Tales from the Tread: The early days of Winter Carnival
February 2, 2016
Steamboat Springs — In honor of the 103rd Winter Carnival, I dug into the depths of the Tread of Pioneers Museum's rich archive and the Steamboat Pilot newspapers to share with you some of the articles describing the first Winter Carnival events that would form the foundation of a century-long tradition and an iconic symbol of the spirit of our ski heritage in Steamboat Springs.
Of particular interest is how the early Winter Carnivals were referred to as "Ski Tournaments," with high-level competitions for professional ski jumpers from all over the U.S.
• "Ski Tournament Here Feb. 12-13" (Steamboat Pilot, Jan. 21, 1914)
"Arrangements have been completed to hold a big ski tournament here on Thursday and Friday, February 12-13. The money has been promised to defray the expense of a big crowd and a good time is assured. Some of the best professional ski jumpers in the world will be here, including such names as C. Howelsen, J. Andrews, Mr. Moody and others. There will be coasting, jumping and long distance contests for both professional and amateurs, and many good prizes are offered. Steamboat Springs is an ideal place for such a tournament and its success is assured."
What good prizes you ask? Typical prizes were often a pair of skis made out of ash or birch, wool sweaters, glass bowls and silver spoons for the ladies' events, and of course cash for the pros. Long-time local Vernon Summer even remembers receiving a wheel of cheese for his prize.
• "Steamboat Will Hold a Two Day Ski Tournament" (Steamboat Pilot, Jan. 28, 1914)
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"…Carl Howelsen is one of the best ski jumpers that ever came to this country. His performances are thrilling in the highest degree. He delights in the sport and it will be a rare treat to see him in action.
Mr. Howelsen will be here today to prepare the course, which will be in splendid shape with the recent snows. A large attendance is certain, for the railhead will make special rates and it is intended to have an entertainment worthwhile."
• Letter to the Editor by Marcellus Merrill about the first Winter Carnival (Steamboat Pilot, Feb. 9, 1984)
"Dear Editor: As an old-timer in his 80s, well do I remember that Ski Jump (some may call it 'Carnival') over on Woodchuck Hill. Carl Howelsen came in with a friend, Carl Prestrud of Dillon, to put on this event.
All the boys in town were invited to participate in the jumping events. It so happened that Carl Howelsen said we had to tie on our skis with rawhide bindings. My folks said, 'That's impossible, you're going to break your legs' and refused to let us jump in the first Ski Jump. My Cousin, Russell Merrill, did jump, though, and if I remember right, Paul Twinder won the boys' jumping event.
Teams of horses, sleds and several hundred people were gathered at the foot of Woodchuck Hill. It was quite a gathering for Steamboat in those days. All for that wonderful ski jumping event.
Carl Howelsen jumped and I expect won first prize, whatever it was. Then Carl Howelsen and Carl Prestrud made a twin jump. Oh boy! Everybody yelled and hollered at that. I suppose they jumped about 70 feet down that hill. It was quite a sight.
We all thought a lot of Carl Howelsen and he thought a lot of Steamboat. Someone asked him how he happened to come to Steamboat. 'Well,' he said, 'it had a lot of snow which I like and beef steak is so cheap.' At that time it was 10 to 15 cents a pound and that especially interested him. When he arrived he bought a little place over in Strawberry Park."
Candice Bannister is director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs.