Looking back on 94 Winter Carnivals
Steamboat SpringsSteamboat Springs — In the 95 years since Carl Howelsen hosted the first “Midwinter Sports Carnival” in Steamboat Springs, the event has captured a community's imagination and daredevil spirit with horse-drawn skiers, record-breaking jumps, parades and shovel rides down Lincoln Avenue, and lots of pyrotechnics. — In the 95 years since Carl Howelsen hosted the first “Midwinter Sports Carnival” in Steamboat Springs, the event has captured a community's imagination and daredevil spirit with horse-drawn skiers, record-breaking jumps, parades and shovel rides down Lincoln Avenue, and lots of pyrotechnics.
Steamboat Springs — In the 95 years since Carl Howelsen hosted the first “Midwinter Sports Carnival” in Steamboat Springs, the event has captured a community’s imagination and daredevil spirit with horse-drawn skiers, record-breaking jumps, parades and shovel rides down Lincoln Avenue, and lots of pyrotechnics.
Plenty has changed since the first two-day skiing event in 1914. But the now five-day festival has retained its community connection and the ability to make residents do things that no one in their right mind would normally do.
Among those feats (jumping through a flaming hoop, competing for Carnival Queen) are the events listed on the following timeline. Taken from Steamboat Pilot archives dating back to 1914, with some help from Sureva Towler’s “The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs,” these excerpts provide a through-the-years look at Winter Carnival, in all its eccentric glory.
Jan. 12, 1914: Carl Howelsen places an advertisement for a “Midwinter Sports Carnival” in The Steamboat Pilot. The carnival, held on Woodchuck Hill (where Colorado Mountain College is now) includes competitive skiing and nighttime dances.
Jan. 6, 1915: Looking back to the year that has passed, the Pilot reports, “First midwinter sports carnival unprecedented success; to be repeated annually.” Railroad companies added special routes to bring spectators from Craig, Hayden and Denver to the festival.
Feb. 9, 1916: The Pilot prints a take on what the Midwinter Ski Carnival means: “An opportunity for the people of Routt and Moffat counties to renew the friendships which have existed since the pioneer days and also join in the ceremony of crowning one of Northwestern Colorado’s finest daughters as the Queen of the Carnival.
Three days of well-planned enjoyment – thrilling jumps, exhibitions of skill and daring, sturdy racers, the coronation, girls’ exhibitions, Woodman day program, $1,200 in prizes, dances, shows, band and orchestra music, basketball games, etc.
And all under the supervision and management of the Steamboat Springs Commercial club.”
Feb. 7, 1917: In its fourth year, Winter Carnival fever grips the area. A Pilot headline from the weeks leading up to the event: “Queen contest eclipses everything in the valley: War, politics and even champion jumpers lose importance in rush of fair ones for votes.”
Two weeks later: “Who will be queen? The foreign war, the conviction of bootleggers to local courts, and even the danger of war in Germany lose their import and are all crowded off the boards when the name of some favorite in the race is introduced :
“One of the girls, more ambitious than her sisters in the race, is going to be the recipient of the highest and most gracious honor in the power of the people of the Yampa Valley to bestow. And yet others, those who are close in the race and still lack a few hundred votes to become queen, are going to know in their minds that it’s no one’s fault but their own that they are not wearing the crown.”
After the carnival, at the top of the page: “Majorie Dins crowned queen of big carnival: Popular Steamboat Springs young lady wins exciting contest by whirlwind finish and is the principal figure in impressive coronation ceremonies.”
After the carnival, in a brief at the bottom of the page: “Carl Howelsen, referred to by orators as the young-old father of skiing in Colorado, has been honored in a singular fashion. Mr. Howelsen is the man who introduced the sport into Routt County. : In recognition of this, and to perpetuate the name of this already altruistic Norseman, the world’s best ski course, across the river from Steamboat Springs, has been christened ‘Howelsen Hill.'”
Feb. 8, 1929: As the event grows, Winter Carnival adds non-sporting attractions: “The snow sculpture is something new for the carnival, where the artists may show their skill. The junior group of skiers is especially anxious to shine in the snow craftwork. There will be elephants, horses, cows, cats, igloos, snowmen, forts and anything original that the artists can conceive of and build.”
