Steamboat council again negotiating with Ski Corp. on Howelsen Hill operations

Skiers line up at the Poma lift during the final Free Ski Sundays event of the 2018 season at Howelsen Hill.
Matt Stensland

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a closed session that lasted only about five minutes, the Steamboat Springs City Council discussed “negotiations with the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. pertaining to Howelsen Hill operations.”

City Manager Gary Suiter pointed to that description of the agenda item when asked for more details about the nature of the negotiations.

“That’s pretty revealing,” he said.

Suiter added there “have been high-level discussions” between Ski Corp. and a two-person City Council sub-committee made up of Jason Lacy and Sonja Macys about operations of the historic ski hill in downtown Steamboat. The item was discussed at City Council’s May 20 meeting.

“Pursuant to our fiscal sustainability goal, (Council President Jason Lacy) and I have been talking to Ski Corp. a little bit about how to make the Howelsen Hill operation more fiscally sustainable, potentially, while also, obviously, maintaining the community and historic character and building on the amazing community engagement success that we’ve had over there,” Macys said when council emerged from the executive session.

Macys said she and Lacy had received good feedback from City Council and would probably get the item on the agenda for a future council meeting.

“Steamboat Ski Resort recognizes Howelsen Hill is a treasured asset, and along with our community, we all want to see it succeed, but Steamboat Ski Resort wasn’t a part of the May 20 executive session,” Ski Corp. Senior Communications Manager Loryn Kasten wrote in an email to Steamboat Pilot & Today.

In 2017, in response to a request for proposals from the city in operating Howelsen, Ski Corp. proposed an agreement that would’ve seen the resort take over operations on Howelsen. This ultimately resulted in an offer of Ski Corp. placing a general manager and assistant general manager at the hill for a year to serve as consultants initially, with a hint that the resort might be interested in taking on a bigger role at Howelsen.

Council members rejected the 2017 proposal due to the $250,000 price tag and a desire to pass management of the ski hill on to another organization entirely. 

In the most recent round of discussions about Howelsen operations, Suiter said City Council gave instructions to the pair of council members talking to Ski Corp. as they worked through “classic deal-point negotiating.”

“Basically, it was going down a list with ‘Here are some possible deal points,’” Suiter said. “They’ll go back and talk with Ski Corp., and then we’ll probably have another executive session and see if it’s worth moving forward or not.”

He said City Council has to weigh mutual benefits and mutual risks that the city and Ski Corp. would face.

If the item moves forward, it will eventually be the subject of an open meeting, Suiter said.

“There will have to be public-facing discussion, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “It’s definitely of community-wide interest.”

Some City Council members did not want to see the item discussed in executive session, which is closed to the public. According to the meeting agenda, the executive session was intended to allow the council to receive legal advice on specific questions and to determine positions and strategy for negotiations.

“I want to know why we’re going into an executive session for discussion about Howelsen Hill operations,” council member Heather Sloop said. “To me, I think this could be done in the public very well. I don’t feel like there is anything that shouldn’t be done in public when it comes to stuff like this. There’s no contract on the table, and there’s stuff that we can talk about in public.”

“We could see once we talk about the issues we have on the table,” Lacy said in response to Sloop’s concerns. “I certainly would be willing to come back and talk about it as much as we possibly could.”

Sloop said she didn’t feel the executive session on Howelsen Hill operations was necessary.

“When you’re doing business negotiations, if you lay all of your cards out on the table, then you don’t really have any negotiation,” council member Lisel Petis replied. 

“But we’re going to be given an offer, we either take it, or we don’t,” Sloop said.

“This is pre-conversations of offers,” Petis responded.

Council President Pro-Tem Kathi Meyer said council members not involved in the negotiations needed “to be read in” to those discussions.

Shortly after that, City Council voted 5-2 to enter executive session about Howelsen operations, with Sloop and Scott Ford opposed to the session. Ford didn’t explain his vote in the meeting.

When council opened the meeting, Lacy asked Macys to summarize the discussion. At that time, she provided the statement about making Howelsen operation more fiscally sustainable while maintaining the ski hill’s character.

Alpine Slide discussions

In the same executive session, City Council also discussed the city’s agreement with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club about the Alpine Slide on Howelsen Hill.

Suiter said this was a re-negotiation of the agreement, addressing how revenue is split and funding of a new chairlift to replace the aged and sliding Barrow’s Chairlift.

At a glance

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Marketing Director Rory Clow said the club aims to open the Alpine Slide on July 1.

The slide will be open daily from July 1 to Aug. 18, then on weekends until the season ends on Sept. 8. The Winter Sports Club is actively seeking employees to operate the slide.

Tickets prices will be as follows:

  • Kids ages 2 to 6: $7 per ride, must ride with ticketed adult.
  • Ages 6 and older: $15 per ride for one to four rides, $14 per ride for five to 11 rides, $13 per ride for 12 or more rides.
  • Veterans and active duty members of the military pay a discounted rate of $13 per ride.

“We’re very excited to have it up and running, and of course, it benefits the kids and the programing,” Clow said. “That’s a huge asset for us. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s great to have for Triple Crown and to draw people over to this side of the river.”

Clow said the Winter Sports Club will soon update with more information about when the slide will be open.

“Most of this is probably going to be pretty routine because we’ve had a 10-year agreement operating the Alpine Slide and the lift,” he said. “A lot of that will probably look the same but with a new agreement and a new term going forward.”

Unstable soil and shifting lift towers on the Barrows Lift line has become a consistent problem. The Alpine Slide was closed last summer as the chairlift underwent an approximately $35,000 repair expected to extend its life for two years, while the city works through the process of replacing the lift on more stable soil.

“Particularly in funding a new lift, if (the Winter Sports Club) does a capital campaign, they need certain assurances,” Suiter said. “At the same time, the city’s going to want certain assurances, too, that the chair remains available and accessible to the public if there are other activities — if we start hauling mountain bikes up there — that sort of thing.”

Suiter said he didn’t see insurmountable hurdles between the city and the Winter Sports Club in regards to the Alpine Slide negotiations, and while qualified that it was only a prediction, he didn’t anticipate these negotiations impacting this summer’s planned re-opening of the slide.

“It’s of mutual benefit for us to have the Alpine Slide operating — for the Winter Sports Club as well as for the city,” he said. 

To view the City Council’s discussion on this topic, visit

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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