Pilot Proud: The top 20 stories that shaped Steamboat
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — I’m going to go out on a limb and will suggest that in the 135 years the Steamboat Pilot has been in existence, nothing has transformed Steamboat Springs and Routt County the way Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden has.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects the 2020 population of Steamboat Springs is 13,764 and puts Routt County’s population at 23,509. That means the city’s population is roughly a match for the number of eager skiers who get off jet flights at YVRA in advance of a busy weekend in February at Steamboat Resort.
The published schedule of direct flights to the airport for the winter of 2020-21 currently shows jets arriving from 14 major cities, but it certainly wasn’t always like that. Airline service didn’t begin to change drastically until late Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. executive Martin Hart and Routt County Commissioner Bill Haight teamed up in the mid-1980s to revive the airport.
The airport was originally built to serve a growing energy economy. But Convair jet prop flights between Denver and Hayden had long since ceased.
Hart knew his resort was relatively remote and partnered with Haight, who made a trip to Seattle where he persuaded the Federal Aviation Administration to provide the airport with a new instrument landing system.
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Haight also convinced fellow commissioners the county could and should use its road graders to help widen and lengthen the runway at YVRA. Hart also talked Aspen Airways into flying 86 passenger jets to YVRA from Dallas twice a week. Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Kent Myers nailed down the contract and succeeded in attracting more flights year after year.
The airline program, with a modern terminal, has continued to have a transformative effect on Steamboat Springs, with a robust real estate market, schools and cultural organizations we might never have dreamed of without it.
Following are the remaining candidates for the top 20 stories from the past 135 years. The entries are listed in chronological order from oldest to most recent and were selected by veteran reporter Tom Ross because of their impact on Steamboat Springs and Routt County.
#2 Town founders move to Steamboat Springs — 1875
In late July, Margaret and James Crawford moved their family from a temporary cabin in Hot Sulphur Springs to live close to Bear (or Yampa ) River and the “Iron Spring.” The neighborhood comprised about 100 Ute teepees on the sagebrush mesa north of Soda Creek and 25 or so closer to the river. Many of those natives were familiar with the Crawfords from time they spent intermingling in Middle Park.
#3 Healing springs discovered — 1875
The Crawfords wasted little time taking advantage of the warmth of the local springs. On Aug. 1, 1875, James was hunting for deer a mile east of his family’s cabin when he stumbled on a hot spring bubbling from the ground to join a small creek. Later, partners of James Crawford would take water samples to Denver to confirm its therapeutic qualities.
“Crawford returned to the cabin near Soda Creek, loaded his family (including three children) in their wagon and returned to the spring where he shoveled out a little hole in the sand. Everyone had a cleansing hot bath.” — Pilot Editor Dee Richards/”Steamboat Round the Bend”
#4 The first schoolhouse — 1884
From the beginning, the adult Crawfords were intent on building a community. One of the first things they did was to build a log schoolhouse. It wouldn’t be long before they built the first church.
#5 Lincoln Avenue commercial district platted — 1884
Steamboat grew slowly during its first 10 years, but in 1884, James Crawford firmed up his relationship with three fellow Missourians, Perry Burgess, William Walton and F.E. Milner, who had close ties to banks in Missouri and Boulder. Capitalized with $260,000, they had the wherewithal to plat Lincoln Avenue’s commercial district as well as residential streets. Together they pursued development of community institutions and businesses. Milner ran the post office as well as establishing Steamboat’s first general store and hotel.
#6 First edition of Pilot published — 1885
James Hoyle published the first edition of the Steamboat Pilot newspaper on July 31, 1885. He had rounded up three horse-drawn freight wagons to bring the foot-powered printer from Colorado’s Front Range via Gore Pass and then up Bear River (now the Yampa River) to Steamboat Springs.
That first edition of the newspaper came 10 years almost to the day, after Margaret and James Crawford struck out from a cabin in Middle Park, to make their wilderness home in Steamboat. As the Pilot was the only business in town, advertising was scarce.
“James Crawford, (founder of Steamboat Springs) knew that a new community should be built on firm foundations. The first to come was a school, soon followed by a church. And finally, the third necessary ingredient, a newspaper.” — Dee Richards, “Steamboat Round the Bend”
#7 Can you hear me now? — 1900
The first telephones came to the area in 1900 to meet the needs of large cattle companies that wanted to speak ranch to ranch and directly to railroad shipping points.
That same year, Steamboat was incorporated with James Crawford serving as its mayor.
It was in early 1905 that Colorado Telephone promised to build a copper circuit between Steamboat and Kremmling and won the local business. Steamboat town residents paid 50 cents per month per line. Rural customers had to cough up $5 a month.
#8 Business begins to boom — 1902
Steamboat’s business district grows to include three hotels, three livery stables, three banks, four general stores and two meat markets. Perhaps most significantly, the community’s first electric utility company, the Steamboat Springs Service Co., was changing life in the city.
#9 The Lights ride into town — 1905
The family that would run Steamboat’s longest continuous retail business arrived in town in 1905. Frank and Carrie Light had previously farmed in Ohio, but Frank could not bear the native plants and the asthma they gave him. After researching the move, the Lights bought tickets for themselves and seven children on the Rio Grande Railroad to Wolcott, where they stepped into the four-horse stagecoach and traveled to the town of Yampa, moving on to Steamboat the next day.
Frank had studied books on retail business and wasted no time purchasing a lot at 830 Lincoln Ave. for $1,200 on April 1. The next step was to hire a bricklayer named Charley Kitzmiller to build a 25-foot by 50-foot building of locally kilned bricks.
With his eldest sons Clarence and Olin with him in the store from the beginning, F.M. Light succeeded in building a frontier store for the long run. — Source, Annabeth Light Lockhart
#10 Railroad changes life in Steamboat — 1909
The Moffat Line Railroad arrived in Steamboat Springs on Jan. 6, 1909, in the midst of a storm. The single locomotive pulled just a single car, “Marcia,” David Moffat’s private coach. The first trains available to the public arrived the evening of Jan. 19, 1909, and returned to Denver the next morning.
The railroad depot was completed a few months later and was hailed as one of the most appealing of its kind in all of Colorado.
One local merchant was heard to say, “All has changed. From now on, Steamboat Springs will hold stage center … her era of prosperity dates from here!”
#11 Culture in Strawberry Park — 1914
Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield moved their summer dance and theater camp from Lake Eldora to Strawberry Park, just outside Steamboat Springs, and with it, injected a much-needed dose of culture in the pioneer town that continues to thrive today. Ray Faulkner, an assistant to the director of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp from 1957 to 1965, said, “the ladies used the beauty of the outdoors to bring out beauty in the arts.”
#12 Steamboat hosts 1st Winter Carnival — 1914
The first Winter Carnival took place on the north side of U.S. Highway 40/Lincoln Avenue at Woodchuck Hill, just below where Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs is today. Carl Howelsen arrived to prepare the course in ample snow Feb. 9, 1914, the day after he claimed the Colorado Ski Jumping Championship with a 130-foot jump at the Hot Sulphur Springs Carnival.
#13 Wren makes Olympic history — 1948
Gordy Wren made history when he became the only American ever to qualify for four events — both Nordic and Alpine — in the Winter Olympics at St. Moritz, Switzerland. His top finish was fifth in special jumping. He would later coach many elite skiers, and his ski area management credentials included Steamboat Resort, Loveland Basin, Jackson Hole, Howelsen Hill, Winter Park and Alta.
#14 Dreaming of a ski mountain in Steamboat — 1956
Jim Temple, who grew up on the border of Routt County and Carbon County, Wyoming, together with his wife, Audrey, began studying the possibilities of developing a modern ski area on Storm Peak.
Temple had learned a great deal about destination ski areas between 1949 and 1955 when he was employed as assistant head of the ski patrol and avalanche forecaster at Sun Valley, Idaho. The Temples ultimately pursued their dream.
“The Dreamer,” as ski historian Sureva Towler called Temple, lost out on seeing his dream realized when outside financial backers were brought into the Storm Mountain ski area project.
