Free ski days at Howelsen Hill scheduled to start Dec. 17 |

Free ski days at Howelsen Hill scheduled to start Dec. 17

Skiers come down Howelsen Hill on opening day in 2011.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Howelsen Hill will kick off its 102nd ski season Saturday morning with very limited terrain and no Nordic trails.

But the real fun at the city's historic ski hill is expected to start in just a few weeks on Dec. 17.

That's when the city expects to kick off its first free skiing Sunday of the season.

The City Council earlier this year decided to increase the number of the Sunday free ski days as a way to celebrate the upcoming Winter Olympics and the city's strong connection to the games.

City officials will release a calendar of the free ski days in early December, but Howelsen Hill supervisor Brad Setter said there will be around a dozen of the free skiing days between mid-December and closing day March 11.

The city hopes the new free skiing events ultimately increase the usage of the park.

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Free skiing days last season brought more than 500 people to the hill on some Sundays.

On Saturday, Howelsen will turn on the Schnackenberg Poma at 10 a.m., and it will continue to operate Tuesdays through Sundays during operating hours.

Alpine terrain will be limited during opening week to the expert trail that goes down a portion of the face of Howelsen.

No beginner or intermediate terrain will be available on opening day.

"With the forecasted weather pattern, I don't foresee any new lifts or terrain for at least a week," Setter said in a news release. "Please help us work toward getting additional terrain ready for the season by staying off closed trails and all snowmaking snow piles."

Residents and visitors can learn more about Howelsen's operating hours and purchase tickets and season passes by visiting or calling 970-879-8499.

Nordic skiers who are waiting to hit the hill can call the Nordic Hotline at 970-871-7084.