Howelsen Hill to open early with its first Ski Free Sunday this week |

Howelsen Hill to open early with its first Ski Free Sunday this week

On Thursday, kick off winter at the historic ski area with burgers and $11.14 lift tickets

The tracks of a few lucky skiers could been seen on the Face of Howelsen Hill in February 2019.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Both of Steamboat Springs’ ski areas are kicking off winter with an early start.

Howelsen Hill Ski Area will open early. On Thursday, Nov. 14, Howelsen will host a preview celebration ahead of Steamboat Resort’s opening set for Friday, Nov. 15. 

“With Steamboat Ski Resort’s big announcement this week, and Howelsen Hill planning to open early as well, we couldn’t think of a better way to jump into the 2019-20 winter season than together,” said City Manager Gary Suiter in a news release. “Big snow and big openings are setting the Yampa Valley up for a fantastic season ahead.”

From 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, guests can pick up an $11.14 lift ticket, which comes with a meal and access to the Barrows Chairlift. The event kicks off a soft opening for the season at Howelsen Hill, which is the oldest continuously operated ski area in North America.

“It’s 11/14, so we’re celebrating the early opening. For $11.14, you get your lift ticket, and you get dinner: a burger and a drink,” said Howelsen Hill Ski and Rodeo Manager Brad Setter. He added that season pass holders will be able to purchase the meal for a discounted price.

Steamboat Springs City Council President Jason Lacy and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President Rob Perlman will ride the first chair to open the season at Howelsen.

Last week, Steamboat Resort announced it will open on Friday, the earliest opening day in its history. The resort will start spinning the Christie Peak Express lift about one week before its planned opening day with $50 day passes getting guests up the mountain. The resort will hold its planned grand opening celebrations and open the new gondola on Saturday, Nov. 23.

“Skiing has been a way of life in the Yampa Valley for generations,” Perlman said in a news release. “What a one, two punch to celebrate our historic snowfall and the hard work of snowmaking crews that sets the stage for even bigger celebrations this winter including the launch of our new gondola.”

Setter said this year is the earliest opening day for Alpine skiing at Howelsen in recent memory, but there aren’t records to compare this opening date to past dates.

“For the last 10 or 15 years, it is (the earliest opening date),” Setter said.

Paper records from the 1970s and 1980s aren’t accessible, and Setter explained the question is hard to answer as different areas of Howelsen open at different times to different skiers. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club starts training on Alpine terrain as soon as there’s enough snow to slide on, but that happens before the hill opens to the public.

The view from the top of a ski jump at Howelsen Hill.
Courtesy Casey Griepentrog

“I know back in the ’80s and early ’90s that they used to jump the jumps in October, when the weather was a little bit cooler, and we’d have more early storms,” he said. “I hear from all the long-time jumpers that they used to jump all the time in October, so that area has been open sooner.”

Skiers and riders are also invited to donate to the Howelsen Hill Endowment Fund at Thursday’s event, which intends to provide a stable funding source for capital projects to maintain and improve the historic ski area.

Opening early for Ski Free Sunday

After Thursday’s event, the city-owned ski hill will be open for Ski Free Sundays until Nov. 30, when Howelsen will start holding its regular season hours.

“Our plan is to do some Ski Free Sundays and probably just do Sundays until opening, so we can be open, but we can also continue focus on snowmaking and finishing up all of our other areas,” Setter said.

Setter said Howelsen is tentatively scheduled to open for Ski Free Sunday on Nov. 17, followed by a definite Ski Free Sunday on Nov. 24. Howelsen will host at least 16 Ski Free Sundays this year.

Howelsen will be open Tuesday through Sunday starting Saturday, Nov. 30.

This year, the city will host four enhanced Ski Free Sundays on Dec. 15, Jan. 12, Feb. 16 and March 15. In addition to free skiing, these events will feature a beer garden, food trucks, patio games and more, Setter said.

For the first time this year, local businesses are also invited to sponsor Ski Free Sundays. Sponsors receive promotion and tent space at the event depending on the sponsorship level they select.

Limited beginner and intermediate terrain

Right now, the only beginner terrain expected to be open is the hill served by the Boardwalk Magic Carpet.

The Barrows Lift will provide access to the Face, a black diamond ski run. Setter said more terrain will open in the coming weeks as the ski area continues making snow and more natural snow starts to fall.

“We don’t have a lot of beginner or intermediate terrain that’s not based upon natural snow, unfortunately,” Setter said. “There’s not a lot of snow in the forecast, so I’m not expecting a lot more terrain opening up in the next couple of weeks.”

Setter said snowmaking crews are working to get snow on the ground in pony land — the area served by the Boardwalk Magic Carpet — then they’ll be focusing on the jump line and the terrain park.

The smaller magic carpet is expected to open by Nov. 24, Setter said.

Nordic trails from the stables to the magic carpets are groomed and will be ready for skiers when the ski area opens this week, Setter said. Howelsen staff is working to make snow on Nordic trails near the rodeo grounds.

“For those next couple Ski Free Sundays, we’ll definitely have more Nordic available,” Setter said. “We keep pushing on that, so in another week or two we’ll have, hopefully, significantly more Nordic (trails).”

Poma expected to be an easier ride

A project refurbishing the Poma is nearly complete, replacing key elements of the nearly 50-year-old lift. That includes a new drive system that will allow lift operators to change the speed of the lift.

“We’re going to have a fast speed for racers and people who are used to riding the Poma and be able to increase our uphill capacity. Then, we’ll be able to slow it down for our Free Ski Sunday crowds and when we have some beginners there,” Setter said. “That should make it easier for folks to load it and ride it.”

This year, skiers will load on to the Poma in a slightly different location in an attempt to eliminate the “slingshot effect” that tends to throw beginners off the lift in the first 20-feet of the Poma.

Crews are working to fit the last elements of the refurbish project into the Poma. It’s expected to be completed by Nov. 30.

Howelsen passes get you free ski days in Wyoming

This year, the city signed an agreement with Hogadon Basin Ski south of Casper, Wyoming that allows Howelsen pass holders to ski three consecutive days at Hogadon for free.

Hogadon pass holders will also be able to get three days of free skiing at Howelsen.

Howelsen season passes are available online at or in person at the Howelsen Lodge concession stand. Season pass prices will increase by $30 on Saturday, Nov. 16.

Passes are available for Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing or both.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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