Geologists start new survey of Howelsen Hill |

Geologists start new survey of Howelsen Hill

Crews work in 2015 to stabilize a part of Howelsen Hill that was damaged by a spring mudslide.
Scott Franz

— The city of Steamboat Springs has launched a mission to better understand what is happening below the surface of its historic ski hill.

To try to give the city a grasp of the forces at play behind landslides, geologists with Yeh and Associates are compiling soils data from years past and working to map out Howelsen Hill’s previous movements.

In the coming months, it is likely new testing holes will be drilled into the soil of the hill and new monitoring equipment added.

The city hopes the information will ultimately help guide future repairs to the hill and also give officials a better understanding of what causes the major landslides so they might be better prevented in the future.

All of the work is part of a comprehensive geotechnical analysis of the ski hill ordered by the Steamboat Springs City Council, which has had to sign some big checks in recent years to repair landslide damage.

The city’s elected officials want to better gauge what risks lie beneath the hill.

With underground hot springs, a sulphur cave and other unique features, city leaders have had a hard time grasping how activity under the hill is leading to big movements in the earth.

“This is a very complex little spot,” city facilities manager Steve Hoots said Monday. “It’s not a straightforward geologic structure. We get all these different soil types and weird water flows.”

Hoots said right off the bat, the consulting firm that is performing the soil study of the hill suggested the city will need to install some new equipment to monitor such things as earth movement and groundwater levels.

In February, the city convened a panel of local experts to discuss the geology of Howelsen and steps that could be taken to prevent future landslides.

Geologists said with as much as two to three feet of unconsolidated top soil above a layer of clay above the bedrock, the conditions on Howelsen are too prime to prevent all future landslides.

But experts still had ideas about how to prevent some.

For example, Kelly Conlfer, owner of Western Bionomics, said planting small shrubs and grasses with deeper roots on parts of Howelsen could help prevent soil from sliding.

And Brian Len, of Northwest Colorado consultants, said a good strategy would be to reduce the amount of water that runs below the surface of the hill. Finding the sources of that water could be a valuable find in an upcoming soils study.

Hoots said Yeh and Associates, based in Glenwood Springs, will give the City Council a preliminary report on Aug. 2.

The initial stage of the work, which involves mapping previous data and identifying places where new drill holes should be made for testing, is to cost the city no more than $22,630.

Hoots hopes that in late summer or early fall, the city will be able to start discussing some recommendations from the geologists and get an idea of what improvements and monitoring equipment on the hill might cost.

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

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