Howelsen Hill had record-breaking winter as ticket, merchandise sales skyrocketed |

Howelsen Hill had record-breaking winter as ticket, merchandise sales skyrocketed

Steamboat locals Genevieve, right, and Sydney Lanham ride up the Barrows Chairlift on the last day of the season at Howelsen Hill on Sunday, April 3.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Howelsen Hill had a big winter this season as Ski Free Sundays were a hit, the new chairlift worked like a dream and ticket sales soared. 

Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby was accompanied by members of her staff as she reviewed the 2021-22 season before Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday, July 12, and sought direction on future projects and opportunities. 

In the 2021-22 season, which was the longest ever at Howelsen Hill, more than 19,000 lift tickets were sold, yielding over $200,000 in revenue, the most ever for the oldest continuously operating ski hill in North America. A little over 1,000 season passes were sold, raking in almost $250,000 in revenue for the city. 

Both numbers were higher than the previous four winters. While season pass sales totals were similar last year — which brought in a little over $230,000 — single-day passes were only about $120,000 in winter 2020-21, and a little less than $50,000 in 2018-19, the last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ski Free Sunday participation was also up, as over 12,000 people took advantage of the free days on Howelsen last winter, compared to the previous four years when the numbers were consistently between 9,400 and 10,400.

Of those 12,000 participants in the free Sunday skiing last winter, the largest demographic consisted of people from other parts of Colorado at 44%. Steamboat locals accounted for about 36%. About 18% were from out of state and almost 2% were from out of the country. 

The biggest addition this past winter was the new chairlift from Skytrac Inc.— a three-chair lift that increased uphill capacity. The lift was funded by several sources including a grant from the VF Corporation, the company that owns Smartwool. The rest of the funding came from the city and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. 

“(It was a) very successful first year of operation,” said Brad Setter, the Howelsen Hill and rodeo manager. 

The Outrun Snack Bar also debuted last winter, expanding the existing concessions booth operating out of the Howelsen Hill lodge. The Outrun Snack Bar included a large menu, a full bar, provided high-top tables for seating and accepted Apple Pay. 

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In previous years, both the ticket office and concessions shared space, but ticketing was moved this year. According to Setter, moving the ticket office to its own building expanded office space for the city’s staff and made the ticket office easier for guests to find.

Merchandise sales almost doubled the previous year’s numbers too. Last winter, merchandise at Howelsen brought in over $11,000, compared to approximately $5,400 that was brought in each of the previous two years. 

“With the ticket office separate from concessions, I think it made merchandise more accessible for people,” said Hayley Powell, the city’s recreation supervisor.

Last year, the staff at Howelsen created a partnership with Ohana, a local artisan shop, to get help with the designs for their merchandise.

At the backend of the presentation to City Council, Cosby and her staff communicated the short-, mid- and long-term goals for Howelsen Hill.  

Construction crews are already doing grading work to prepare for snow tubing to debut this December. Another short-term goal at Howelsen Hill is to improve staff workspaces, which are cramped and lack designated spaces to change in and out of ski clothes, according to Cosby and her staff. 

As part of the mid-term goals — to be completed in the next three to five years — the parks and recreation staff wants to expand concessions to the summit of Howelsen Hill, which would require placing at least a primitive bathroom on the summit as well. 

Also included in their mid-range goals is expanding services to offer event space rentals for weddings, renovating the Tow House and incorporating new software for processing ticket sales. 

Long-term — defined as the next six to 10 years — staff at Howelsen Hill would like to add an office space above the weight room, renovate the lodge, add summer operations such as a zip line and to accrue $1 million in the endowment fund by 2030. According to Cosby, the fund is at about $120,000.

Expanding the terrain on Howelsen was also listed as a long-term goal, which would require expanded lighting on the hill and additional snowmaking capacity. City Council president Robin Crossan agreed that expansion should be a goal, so much so that she encouraged Cosby and her staff to designate terrain expansion as a project for the next three to five years instead of six to 10.  

The other council members agreed, except for Dakotah McGinlay, who said she was apprehensive about committing to a terrain expansion until she had a clearer picture of the environmental impacts of the terrain expansion happening on Mount Werner. 

McGinlay also recommended staff to consider installing lights in the parking lot, to which Cosby replied she could look into some cost-estimates and report back. 

After so many projects and a record-breaking season, Cosby and her staff communicated that they would like the opportunity to focus on day-to-day operations before taking on more large projects. 

“Kudos to every single one of our staff members,” said Cosby. “They worked their tails off and scrambled, so giving them a year to focus on the details and really get those in line is needed.”

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