Cost of Howelsen Hill maintenance gives some city council members pause
Steamboat Springs — Some Steamboat Springs City Council members appear hesitant to spend $880,000 over the next two years to stabilize and protect the ski jumps on the city’s historic ski hill.
The proposed project would use soil nailing to protect the ski jumps on the hill from landslides. Some old gabion baskets that serve as retention walls near the jumps also need to be replaced.
Before the budget proposal comes back next month, council members want to learn more about the overall geology of Howelsen Hill, dig more into the scope of the proposed repairs and also look at the city’s legal obligations for operating and maintaining the hill.
“I’d like to see an engineering opinion on what this money gets us and what the potential is for future slides,” councilman Tony Connell said Tuesday night as the council reviewed a proposed six-year capital improvement program that included significant maintenance on Howelsen.
As maintenance and repair bills have mounted on the hill, some council members have appeared to question whether maintaining the current level of operations at Howelsen is worth the large capital cost.
The future funding of Howelsen is poised to become a work session topic for the council.
Connell pondered what the capital budget for the hill would look like if the skiing at the hill was more limited or if the downhill ski area was ended altogether.
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Director Jim Boyne addressed the council again on Tuesday about the maintenance on the hill.
He urged the city to think more strategically and proactively about the maintenance on the hill and not resort to “patchwork.”
He noted the city has not saved and set aside capital funds to replace some 20-year-old infrastructure near the ski jumps that is now failing and in need of replacement.
“We want to be a good partner here, but I also think you need to look at this over the longer term,” Boyne told the council. “When you have a 20-year replacement on a repair, and there’s nothing done to fund it, $800,000 is a lot of money. But shouldn’t we have been accruing that over a longer period of time like we do with a lot of other things?”
The city recently started setting aside $45,000 each year for possible slide repairs, but staff has quickly learned that budget is not close to being sufficient.
“I can’t emphasize enough the historic value of Howelsen Hill and what it provides to all of the youth here and the residents of the community,” Boyne said.
The city is legally obligated to maintain the hill.
City staff is proposing to stabilize the area around the ski jumps on the hill with soil nails. Some old infrastructure, which is helping to stabilize the steep slopes above the HS 75/45 takeoffs, is failing, and there are also plans to improve the drainage on the face of the hill to try to prevent future slides.
The scope of the upcoming repairs continues to give some council members reason to pause.
“We’re seeing an amount here that’s more than we allocate for fixing roads, which is a core service,” councilman Scott Ford said. “I certainly understand the importance of the hill. We’ve got to understand this thing a whole lot better…This whole hillside is geologically active, and I’m not too sure $750,000 fixes it.”
Councilwoman Sonja Macys asked whether there were other things that needed to be addressed on the hill while the work is done next year.
“What I’m trying to understand is are (these repairs) going to get us where we need to go or are we going to be in the same spot?” Macys said. “If we’re going to be disrupting and moving earth…are there other things that need to be addressed to make this place more complete?”
The city spent $355,000 this year to repair damage from a spring mudslide that shifted a lift tower on the hill and displaced parts of the Alpine slide.
In the last decade, the city has spent a total of $730,000 to repair damage from six landslides, according to city staff.
Howelsen sees an average of 13,000 skier days a year.
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