Tales from the Tread: Winter Carnival memories
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
The 110th Winter Carnival starts Wednesday, Feb. 8, and to celebrate, the Tread of Pioneers Museum and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club are partnering to honor the heritage of this iconic Steamboat tradition.
First, at noon on Wednesday, join local Olympian Ben Berend and the Tread of Pioneers Museum for a free Olympic Heritage Tour at Howelsen Hill to explore Steamboat’s unmatched Olympic story and Berend’s athletic journey to Olympic excellence. Learn about the history of Winter Carnival, Carl Howelsen, ski jumping, Howelsen Hill and the SSWSC.
Next, don’t miss the “Winter Carnival Memories” event at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill. Longtime locals will come together in a panel of speakers to share their favorite Winter Carnival memories through the decades. Enjoy complimentary hot beverages at this free public event.
Throughout the Carnival, the museum will share historic Winter Carnival film footage on its YouTube channel and Facebook page. Be sure to listen for Winter Carnival history during announcements at the weekend’s street events.
We’ll start by answering, “How did Winter Carnival begin?”
- Discovered by local Marjorie Perry in Hot Sulphur Springs at their Winter Carnival, Norwegian ski jumping pioneer Carl Howelsen started the first Steamboat Winter Carnival events in 1914 on Woodchuck Hill, the present site of Colorado Mountain College. The first carnival introduced ski jumping and competitive skiing to the people of Steamboat Springs. Until then, local skiing was primarily a mode of winter transportation.
- Officials estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 people gathered to watch a simultaneous jump by Carl Howelsen and James Pestrud that first year. The events were so popular that residents decided Winter Carnival should return annually.
- The mid-winter carnival also serves as a fundraiser for the renowned Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. The club founded by Carl Howelsen continues to train and develop Steamboat’s talented athletes, and prepare them to succeed in life.
Over the years, some events have turned into longstanding traditions, while others were short-lived:
- In the past, the penalty for being spotted without a Winter Carnival Button was to push a peanut down Lincoln Avenue using your nose.
- In 1977, three Lighted Men skied down Howelsen Hill in the Night Show.
- The high school marching band first performed on skis in 1935.
- In 1920, two enterprising ranchers created “hub-mobiles” — sleds mounted with six-foot airplane propellers — and raced them down Lincoln Avenue.
- In 1921, one of the prizes awarded to winning amateur ski jumpers was a 20 pound bucket of lard. Other practical prizes of the past included a wheel of cheese.
- Accommodating the surge in visitors for Winter Carnival in the early days posed some challenges. In 1959, a newspaper article promised visitors would have room to sleep in Steamboat’s schools, vacant storefronts and the county’s equipment storage shop. Fitzsimmons Hospital in Denver loaned 200 cots and 400 blankets to help fill the need. (Hey, it’s not the Airbnbs of today, but it was a way to attend Winter Carnival!)
- Longtime South Routt residents and historians Ellen and Paul Bonnifield remember the mid-1980s: “At that time, many ranchers still fed with feed teams and sleds during the winter, and several ‘team pulls’ were held throughout the county and at the fair. Paul put together a feed team contest in the rodeo arena for the carnival. Bob Gay, as one judge, set the rules …”
- Then, in 2020, who can forget: “The skies over Steamboat Springs, Colorado, erupted in red as the world’s largest firework launched Saturday night at the city’s annual Winter Carnival. The firework shell weighed almost 2,800 pounds, about the weight of a Toyota Corolla, and was 62 inches — a little more than five feet — in diameter,” as told by CNN.com.
By looking back on carnivals of the past, we can appreciate and celebrate this town, its traditions and the community members who make Winter Carnival the best winter celebration in the nation.
Candice Bannister is the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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