

The soil stabilization project for the Third Exit area will proceed using capital improvement funds combined with unspent funds from other Steamboat Parks and Recreation projects.

To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email

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