How to maneuver Winter Carnival crowds and snag a good view of all the action |

How to maneuver Winter Carnival crowds and snag a good view of all the action

Shari Yeager holds onto her cowboy hat as she pulls a shovel racer down Lincoln Avenue during the 2019 Winter Carnival street events.
File photo/Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The 107th annual Winter Carnival has arrived, bringing thousands of people to downtown Steamboat Springs to witness a range of unique ski town spectacles, from horses pulling adults on shovels down Lincoln Avenue to a firework launch that could break a world record.

The annual celebration has become so popular city officials are ramping up traffic controls this year to increase safety during Saturday’s Street Events and Night Extravaganza. 

To maneuver the crowds and get a prime view of the action, Steamboat Pilot & Today asked organizers to share their tips and tricks for a fun winter weekend.

Street Events

Saturday’s long list of activities begins bright and early at 9 a.m. in downtown Steamboat. People typically flock to the sidewalks along Lincoln Avenue to get a good view of the action, and cars are diverted during the duration of the lighthearted competitions.  

From 8 to 11 a.m., the Knights of Columbus will host their annual pancake breakfast at the Holy Name Catholic Church, 524 Oak St. It offers a free option to fuel up before or during the day’s activities. 

People usually shuffle around during the events, if only to keep warm, so viewing spots open up periodically. Restaurants and shops will be open for the day, and people usually dip in for a snack, a cup of hot chocolate or to restock their supply of hand warmers. 

There will also be opportunities to purchase a $10 Winter Carnival button, which serves as entry to events and benefits the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

Downtown parking will be limited, so people are encouraged to walk or take the free Steamboat Springs Transit buses to get to the street events. 

Night Extravaganza

Crowds become more of a concern during the Night Extravaganza, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, at Howelsen Hill Ski Area. For the first time, officials have developed a traffic management plan, which includes new parking restrictions, according to Rory Clow, marketing director for the SSWSC. The goal is to improve pedestrian safety and emergency services access during the event.


The two parking areas nearest Howelsen Hill Lodge will be closed on Saturday night, Clow said. The large parking lot near the baseball fields will be open, but vehicle access will be restricted from 5 to 9 p.m. to ensure emergency vehicles can get through. An exception allows vehicles with handicap access to enter the area throughout the night.

Clow instead encourages people to park at the Howelsen Ice Arena, the rodeo grounds or downtown. 

There will be a drop-off and turnaround zone in front of the Howelsen Hill tennis courts for athletes and members of the public, Clow added. Shuttle buses can drop off passengers at that location, but they should make arrangements to pick people up along Yampa Street or Lincoln Avenue, she said.

Following the Night Extravaganza, Howelsen Parkway will be closed at the Fifth Street Bridge until pedestrians have left the area, around 9 p.m. Cars parked at the ice arena and rodeo grounds will be routed south down River Road. 

This year, the public is encouraged to take the Fifth Street Bridge after leaving Howelsen Hill to reduce foot traffic along the Ninth Street Bridge.

Avoiding the crowds

Local fireworks aficionado Tim Borden is scheduled to make a much-anticipated attempt at launching the world’s largest aerial firework at the end of the Night Extravaganza. While Borden encourages people to buy a $10 button to support the Winter Sports Club and to get a good viewing spot at the base of Howelsen Hill, it’s not the only place to watch the colorful show.

As Borden said, any spot with an elevated view of the hill will offer a good angle to see the fireworks explode. One popular option is Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs. It does not offer a full view of the night events, such as the Lighted Man or the athletes exhibition, but it does provide a panoramic angle of the larger fireworks bursting above the city lights.

The college itself will be closed on Saturday night, according to front desk receptionist Nadine Bouschard, meaning there will be no access to public bathrooms or water. 

She also advises people to arrive early to get a parking spot. Parking along the narrow streets to and from the college is not allowed, Bouschard added. 

For those wanting to get a closer view of Borden’s firework, weighing in at almost 2,800 pounds, keep in mind that debris from the explosion can send large pieces of cardboard hurtling to the ground. A fallout zone with a radius of about 4,000 feet has been mapped to prevent people from getting hit. Travel into the zone is prohibited during the blast, which will include a brief closure along a portion of River Road, according to Howelsen Hill Manager Brad Setter. 


No matter where people go to watch on Saturday, Clow advises them to dress warm for the night and bring extra layers. Saturday night’s low is expected to be a chilly 11 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. 

She also recommends people leave their dogs at home. Apart from the cold, pets often dislike the noise from fireworks, and the large crowds may add to their anxiety. 

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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