City outlines possible changes to Howelsen Hill operating plan |

City outlines possible changes to Howelsen Hill operating plan

Scott Franz
Snowmaking guns blow snow at the Howelsen Hill Ski Area. The historic downtown Steamboat Springs fixture will open for the season at 10 a.m. Saturday.
John F. Russell

The city of Steamboat Springs’ Parks and Community Services Department has outlined possible changes to the operating plan for Howelsen Hill the department think could reduce the park’s annual subsidy and strengthen the city’s reputation as Ski Town USA.

The department’s recommendations for the century-old ski hill include installing more consistent skiing hours for the public, keeping the park as a training ground for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and other local youths and creating new gravity-defying amenities to draw more visitors and revenue during the summer.

The city would continue to operate Howelsen.

In a report recently delivered to the Steamboat Springs City Council, the parks and rec department outlined four options for the future of Howelsen, ranging from turning operations completely to the Sports Club to offering free skiing at the city park.

The plan being recommended by parks staff would allow a private operator to start a new ski school at Howelsen, construct a new aerial adventure course and zipline for summer use and add new features to make the park a more appealing place for children’s skiing lessons.

The report from the department suggests Howelsen could host ski lessons for children and families who are priced out of the market at the larger ski areas.

City officials expect the combined efforts would require a capital investment of about $1 million and hold the potential to reduce the park’s subsidy from the general fund by $391,000.

Staff acknowledges the plan wouldn’t be a slam dunk.

Winter and summer marketing efforts could fail, staff acknowledged, and the staff thinks user conflicts between the public and the Sports Club could increase after the changes.

The City Council will discuss the operations at Howelsen on Tuesday in the first of multiple workshop sessions called to map out the park’s future.

The future of Howelsen has become a hot topic in Citizens Hall in recent months, especially as the city has received several costly repair bills from landslides on the hill.

Council members recently withheld $750,000 to stabilize the earth around the ski jumps, because they first wanted to undertake a comprehensive soil study to gauge the prospect of future slides.

The city and the Sports Club are also in the early stages of discussing possible changes to a nearly 30-year-old joint use agreement for the ski hill.

A draft master plan was created for the park last year, but further consideration of the plan has been postponed by the city’s parks and recreation commission until a new working group has time to explore alternative funding sources for recreation amenities in the region.

In October, Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne expressed concern about the future of the hill and urged the city to take a more strategic approach to maintaining and improving it.

“The next 100 years are not guaranteed if we don’t start doing the right things today,” Boyne told Steamboat Today. “We’ve got to start looking ahead, because I’m watching it erode before my eyes, and it would be great to feel better about the City Council’s commitment to making sure we preserve it and revere it the way it should be.”

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

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