Howelsen Hill kicks off Opening Day
Dustin and Kelly Finch had never heard of Howelsen Hill before Saturday.
The couple, celebrating their honeymoon after being married last week in Loveland, chose to honor the occasion in Steamboat Springs, as neither of them had been to town before and planned to ski at Steamboat Resort.
After walking around downtown Steamboat, Howelsen caught the couple’s eye, and they wanted to give the oldest continually operating ski area in North America a shot, both for its historic reputation and its lack of crowds.
“This is the perfect place for us to just come and ski and hang out,” Dustin Finch said. “It’s much more chill, you don’t have to wait for people on the lifts and sit in line, and someone wouldn’t be intimidated by the bigger hills or getting lost up there.”
The Finches were among the people — Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes, town locals and visitors — who took to Howelsen Hill on Saturday to celebrate its Opening Day.
Because the hill has received no natural snow and temperatures have not been cold enough for snowmakers to cover the entire area in human-made snow, staff only opened the poma lift and magic carpet.
Dozens of skiers and riders took turns sliding down Lower Face after clinging to the poma lift and exiting on the lower end of the run, and Winter Sports Club coaches coached new athletes on riding the magic carpet and navigating their way down the smaller hill.
“With Howelsen, people are here just to learn, have fun, smile and slide on snow, and I like to encourage that,” said Tim Rowse, a Winter Sports Club coach who works with children in kindergarten and first grade. “I like watching the kids progress, but to do in a way where they don’t know they’re progressing, and they’re just out having a good time.”
In his nine years of coaching, Rowse said most of his athletes are intermediate to advanced skiers by the time they turn 6 years old, but an influx of people moving to Steamboat with less experience than some longtime locals has encouraged older children and adults to learn the sport, and many make their first rounds of practice at Howelsen.
“I have friends who grew up here and this is where they learned, this is their thing, they love it,” Rowse said. “It just has such a great vibe and it has so much history and local connectivity.”
Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said Howelsen staff hope to operate the new chairlift in a few weeks, as Steamboat is forecast to receive several inches of natural snow and temperatures cold enough to continue making snow. The city will hold a grand opening for the community on a Ski Free Sunday later in January.
Staff will continue holding Ski Free Sundays weekly this season, to ensure the city-funded hill is accessible for all.
“Steamboat is Ski Town, USA, and our City Council recognizes that skiing is an expensive sport,” Cosby said. “We’re trying to eliminate one of the barriers in lift ticket and pass prices to get people that experience.”
In addition to a new chairlift, Howelsen also has a revived concession stand, and concession manager Courtney Parks said she plans to begin a happy hour at the hill after obtaining her liquor license, which she expects to do this week.
“I’ve noticed that there are a lot of Winter Sports Club kids that are training here,” Parks said. “I want to have this be more of a place where the parents can come and hang out while the kids are training, and just bring more locals here.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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