Free Ski Sundays attracting record crowds to Steamboat’s historic Howelsen Hill

The Stone family of Steamboat Springs finishes up a day of skiing during Howelsen Hill’s Ski Free Sunday. Skiing is free on Sundays through March 11.
Matt Stensland

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — New Year’s Eve was one of the busiest ski days Howelsen Hill has seen in years, and according to Craig Robinson, the city’s parks, open space and trails manager, it’s a sure sign that free skiing Sundays have found a following in Steamboat Springs.

“It’s a very large number and probably one of the largest ever where everybody that was at the facility was on snow versus an event where you might have a lot of people down there but only the racers are on snow,” Robinson said. “So that was huge.”

On the final day of 2017, 872 skiers and snowboarders cruised down the slopes of the downtown ski area. 

“We are really excited about it, ” said Steamboat Springs City Council President Jason Lacy. “That’s exactly what we wanted to see. We wanted to increase that access and make people remember that Howelsen Hill is the crown jewel of our parks system.”

The holiday numbers were the highest since Free Ski Sundays began on Dec. 17, 2017. On that day, 204 skiers and riders took advantage of the free skiing offered by the city. That number jumped to 412 the second week and then rose to 872 on New Year’s Eve. Numbers were still strong last weekend with 458 skiers heading to Howelsen at the end of the holidays.

“In the middle of December, conditions were not great, so we were not seeing a lot of people coming out skiing,” Robinson said.

The free ski days also seem to be drawing more skiers to the hill on days when skiers and snowboarders pay regular price for lift tickets — $25 for adults, $15 for seniors and youth age 6 to 18 and $8 for children, 5 and younger. 

The ski area sold 133 tickets on Jan. 1 and had sold 43 tickets before 2 p.m. Monday. 

Lacy said the numbers show the support the ski area has in Steamboat.

“I think that is exactly what the council wanted to see,” Lacy said. “I think it’s a good sign given the subpar snow conditions that we have seen, so far that people are still coming out, and we really want to make sure that we maximize the utilization for the public at the park. If we can continue to see numbers like that, I think we are having real success.”

The Steamboat Springs City Council approved free skiing on Sundays in October 2017 as a way to celebrate the upcoming Winter Olympics and recognize Howelsen Hill’s long history and role in helping to produce more than 90 Olympians. The council also wanted to offer free skiing as a way to gauge public support for the downtown ski area.

Free Ski Sundays continue through March 11 as long as conditions allow.

Those wanting to take advantage of the free ski days can stop by the lodge to pick up a free lift ticket, which is required to access the lifts and Nordic trails. Some Sundays could see limited or closed terrain due to special events and competitions.

To learn more about Howelsen’s operating hours or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit or call 970-879-8499.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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