Spectators catch chariots of fun, jumps with joy
Knees shaking and heart pounding, Deana Voeltzel could do little more than worry from her position along Lincoln Avenue.
Moments later, the subject of Voeltzel’s worry — her 7-year-old daughter, Kayla — came barreling down Steamboat Springs’ snow-packed main street, small hands grasping a rope that tenuously connected her tiny frame to that of a large, galloping horse.
Only in Steamboat Springs.
Kayla bent her knees and prepared for liftoff as she neared the small jump situated in the middle of the street. Letting go of the rope, Kayla let her skis carry her over the jump and, eventually, safely into the arms of her mother.
And thus another year of donkey jumping commenced.
The donkey jump was one of a multitude of Winter Carnival events held Saturday, when horses, pedestrians and event participants always had the right of way on a closed-off portion of Lincoln Avenue.
As has been the case since 1915, the street events of the Winter Carnival usually arethe most popular and crowd-pleasing. Horses are used in many of the events, such as the donkey jump, ski joring, street slalom and shovel races, blending the Yampa Valley’s longtime traditions of ranching and skiing.
A large crowd lined both sides of Lincoln Avenue on Saturday morning, braving cold temperatures and a breeze to be part of the one-of-a-kind winter tradition.
On display were some of Steamboat’s most talented young skiers, including Luke Anderson and Matt O’Donnell.
There are three keys to a successful donkey jump, said Anderson, 10. One is getting paired with a fast horse, the second is keeping your mouth closed to avoid the clumps of snow kicked up by galloping equines, and the third is to “climb the rope” at the peak of the jumping ramp.
Anderson used all three keys to produce a crowd-pleasing donkey jump Saturday.
But if the crowd’s applause grew with the length and creativity of each donkey jump, then the cheer for O’Donnell was one of the loudest of the day.
O’Donnell, 10, spun a 180-degree jump off the small donkey ramp and enthusiastically pumped his fists as he landed it.
All in a day’s work, O’Donnell said.
“I was thinking about doing a ‘3’, but I didn’t feel like it,” O’Donnell said, referring to a 360-degree rotation.
Strategically standing at the corner of Ninth Street and Lincoln Avenue, Peggy and Dick Filer smiled with each passing jump.
Steamboat residents for the past 12 years, the Filers haven’t missed a Winter Carnival, and they don’t plan to.
“I love to watch the kids,” Peggy Filer said. “They’re great. They have such a good time.”
And, as longtime residents will tell you, having a good time is what the Winter Carnival is all about. It began in 1914 as a way to help residents escape the cabin fever associated with long Routt County winters. The event has been celebrated ever since, and it continues today at 9 a.m. with more street events along Lincoln Avenue, followed by the Diamond Hitch Parade.
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