John F. Russell: Never losing sight of what’s important
These days, it’s easy to view the future of Howelsen Hill in terms of city budgets, capital improvements and its own financial sustainability.
All important points, but you can get lost in the cost of improvements, many of which are deemed critical to the success of the city-run ski area. You can be overcome with the challenges of keeping the hill vital in an ever-changing world where improvements run in the millions. You can understand why budgets have to be stretched just to maintain the status quo.
Let’s face it, running a small ski area in the shadows of a world class ski resort in the remote northern corner of Colorado comes with any number of challenges. But I would argue that if we only look at Howelsen in terms of its financial success, the true importance of the historic landmark would be harder to find than the side of the road, on the top of Rabbit Ears Pass, in a complete whiteout.
On Wednesday night, I ventured out to Howelsen Hill for a ceremony to recognize the ski area’s 100th anniversary. It also happened to be the same night as the Hitchen’s Brother’s Wednesday Night Jump Series.
The jump series is something I would encourage the people who make the decisions about Howelsen Hill to venture out to at least once a winter. It only takes a few minutes to realize that this is what Howelsen Hill — and Steamboat Springs — is all about. There are sure to be a bunch of kids, all of them with their own Olympic dreams, celebrating the joy of ski jumping.
My guess is that these young jumpers are not thinking about the 2026 Olympic games on this night, but instead simply having a good time racing down the hill and flying off of the small jump at the bottom. The best jumpers are clearing 4 meters, maybe. But from where I’m standing, it looks like the distance really doesn’t matter to these athletes. They all have smiles on their faces as they head to the lift for another shot at glory. The coaches who are running the events also have smiles on their faces as they introduce a new generation to the same joys they discovered as children on this very hill.
But with that said, I admit that I’m like most adults in Steamboat. I enjoy looking at the master plans the city has laid out for its vision of what Howelsen Hill could be. I can’t help but think about how nice it would be to have a recreation center at the base, or plastic on the big hill. But I also worry about how much more a year I will end up paying in taxes and if what I pay will be worth the cost.
There is no question that Howelsen Hill holds an important place in our community. It’s a place people head to when they want to have a good time, whether it’s in the summer or the winter. Nobody really knows what Howelsen Hill will look like in the future, but I’m willing to bet it will be important.
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