#15 Storm Mountain Ski Area opens — 1961
Storm Mountain ski area, now Steamboat Resort, opened with free skiing Dec. 22, 1961. The ski area had one beginner’s Poma lift called Cub Claw. It ran from the spot where the old Christie Chairlift still sits to the top of Headwall. Ski historian Sureva Towler reported that the lift ran until April 8, 1962.
Skier days weren’t recorded, but income from lift tickets was $1,213.70 and expenses were $948.23. The newly formed Storm Mountain Ski Corp. began selling common stock at $2.50 a share.
#16 John Fetcher to the rescue — 1962
In advance of the second season on Storm Peak, the order for a $125,000 double chairlift, 4,000 feet long, with a capacity for 1,000 skiers per hour, was ordered. Although it was designed by a Swiss engineer, the lift was built in Long Beach, California. That set up ski area engineer John Fetcher for a lonely adventure.
Deep in December, with the new ski lift not completed, Fetcher fired up his Ford ranch truck and set out on an improbable drive to pick up the missing and massively heavy bullwheel for the lift. As the story goes, Fetcher made it home in time to work late on Christmas Eve to splice the chairlift cable in time for holiday skiing.
#17 The first ski gondola — 1970
Improbably, the Steamboat Ski Area really took off after a Dallas, Texas, aeronautics firm, Ling Temco Vaught, purchased the resort. Paul Thayer was the executive at LTV Recreation Development Inc. (LTV-RDI), who had the strongest interest in the ski resort.
The company contracted for a master plan for a circular base development with underground parking, an 18-hole golf course and a convention center in a resort hotel. When the slopes opened in 1970, Steamboat had a $2.5 million six-passenger gondola.
#18 Making the Colorado history books — 1977
Steamboat Spring voters made Colorado history by placing four women on the seven-member City Council. It was the first time a city in the Centennial State had a plurality of women on its governing board. Rita Valentine was the City Council president, and was joined by Paula Cooper Black, Julie Green and Mary Brown. A part of that council’s enduring legacy was funding the beginning of the Yampa River Core Trail.
#19 Nordic combined Olympic medalists – 2010
The U.S. Nordic Combined Team returned from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver with a medal haul that was one of the greatest in American skiing. The Americans topped all nations with four medals. Billy Demong, originally from upstate New York but an athlete who trained for years in Steamboat, won the gold medal in the individual large hill event. Steamboat teammate Johnny Spillane finished just 4 seconds behind in the silver medal position. Spillane would end up with three silver medals in the competition, missing the gold in the individual normal hill race by four-10ths of a second and picking up his silver medal in the team relay, where Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerotta joined Spillane in placing second behind the Austrian team.
#20 Hazie Werner and the women honored in her name
Hazel Werner, the late mother of three Olympians including Buddy Werner, was also a businesswoman and a pioneer. Every year for 32 years, Steamboat Resort has celebrated Hazie’s legacy by recognizing a contemporary woman who has made significant contributions to the community with the Hazie Werner Award. They’ve come from many walks of life — the arts, education, health care, government business and even the ski area itself.
What’s most important to know about Hazie Werner is that she carried on the devotion to hospitality previously demonstrated by Margaret Crawford. It was Crawford who famously invited travelers to a meal and a place to unroll their sleeping blanket in the years before Steamboat had its first hotel.
In a more recent era, the 1960s and ’70s, when many longtime locals were uneasy over the influx of young adults seeking resort jobs, Hazie lived up to Crawford’s open-mindedness. Many members of Steamboat’s younger generation were encouraged and made to feel welcome in the Werner home.
When Hazie heard someone complain about “hippies,” she would say, “We let you in, didn’t we?” And speaking of hospitality, even former President Gerald Ford dined at Hazie Werner’s home, unannounced, after a round of golf at the now Rollingstone Golf Course in 1993.
“She did what she always did,” Hazie’s son, Loris “Bugs” Werner, recalled of how his mother entertained a president on a moment’s notice. “She looked around in the ice box for whatever and started making sandwiches.”
Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2018 after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.
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