City of Steamboat’s free ski day at Howelsen Hill Ski Area popular with young families
What's not to like about free skiing?
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs renewed its love affair with the Howelsen Hill Ski Area Friday as hundreds of people turned out for a free ski day at the oldest continuously operated ski area west of the Mississippi River.
With fresh snow on the hill and blue skies above, young families, snowboard dudes and infrequent skiers mingled with rising competitive skiers clad in brightly colored, skin-tight racing suits as they all queued up at the Poma lift operated by the city of Steamboat Springs.
A walk through the crowded lodge where skiers of every ability level lined up to claim their free ski passes, several foreign languages could be overheard.
Don McNasby, a former ski racer at Vermont’s Green Mountain School, was at Howelsen with his youngsters, ages 13, 10 and 8. The McNasby family will be doing all of its skiing this winter at the ski area just across the Yampa River from downtown Steamboat.
“For a young family, this is much more affordable,” than skiing on Mt. Werner, McNasby said.
His family has returned to Steamboat after a five-year hiatus while he served two combat tours in Iraq.
Elisa Maines said her two children are both enrolled in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club — one is an Alpine racer and the other is a ski jumper. This is their seventh ski season in Steamboat, and they have passes for both Howelsen and Steamboat Ski Area.
“The kids love it at Howelsen,” Maines said.
Howelsen Hill is a city park, and there was a party vibe in the air Friday with the folks from Steamboat Radio broadcasting an eclectic set that transitioned from Mickey Dolenz and the Monkees to Mick Jagger and the Stones.
Longtime ski patroller Bo Stempel, who is doing spot duty this winter, wished out loud that Howelsen Hill would be as busy as it was Dec. 23 more often.
“It’s just a treat to see so many young kids and families here,” Stemple said.
Steamboat Springs Director of Parks, Open Space and Recreation John Overstreet was also pleased with the turnout. His staff in the lodge was keeping track of attendance but too busy handing out bright orange tickets to tally them until later. Previous free ski days have attracted 400 to 500 skiers and riders.
“It’s so awesome to have people from all over the world here and coming out to this special place,” Overstreet said. “Days like this remind us how good this could be.”
Asked if there is a sweet spot between a free ski day and full-price lift tickets ($25 for adults; $15 for youth) that could keep Howelsen busy more consistently, Overstreet pointed to the “First Tracks Special” that offers $10 lift tickets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, with the same rate four evenings a week.
Winnie DelliQuadri, the city of Steamboat’s manager of government programs, said Friday’s turnout was what City Council had hoped for.
“This is an amazing city park, and Steamboat has an amazing skiing heritage,” DelliQuadri said. “City Council wanted to make sure everybody had the opportunity to experience our heritage and come out and ski for free.”
Council members might appreciate how the Rowan family feels about skiing at Howelsen Hill.
Susie Rowan said, for her clan, “Howelsen Hill is our feel-good place.”
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