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Winter Sports Club does not want to change Howelsen Hill joint use agreement

Fireworks explode over Howelsen Hill during the 2014 Winter Carnival.
Scott Franz

— The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club does not share the desire of some City Council members to replace or make major revisions to a successful 28-year-old joint use agreement the club has with the city for Howelsen Hill.

Some City Council members are pushing to create a new joint use agreement that could offer the city more financial security and reduce its risk on such things as maintenance and operating costs at the ski complex.

But the Winter Sports Club and its legal counsel do not see any advantages to scrapping the current agreement and coming up with a new one.



They also have not heard any public outcry that would warrant any changes to the agreement.

“We’ve been hearing from the community that we should be investing more in Howelsen, not less,” Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne said.



Changing the current agreement could hurt the club by not allowing the council to commit to a multi-year financial obligation under a new deal because of state laws that have been passed since the original document was signed.

“This agreement was intended to transcend city managers and fleeting city councils,” Boyne said Tuesday at a work session to discuss Howelsen Hill. “The intent was for this to be a perpetual agreement.”

The agreement cannot be terminated unless the city decides it does not want to run a ski hill, something no council member has advocated for.

The city would also have to offer the club the assets at the ski complex in good working order and offer to lease the land.

Boyne said the club is willing to work with the city to address challenges and improve the ski complex without touching the document that has governed the club’s relationship with the city.

For example, the club and the council could soon work together to bring more clarity and consistency to the public skiing hours at Howelsen.

The current joint use agreement requires the city to be solely responsible for “the operation, maintenance, repair, construction, reconstruction and replacement of the Ski Complex including all trails, slopes, lifts, buildings, structures, snow making equipment, grooming equipment, utilities and parking areas.”

Although the Winter Sports Club and the city have operated for many years with a level of trust that has avoided any major issues or legal battles under the agreement, councilman Scott Ford questioned whether that would always be the case.

He suggested there are big risks to the city under the current agreement.

One of his fears is that in the future, the Winter Sports Club may not be as agreeable to postpone major and costly repairs to the hill that could ding the city’s budget.

This issue came up last year when the council voted to postpone $880,000 worth of stabilization work city staff wanted to do over the next two years on Howelsen. The project was replaced with the $150,000 soil study.

Gabion baskets, which serve as retaining walls near some of the ski jumps, are starting to fail, and city staff was proposing to replace the baskets next year and use soil nails to further stabilize the earth on the steep slopes.

Boyne noted that although the joint use agreement requires the city to maintain the ski complex, the club did not force the council to go forward with the repairs.

Ford said under the current agreement, the club could have held the city’s “feet to the fire.”

In addition to Ford, council members Tony Connell and Heather Sloop have also expressed an interest in changing the joint use agreement.

The council could meet in executive session next week to seek legal opinions on potential changes to the agreement.

“I am optimistic we are going to come to terms,” Ford said. “I understand we are a caretaker of a legacy that has got 100 years of history. I don’t think we are in any way, shape or form backing away from that level of commitment.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10


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