Broncos’ 1984 Snow Bowl win made the phones ring at Steamboat Central Reservations |

Broncos’ 1984 Snow Bowl win made the phones ring at Steamboat Central Reservations

Snowy gridirons — ski resorts' delight

Former Denver Broncos running back Sammy Winder runs through a hole in the Green Bay Packers' defense after taking a handoff from quarterback John Elway during the Oct. 15, 1984, Snow Bowl game. Steamboat resident Rod Hanna was on the sidelines as the Broncos' official photographer and well understands the boost a snowy game in Denver can provide the Colorado ski industry.
Photo courtesy Rod Hanna

— Anyone who watched the Denver Broncos’ dramatic overtime win over the New England Patriots Sunday night and thought the conditions in Sports Authority Field at Mile High were extreme is too young to remember the Oct. 15, 1984, Snow Bowl.

It was just 31 years ago when the Denver defense led the way with two fumble returns for touchdowns by defensive backs Louis Wright and Steve Foley that fueled the Broncos’ 17-14 win over the Green Bay Packers.

The nationally-televised game was played in a dense snowstorm that almost called for snowshoes instead of cleats. Still, the Monday night game made such an impression on the national television audience that it boosted numbers for the 1984-85 ski season at resorts across the Colorado Rockies.

Steamboat resident Rod Hanna can tell the story firsthand.

At the time, he was both the official photographer of the Broncos and the public relations director for Steamboat Ski Area. The Broncos’ starting quarterback was a young John Elway; his backup was current Broncos’ head coach Gary Kubiak.

“The conditions were significantly worse (during the 200th broadcast of Monday Night Football in 1984) than they were last night,” Hanna said. “I don’t think it probably affected the players hardly at all from a visibility standpoint, but it probably did in terms of footing later in the game.”

During the 1984 game, players who dove to the turf found themselves sledding without a sled.

One of the outcomes of the Snow Bowl was the unexpected positive impact it had on the ski industry. Everyone who lives in Steamboat and has relatives in distant states has had to explain to family and friends that, “No, that big blizzard in Denver hardly touched us. We got a few inches, but as a rule, when it snows really hard on the Front Range, the storm misses us to the south.”

Steamboat was in a snowy pattern of its own Sunday night and skiing has been great, but it isn’t often that Mount Werner is receiving the blessings of the snow gods at the same time Denver is getting blasted. But snow falling in Denver is good news for Steamboat.

When Hanna returned to work Tuesday morning following the Snow Bowl in 1984, it was self-evident that a televised snowstorm in Denver makes people jump up from the couch and book ski vacations.

“The phone lines were just jamming,” he recalled this week.

And the timing of the Snow Bowl in October could not have been better for Steamboat. It arrived just about three years after the ski area began investing in snowmaking systems, Hanna explained.

The significance was twofold. Snowmaking provides an insurance against low-snow Decembers like the ski area had experienced in 1980-81, and for the first time, it meant the ski area could promote the availability of skiing for Thanksgiving weekend.

“Most of the lodging properties, back then had a 30-day cancellation policy,” Hanna added. “The fact that you had some skiing and snow 30 days (in advance of the December holidays) was very important to solidify Christmas bookings.”

Changing film in the snow

The Snow Bowl coincided with an era when photographs were recorded on film, the photographers set their exposures manually and there was no such thing as autofocus.

“It was fun,” Hanna recalls of the game. “If you were sitting in the stands (which he remembers as being half empty), it was probably miserable. But I was working, moving around and having a good time. The real ridiculous part was trying to change film (in the blowing snow). You had to try and find a place where you could cover yourself with your coat.”

After the Snow Bowl, Hanna dropped off his color negative film for processing at a lab in downtown Denver and made the long drive home in darkness. He wouldn’t know until the processed film arrived in Steamboat days later if he’d scored a touchdown with his images. But he knew early on that Tuesday morning that the legendary Snow Bowl had been a big hit for Steamboat Ski Area.

In 2015, fans of Steamboat don’t have to watch football games to know how the powder flies. They can keep the ski area’s Webcams on their computer desktops.

“With the evolution of digital media, snow conditions are now a daily passion for many folks,” Steamboat Ski Area Public Relations Director Mike Lane said. “Even so, seeing it snowing in Colorado for three hours straight is always a good thing. And to get a Bronco win is even better.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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