Holding onto heritage: Winter Carnival street events help community grasp onto its western identity | SteamboatToday.com

Holding onto heritage: Winter Carnival street events help community grasp onto its western identity

A Steamboat Springs child is pulled behind a horse during a past Winter Carnival.
Derek Maiolo / Steambot Pilot & Today file photo

Shane Yeager remembers his days as a young child being pulled on skis down Lincoln Avenue by a rancher on a horse.

Decades later, Yeager has pulled kids who’ve grown up, he’s pulled their kids and now, their grandkids.

“This is something my family has done forever,” Yeager said. “This is what separates Steamboat from the other ski towns.”

After taking a hiatus due to COVID-19 in 2021, the annual Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival has returned in full force and will kick off Wednesday, Feb. 9, with street events on Saturday, Feb. 12. Kids in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club ski down Lincoln Avenue, with a rancher on a horse pulling them through the street, which is blocked off for cars.

Yeager said his family has been participating in the tradition since at least 1933, as that’s as far back as he can trace their records, though the family arrived in the Yampa Valley in the 1800’s.

“COVID canceled on us last year,” Yeager said. “Hopefully, we can pull it off this year without any trouble.“

Rory Clow, marketing and communications director for the Winter Sports Club, said the street events are a way to shut out the busyness of everyday life and take a break for fun.

“In an era where streets are dangerous and filled with fast-moving cars and pedestrians, the contrast of an event held in the street with galloping horses and skiers brings adrenaline to the athletes who are lucky enough to register for the exciting events,” Clow said. “It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be pulled down Lincoln Avenue behind a horse.”

For Yeager and Doug Wheeler, both longtime ranchers, the event is one of the few that has stayed true to Steamboat’s western heritage, which they believe is rapidly slipping away.

“Steamboat was built on western heritage, and we feel very strongly about trying to keep that here,” Wheeler said. “We were brought up that way, and we’re trying to hold that together.”

Though Winter Carnival is a town tradition, Wheeler and Yeager believe it’s one of Steamboat’s last that truly represents the olden days of the city, before it was a worldfamous ski destination with thousands of tourists visiting each month.

Wheeler and Yeager remember when the summer rodeo series involved locals, rather than professionals from around the country, Cowboy Downhill was a much smaller event than it is now and the July 4 parade was a true local’s event.

As their families go back centuries in the valley, the two have fond memories of every town tradition.

“You name it, we’ve done it,” Wheeler said. “We want to keep it together and let us do our thing.”

While Wheeler said he is glad Steamboat is recognized as such a wonderful place to be, he feels that the small-town atmosphere and friendly connection between everyone in town is not as strong as it once was.

“We grew up where you knew everybody, you went and helped the neighbors, and if we see you off in a ditch somewhere, we stop and help you,” Wheeler said. “A lot of people won’t do that anymore.”

Yeager said the Winter Carnival is an opportunity for the ranching community and the skiing community — Steamboat’s two identities — to come together and celebrate each other.

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