Wet weather causes small slides at Howelsen, not unusual this time of year

A small slide on the face of Howelsen Hill can be seen from downtown Steamboat Springs. Howelsen Hill Ski Area Supervisor Robbie Shine said the ski area is keeping an eye on what he calls a small slide that was brought on by the rain and moisture the area has received the past couple of weeks.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

A wet spring has brought much needed moisture to the Yampa Valley this month, but it has also given Howelsen Hill Ski Area Supervisor Robbie Shine reason for concern, as small sections of the hill are sliding.

Shine, who has worked at Howelsen for two decades and the past three as supervisor, said it’s nothing new.

“You can see it when you look at old photographs that date back to the 40s, and Howelsen has a huge crack in it,” Shine said. “It has been happening for almost a century, and it is just something we have to live with. Hopefully we can mitigate it and just make them smaller, and smaller every year.”

Shine said he believes the most recent slide at Howelsen Hill began Saturday night, or Sunday morning. He said he has been monitoring the slide since it appeared and the good news is it’s small, and is a long way from where work on the new chairlift was completed last fall and the ski jumping hills.

“You know we are happy with the moisture,” Shine said. “You can see that clay layer that is just so red, and then there’s that topsoil layer on top that’s just breaking off with the moisture — we’ve gotten three inches of rain in just over two weeks.”

At this point, Shine said he is not overly concerned, but plans to keep an eye on what’s happening. He has seen this happen before and admits there is not much that can be done.

“There is not much you can do when that water hits that clay layer,” Shine said. “It just kind of makes its own path. The good news is that it looks like our chair alignment, and all that stuff that we did last year still looks tremendous.

He said Howelsen presents a challenge because there is a layer of clay, which is harder and slicker than the soil on top of it. The steep grade of the slopes makes for great skiing, but it is also makes slides an annual event.

“Howelsen is not flat. It’s really steep, which is a unique situation,” Shine said. “We just try to keep our water bars directing water into the correct spots, and make sure we don’t have too much erosion. We have good erosion controls, and use best management practices as far as getting our seed down and trying to keep grasses, and smaller shrubs in place to try to retain the soil.”

For now, all Shine and the City of Steamboat Springs can do is watch and hope that the soil on the hill holds. He expects things to continue to dry out in the next few weeks.

“The hill has just got so much moisture the last couple of months,” Shine said. “Once that dries up, and we can kind of see those soils tighten up and the grasses start to grow a little deeper and root I expect the hill will settle. I just don’t know the time frame for it to dry out, and if we keep getting moisture then I will keep worrying.”

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