Winter Sports Club, Steamboat council reach agreement on Howelsen Hill
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The city of Steamboat Springs and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club have worked out an update to an agreement that details expectations for operations and maintenance on Howelsen Hill.
After two years of negotiations, the city and the Winter Sports Club reached the final terms of an update to the organizations’ 1987 joint use agreement that irons out each entity’s responsibilities for maintenance and improvements on America’s oldest ski hill.
“There’s a lot of work to do here at Howelsen Hill,” said Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne. “I know the city recognizes it, and we do. In order for us to get the support of the community and get the support of donors to help move Howelsen Hill to a point of stability for the future, we need to show that we have a strong partnership.”
Boyne said the agreement will allow Howelsen to progress for future generations, “whether that’s kids in the Winter Sports Club or whether that’s families who want to continue to come out to Howelsen Hill as an affordable solution and as an avenue to ski.”
Steamboat Springs City Council members Heather Sloop and Robin Crossan served on the council’s sub-committee negotiating the agreement. Sloop said the agreement creates a greater equivalency between the two organizations in financial responsibility and use of the ski hill.
“I think it is the biggest step forward that we could’ve ever made as a city and a community,” she said. “I’m tickled.”
As part of the agreement, the city will contribute about $600,000 for operations and maintenance at Howelsen. The Winter Sports Club will pay $100,000 annually for capital improvements to the ski area.
“The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has a long history of investing with the city in Howelsen Hill, and our willingness to commit capital for future improvements was a decision that was easy for us to make,” Boyne said. “We’ve acted that way and have invested several million dollars in the hill. We’re committed to continue to work with the city to make it better and keep it sustainable.”
The agreement also lays out a plan for the troubled Barrows Chairlift. The lift was repaired earlier this summer, and the repair is expected to keep the lift operational this winter, summer 2019, and hopefully, winter 2019, council member Robin Crossan said.
This winter, the lift will again carry skiers up Emerald Mountain to participate in Ski Free Sundays and the free learn-to-ski program for local second-graders.
The city has commissioned a study to develop recommendations to stabilize the hill, which frequently sees shifting earth beneath its infrastructure. Once the results of this study are in, the Winter Sports Club and the city will work together to address replacement and relocation of the lift, including fundraising for whatever inevitable solution comes forward for the Barrows Lift.
“We know that we need a new (chairlift),” Crossan said. “It’s old.”
Crossan added that the lift benefits both winter and summer users, which are not always the same groups. A new lift could include a set up that would allow people to carry their mountain bikes to the south side of Emerald Mountain, she said.
“That’s the uniqueness of our Howelsen Hill area,” she said. “It’s a park for a reason. There are lots of things to do there.”
The city will be responsible for snowmaking, grooming and operating the ski lifts on Howelsen. The city will also take care of the maintenance of snowmaking and grooming equipment, signs and lifts as well as pruning vegetation from the ski runs when necessary.
The Winter Sports Club will be allowed to pay off its user fees for use of bike trails on Howelsen by maintaining and cleaning up the trails.
The club and the city will share operation of the Howelsen Hill Lodge. The city will operate Olympian Hall, the fireplace room, ski patrol offices and restrooms. The Winter Sports Club will maintain its offices, locker rooms and storage. It will continue to be allowed to use the city-operated areas of the lodge for club activities.
Under the agreement, the two entities will work together to schedule times when Howelsen will be open only to Winter Sports Club events and training. The Winter Sports Club will not be allowed to schedule competitions or other exclusive uses of the ski hill unless agreed to in advance with the city manager. This could address some user conflicts that occurred last winter as athletes competed at the same time that many recreational skiers were on the hill during Ski Free Sundays.
An ordinance to adopt the agreement will go before council at its regular meeting Sept. 4. If approved, the agreement would get its final stamp of approval at a second reading by the council Sept. 18. The boards of directors of both the Winter Sports Club and the Winter Sports Club Foundation have already approved the agreement.
“The public should be very proud of what the club and the city have done for the future of the hill,” Sloop said. “It’s hammering in the last nail to ensure that this hill will stay the way it should be for future generations — and that is for use by all, kids and adults.”
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