Newbies and pros alike enjoy one of Howelsen Hill’s best opening days in ages
It’s uncommon for ski slopes to be just a snowball’s throw away from the parking lot, and the way the front face of Howelsen Hill juts so abruptly in the middle of town makes it appear more like a natural monument than a small town recreation area.
The conditions for opening day on Saturday, Nov. 26, at Howelsen Hill Ski Area could not have been more pleasant. It was a bluebird day and the consistency of the corduroy snow was neither icy nor slushy.
“A lot of places let their snow piles sit,” said Robbie Shine, the supervisor at Howelsen Hill, explaining that snow tends to soften when snow piles aren’t removed.
“Here, we push the snow out right away,” Shine said. “So, it has that density. And then you just get a grippier, more firm product but it still allows you to ski. It’s not ice, but it’s just the perfect product.”
The snow was perfect for both speed and control, as newbies and experienced winter athletes shared the terrain with equal appreciation.
The ski area at Howelsen wasn’t busy on Saturday. The line to the chairlift that was installed last year was non-existent, and the area was mostly quiet aside from the whir of skis zipping through the inrun of a ski jump and the thump as the skier landed, which sounded like a snow-muffled firecracker.
“This is the heart,” said Essi Kenttala, a Steamboat resident whose children compete for the men’s and women’s Nordic combined national teams. “The history is here.”
Kenttala has skied all over the world, but appreciates Howelsen’s accessibility.
“You just park your car and you are here without hassle,” Kenttala said. She was riding skate skis while watching her children, Annika and Niklas Malacinski, practice ski jumping.
After landing an impressive jump, her son Niklas Malacinski was dissatisfied with his leap and communicated his frustration to his coach over radio.
“I was aggressive again,” Malacinski said to his coach.
The 18-year-old is getting ready to compete in the Nordic Combined Winter Start competition on Dec. 10, after which he plans to travel to Finland to compete in the Nordic Combined Continental Cup.
“Pretty good session,” Malacinski said. “Overall, I’m making some good improvements for the season.”
Malacinski said the conditions on Saturday were the best on opening day he’s seen in a long time.
“The track was nice and icy and the landing was pretty soft, which is good,” he said.
Meanwhile, at the beginner’s area on the far side of the ski jump, Mike Flemming watched three of his grandchildren ski for the first time. The kids were picking up the sport pretty quickly, having figured out how to keep their skis on their edges and were able to make it down the hill without falling.
Flemming and his family grew up skiing. His family came to town from Denver for Thanksgiving, and he said they liked Howelsen Hill because it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of Steamboat Resort.
“What a great little run to teach beginners on,” Flemming said.
His son Mike Heinz said he sees Howelsen Hill as a great spot to introduce kids to the sport.
“Skiing’s just changed so much,” Heinz said. “It’s gotten so expensive. Travel up here is so hard. It’s just so much different now than it was when we were kids.”
One of Flemming’s grandkids, Jax Jacobsen, approached the bottom of the hill with his skis in a textbook pizza shape, and his family cheered him on as he slowly came to a stop. But even the great conditions weren’t enough to impress the young athlete.
“I don’t like this,” Jacobsen said.
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at spowell@SteamboatPilot.com
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