Temperatures for the event got close to 50 below zero.
Feb. 22, 1935: In its 21st year, the carnival has become a draw for winter athletes keen on breaking records in ski jumping and other sports. “With a leap of 229 feet, Einar Fredbo of Salt Lake City broke the Howelsen Hill ski jumping record. : He exceeded the 212-feet mark five different times.”
The Steamboat band did its show on skis. More specifically, the band did its show while being pulled by a truck, tied together to form a letter “B.” “Behind a truck, the young musicians were lined up in a skijoring fashion : The boys and girls kept their places perfectly as they were pulled along, indicating that they know harmony of ski riding as well as harmony of tone when they are playing.”
1939: The first Winter Carnival Night Show features fireworks, torch-carrying skiers and an appearance by “Lighted Man” Claudius Banks.
1943: Winning ski jumpers and racers are awarded war stamps and bonds.
Feb. 7, 1952: “One of the really popular events, originated in Steamboat and now widely copied but never equaled, is the night show. Scores of bearing flares will come down the hill in the snake dance and slalom to provide a really awe-inspiring show. There also will be fireworks.”
And from the following week: “Jumpers leaping through a ring of fire was one of the new stunts that was a crowd pleaser. : The shooting star finale was another event that was the most brilliant ever seen on the hill. A 5-foot lighted star was started down the hill and other skiers were behind with Roman candles to make it a thriller of an event.”
1955: Themes become part of the Winter Carnival parade. 1955’s event is themed as a “Snow Carnival.”
1958: First torchlight parade
Feb. 3, 1966: Winter Carnival organizers stick to the year’s theme, “See Steamboat Ski,” by adding a handful of motorized events.
“New on the program is snowmobile racing and with up to $1,000 in prize money for snowmobile competition, interest is intense. Entries are expected in Colorado and many other states as far as South Dakota. Saturday the 12th there are four snowmobile events including obstacle races and a blindfolded race which should create some turmoil.”
1976: Carnival theme: “1876 – The Way It Was”
1977: Carnival theme: “Steamboat Springs – The Way It Is”
Feb. 8, 1979: The carnival takes on a “Three-Ring Circus” theme for the year. Events include a multi-day broomball tournament, featuring teams from the Steamboat Springs Police Department, Routt County Sheriff’s Department, Volunteer Fire Department and the Steamboat City Road Crew.
The festival gets some of its first tastes of corporate involvement, including the Soda Pop Slalom (presented by 7-UP, RC Cola and B&K Distributors).
And an old tradition changes hands, summed up in a photo caption: “Looking more like a creature from outer space than a Winter Carnival tradition, Jon Banks salutes Pilot readers with an illuminated ski pole. Following in his father’s tracks, Jon took over as the ‘Lighted Man’ this year because Claudius Banks is recovering from an illness. Claudius first appeared in the night show in 1938.”
January 21, 1988: For it’s 75th anniversary, Winter Carnival throws in some new events, including a chili dinner sponsored by the VFW, a bingo contest and an ice carving contest. On the wintry side, “two new animal events should keep everyone hopping. At 10 a.m. the Husky Dog Pull will occur at Howelsen Hill. Both amateur and professional dogs will pull sleds filled with dog food. : Also at Howelsen Hill, the Heritage Draft Horse Pulling Race shall take place at 1 p.m. This event was created to preserve the excitement of the draft team pulling and handling.”
Feb. 11, 1998: The 85th winter carnival vies for attention with the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan: “A celebration of the winter, the carnival offered something for everyone including community breakfasts, chariot races and even the popular Night Show featuring the Lighted Man. : However not all of Steamboat was able to compete in town this weekend. With cross country and other events being held during the Winter Carnival, many of the spectators’ thoughts turned from the city’s festivities to Nagano with some of Steamboat’s finest who are competing in the Winter Olympics during the carnival.”
Feb. 9, 2003: The carnival celebrates its 90th year. Traditional street and mountain events remain the highlight, including some interesting ones for young children: “Skiers – some as young as 6 – held onto a rope for dear life as a galloping horse pulled them down the snow-packed street toward a foot ramp known as a donkey ramp.”
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