Our view: Seeking creative solutions for Steamboat’s gem
An outdoor ice skating rink, tubing and more food truck offerings are just a few of the ideas city staff have floated as they brainstorm ways to increase revenue at Howelsen Hill Ski Area. Steamboat Springs City Council is scheduled to review these recommendations during its March 10 meeting when Howelsen Hill & Rodeo Manager Brad Setter is scheduled to update the council on budget and usage numbers at the historic ski hill.
Conversations about the future of Howelsen Hill have been occurring for decades, but one thing is clear: the residents of Steamboat Springs love their little ski mountain, which offers outdoor recreation opportunities close to town in all seasons, and the council is wise to keep Howelsen’s future top of mind. As part of its goals, the council has placed Howelsen on its “monitor” list, and we’re glad that talks will resume next week on how the city can make operations there more sustainable.
In 2019, Howelsen cost the city $1,227,735 to run, and with revenues of $410,804, the hill operated at a loss of around $800,000, which is about average for the last five years. We don’t expect the city to turn a profit, but we do believe there’s potential to offset some of the losses by thinking creatively with an eye toward increasing usage of the park and identifying new revenue opportunities.
The city has already implemented the Ski Free Sundays program at Howelsen, which we think has been a huge success. According to Setter, the popular offering attracts over 600 people each free ski day, which is an increase of 20% over last year’s attendance numbers. And while Ski Free Sundays are not closing the revenue gap, they are a nice reward for local families and a great way to introduce Howelsen to newcomers.
A new sign was installed last year near the base of the ski hill, which celebrates Howelsen’s history and helps cement its significance. There also are plans to replace the ailing Barrows chair lift, which will be a major improvement for the ski hill. That project is slated for summer 2021.
We also think there’s opportunity to leverage the city’s partnership with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club to spur improvements at Howelsen, which serves as the club’s base of operations. It benefits both the city and the club to maintain the amenity and look for ways the two entities could work together to fund renovations and upgrades at the hill.
When the Steamboat Pilot & Today posted a story about the city exploring ways to increase usage and revenue at Howelsen on Facebook, the post garnered 65 comments, which again indicates the community’s interest in the ski hill’s future. Many of those who commented offered their ideas for amenities that could be added at Howelsen. Some of these included: bobsledding, tubing, sledding, an outdoor skating rink, an improved lodge experience with a bar and restaurant and a camping area.
In particular, we like the idea of improved food and beverage offerings at Olympian Lodge in the winter and more food trucks operating in the summer, an outside skating rink at the rodeo grounds in the winter and the return of tubing or the recreational bobsled run that used to operate at Howelsen back in the ’90s.
At issue: Steamboat Springs City Council will be listening to recommendations from city staff about ways revenue and usage could be increased at Howelsen Hill Ski Area at council’s March 10 meeting.
Our View: Howelsen Hill is an important community asset, and we’d love to see the city adopt new amenities and uses at the park to ensure operations are sustainable.
- Logan Molen, publisher
- Lisa Schlichtman, editor
- Jason Gilligan, community representative
- Don Moss, community representative
There was discussion last year about Steamboat Resort taking over operations of Howelsen, but it appears those talks have stalled. While that is definitely an option to explore, we are glad the city isn’t waiting around for a partnership to be formed and instead, is taking the initiative to come up with creative solutions of its own.
It’s also important to note that the city operates Howelsen Hill as a park, so it’s not meant to be a profit center. But we think it’s wise and fiscally responsible of City Council to continue to explore ways to reduce that subsidy. And to steal a line from one of the Facebook commenters that we loved, “Howelsen is not a money maker, it’s a medal maker,” which refers to the number of Olympians the ski hill has helped produce, and it sums up its significance to our town’s unique and celebrated history.
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