Steamboat’s plan to start winter tubing at Howelsen Hill hits snag
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — While the city still plans to move forward with starting winter tubing at Howelsen Hill Ski Area, Steamboat Springs City Council members agreed there are several kinks they would like to work out before the next season.
Several council members expressed issues during a regular meeting Tuesday evening with funding a lift for winter tubers. Angela Cosby, Steamboat Parks and Recreation director, estimated the project would cost $440,000.
In its first year, winter tubing would only draw an estimated $18,670 in revenue due to startup costs and only having 21 days of operation in the 2021 fiscal year. But each year forward, Cosby said the city could expect more revenue with profits projected at $195,011 in 2022 and $208,582 in 2023.
Council member Kathi Meyer raised concerns about the city putting money into an area where it is not guaranteed a return on the investment, but other council members felt the operation would make a profit and make the original investment worthwhile.
“In the end, the money will come back to us,” council member Robin Crossan said. “If we don’t do any projects because we don’t get a return on our investments immediately or in the first year, we would never improve this community.”
Money earned from tubing would go into the city’s general fund, which council members agreed is important to replenish, particularly as the city spends more than it brings in on the Howelsen Complex.
“Overall, we’re going to have this revenue opportunity and bring the overall operating cost of Howelsen Hill down,” council member Michael Buccino said. “We put money into a lot of things, and we don’t get a pay back at all. We’ll get some kind of pay back here.”
In addition to costs of operation, council members raised issue with a possible location of the tubing lift, which Parks and Recreation staff proposed within the boundaries of the Steamboat Sulphur Cave, a cave filled with lethal gases that sits underneath Howelsen Ski Area and was recently designated as a National Natural Landmark.
Council members raised concerns with whether or not the National Park Service, which technically has jurisdiction over the cave, would allow the city to build within its boundaries, though Howelsen Ski and Rodeo Manager Brad Setter said the lift would be located several yards from the entrance of the cave.
“The National Parks Service does recognize that we’ve been running a ski area operation here for many years,” Setter said. “What we’re looking at doing is putting a lift on top of what’s already there, significantly downhill from the entrance of the cave.”
Still, some council members felt the city needed explicit permission from the federal government and suggested not moving forward until there is a formal letter of approval.
“We’re treating something that’s a big deal as something that’s just done in passing,” council member Sonja Macys said. “We need to factor this in on the front end and not look at it as an aside or a parallel course.”
City Manager Gary Suiter said while he did not disagree with council’s suggestions, he cautioned that seeking written permission from the federal government could require pushing back the city’s timeline, as the federal government moves slowly.
“We need to be prepared for a little bit of the unexpected,” Suiter said.
City staff agreed to communicate with the National Parks Service and update council in the future before ordering the lift and starting construction.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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