Howelsen Hill, Yampa River Botanic Park see increase in funds, visitors

A snow gun shoots snow onto Howelsen Hill Ski Area. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a year where celebrations, vacations and traditions have been canceled or dramatically modified due to COVID-19, city parks in Steamboat Springs saw more financial success in 2020 than they have in any year on record.

Howelsen Hill Ski Area saw a 99.5% increase in season pass purchases and a 65% increase in day ticket sales.

“The word is getting around to locals that we might not have the longest trails or the biggest variety, but coming to Howelsen at 11 a.m. is the place to be,” said Angela Cosby, Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation director. “We encourage community members and anyone who can access it in their lunch hour to come on over.”

Cosby also said more people have moved to Routt County, and longtime locals have traveled less since COVID-19 hit last spring, which she believes partly explains Howelsen’s dramatic increase in use and revenue.

“More people are getting outside, and more people are staying in town,” Cosby said.

Robbie Shine, Howelsen Hill ski/rodeo supervisor, said while locals have driven the increase in ticket sales, tourists skied at Howelsen more in 2020 than ever before.

“We see families that are coming here for a week, trying out Howelsen and then going home, and they tell us they had so much fun and that they’re coming back next year,” Shine said. “This year we’ve had more tourists than ever.”

Shine said most tourists who end up at Howelsen are in town to ski at Steamboat Resort and, while driving or walking through the downtown area, see skiers on Howelsen and decide to try it out.

“As much as we wish Steamboat was known for Howelsen, it’s not,” he said. “We love Steamboat Resort, and they’re a huge driver for what our city does, but we’re very lucky to have two ski areas in our town.”

Cosby said City Council and staff have long had a goal of reducing the amount of funding the city designates to Howelsen by finding ways to increase revenue there, particularly after city sales tax revenue took a hit due to COVID-19.

“We’ve just tried to implement some more basic business practices,” Cosby said, including clear, consistent hours, better marketing and a larger variety of activities, including sledding this year and possibly snow tubing next year.

While COVID-19 has devastated the world, Cosby said the outdoor recreation industry has seen much more activity as people are anxious to get out of the house and take care of their health.

“It’s been such a stressful year on so many people, a lot of people are making their physical and mental health a higher priority to get outside, be active and take care of themselves and loved ones,” Cosby said. “The outdoor industry is booming, and this is a reflection of that.”

In addition to Howelsen seeing a greater increase in visitors, the Yampa River Botanic Park also recorded a 44% increase in funds raised in 2020 as compared to 2019, according to a report from Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter.

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