Our view: Howelsen sets us apart
Howelsen Hill Ski Area may be tiny by modern standards, but it undeniably looms large in the history of competitive skiing in North America. Our town hill has hosted televised Nordic combined World Cups and many national ski jumping championships.
However, as the community celebration of Howelsen Hill’s centennial reaches a crescendo with Winter Carnival this week, we’re reminded that the significance of the little ski area to the community transcends the 88 Winter Olympians who have trained there.
Howelsen is part of our DNA. It’s what sets us apart from other ski towns and most certainly from suburban America.
Howelsen Hill is on the Colorado Register of Historic Places, calling out its stature as the longest continuously operating ski area west of the Mississippi River. But it’s also where our youngsters go to experience a childhood most families can only dream of offering their children. As a community member of our editorial board asked rhetorically: “Can you imagine growing up like this?”
Steamboat Springs, in addition to being a place where hardworking families enjoy a remarkable outdoor lifestyle, also is that mythical little town in the Rocky Mountains where youngsters put down their textbooks at 3:30 p.m. and head off to ski practice with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club at Howelsen. Many people toiling in distant cities have a longstanding dream of someday moving here. And for many of those households with children, Howelsen is emblematic of that dream.
There is an annual rite of passage that takes place at Howelsen Hill known to parents as Poma Trauma. It’s the day when 3- and 4-year-olds prove their mettle and qualify to ride the old Poma ski lift that takes them to the top of the hill — 440 vertical feet up.
Surviving Poma Trauma the equivalent of 16-year-olds passing their driver’s test. Parents line the tow path to support the children while the little skiers learn to stand on their own two feet, literally and figuratively, while mastering the tricky lift.
Once that goal is reached, children gain autonomy as they are allowed to ski Howelsen with relatively loose supervision from adults who are not their parents. They even learn to manage money at Howelsen. Parents can hand over a $20 bill to the food concessionaire to have it recorded on an index card, serving as a form of credit. The kids can draw down their account gradually in the form of after-school snacks.
For many youngsters, their dreams are realized when they qualify for a junior national championship competition in Alpine, Nordic, snowboarding, freestyle and Telemark skiing. Others go on to realize their goal of qualifying for a national team and a relative few represent the United States at the Winter Olympics. But life lessons learned are what endure for most of the youngsters.
Howelsen Hill already was experiencing a Renaissance in the middle of the past decade, with many youngsters freeskiing and snowboarding independently of the Winter Sports Club, when the Great Recession changed the economy of the Yampa Valley. During those years and since, Howelsen has afforded many local families an affordable way to introduce their youngsters to snow sports. You can observe the trend any weekend at Howelsen Hill, where a season pass for Alpine skiing begins at $35 for children 5 and younger and costs $130 for youngsters 6 to 18.
But Howelsen also is a city park with tennis courts, softball diamonds, rodeo grounds, hiking and cycling trails and a hockey rink. The city of Steamboat Springs’ partnerships with the community and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, along with the implied funding, are essential to the vitality of this unique municipal park.
Without the collaboration of city staff, on behalf of the taxpayers, it would be difficult, if not impossible to sustain the first-class winter sports park that is Howelsen Hill.
We hope everyone in Steamboat from Wednesday to Feb. 8 during Winter Carnival will take the opportunity to attend one of the entertaining events at Howelsen Hill to experience its charm.
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