Safety of Howelsen Hill chairlift questioned as City Council considers repairs

The Barrows chairlift at Howelsen Hill is used at peak times during the season and also services the Alpine slide in the summer.
John F. Russell/File

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The fate of the Barrows Chairlift at Howelsen Hill is in limbo as the Steamboat Springs City Council deliberates whether to spend more money to temporarily fix the chairlift that has a recent history of mechanical issues.

Spring snowmelt has caused Tower 6 to move again, and the lift cannot be used in its current condition.

“We expect it to move every year,” City Manager Gary Suiter said. “It has moved every year.”

Ultimately, the City Council realized it is probably too late to get the chairlift fixed in time to shuttle people up Howelsen to use the Alpine slide attraction this summer. The greater concern is the impact not having the chairlift could have on the ski season at the small, city-owned ski area.

The city is coming off a successful ski season that included Ski Free Sundays. The chairlift is easier for beginner skiers to use, and the popularity of Ski Free Sundays could take a hit if skiers have to rely solely on the Poma lift.

“Without that chairlift this winter, you’re going to lose that momentum, and I’d rather be raising money in a positive environment where people are still excited about the hill,” Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Director Jim Boyne said.

The city is studying where to put a new chairlift in the future, but if council chooses not to spend an estimated $30,000 on a temporary fix, Howelsen likely will be without a chairlift for the next two winter seasons.

“I’m very much torn,” councilwoman Robin Crossan said. “It is not a lot of money if it will run for one more year.”

Council members also expressed concerns about safety.

“Do we want to run the risk of having any accidents up there?” councilwoman Sonja Macys said.

Over the winter, there were two instances of the cable coming off the sheave, which is a wheel with a groove for the cable to run through. Workers used what was described as a “leverage device” to get the cable back on the sheave. Passengers were then offloaded from the chairlift.

“They weren’t just two incidents,” councilman Scott Ford said. “They were two incidents that were such a nature that they had to be reported to the Colorado Tram Safety Board.”

The council did not make a decision about the chairlift Tuesday night. Craig Robinson, interim director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, plans to do more research, get a better estimate for the cost of repairs and see if anyone is available to do the work.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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