Clark couple buys chair off Howelsen lift, returning it to its original home near Steamboat Lake

The view from the road of Rich and Jolene Lunsford’s property, which is part of the former Steamboat Lake Ski Area in North Routt County. (Photo courtesy of Rich Lunsford)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Rich and Jolene Lunsford always knew they wanted to live in the mountains. The two grew up in military families and have lived all over the country, but they always hoped to retire in the Yampa Valley. They had no idea the Clark property they bought was home to a rich piece of Routt County history.

Several days after moving into their new home in 1992, the couple was exploring the mountains surrounding their home and found an access road and a series of concrete blocks, which looked like they could have once been the base of a chairlift.

After more research, Rich discovered their property used to house the former Steamboat Lake Ski Area, which was built near Pearl Lake and included two chairlifts and a vertical drop of 600 feet, about half as much as the Howelsen Hill Ski Area.

However, the Steamboat Lake Ski Area, managed by Steamboat Olympian Gordy Wren, closed in 1973 before it officially opened.

“We ended up buying the land not knowing that it used to be a ski resort,” Rich said.

Soon after making the discovery, the Lunsfords dove deep into Routt County history and discovered the chairlifts that had been used on what is now their property were now being used at Howelsen.

Several weeks ago, Rich saw that city parks and recreation staff, who manage Howelsen Park, would be conducting a silent auction for chairs on the Barrows Chairlift before installing a new lift this summer.

“We heard the Howelsen chairs were up for bidding, and we had to figure out a way, hell or highway, to do it,” he said. “We had no idea that we were going to get one of those 49 chairs.”

The city received 660 bids for the 49 chairs, so the Lunsfords said they felt very lucky — particularly since they felt it was extremely important to return a chair to its original home.

While the chairs are old, Jolene said the two want to keep it exactly in its original condition to recreate the authenticity of the original Steamboat Lake Ski Area.

“It just is so sentimental to bring an original chair back to the mountain where it came from,” Jolene said. “We love to celebrate the history that we have here.”

Concrete blocks that were part of a chairlift at the former Steamboat Lake Ski Area. (Photo courtesy of Rich Lunsford)

In summer 2020, the Lunsfords had a logger come onto the property and cut trails that lead up the road to the former ski area. When they pick up the chair Wednesday, they plan to put it at the top of the trail for those on the property and passersby to see.

“I never thought that having a chair from a chair lift would be so important in our lives, but we were determined to return it to its original place,” Rich said. “We knew we were going to make it happen.”

While the couple has not figured out the exact details of how the chair will sit, they are discussing placing it in line with the concrete blocks on the property so that it overlooks the road.

“Our intent is to keep it looking exactly as it does, with no repaints and no changes,” Rich said.

Jolene said the chair will fit well with the couple’s passion for Routt County history, which she said they uncover a new piece of every time they explore their property.

“Every time we hike around it, we discover where a run used to be or where cat tracks used to be,” Jolene said. “It’s always been like a scavenger hunt that’s turned into a little treasure hunt with all of the things we’ve collected over the years.”


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