Hundreds turn out for free skiing at Howelsen in Steamboat |

Hundreds turn out for free skiing at Howelsen in Steamboat

Nicole Inglis

— On a crisp Saturday morning, Gary Smalley was heading up for his sixth lap on Howelsen Hill's Face, the steep, rolling ski trail that seemingly cascades right into downtown Steamboat Springs.

"I'm not tired of it yet," he said with his Telemark skis dangling from the two-person chairlift, even though the Face was the only run open.

Smalley doesn't have a season pass to Howelsen, nor does he have a pass to Steamboat Ski Area, but the avid backcountry skier heard that Howelsen was offering free lift tickets Saturday for its public opening day and couldn't help himself.

"The view of town from the top is really exciting," he said. "The Face run is as challenging as it needs to be, and they do such a good job of grooming here.

"It's great. This is a nice opportunity to come up and check it out."

Smalley wasn't the only one taking advantage of the community appreciation free skiing event going on all day Saturday.

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Ski area workers behind the concession stand, where lift tickets are sold, said they had given away more than 200 tickets by 11 a.m.

Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Supervisor Craig Robinson called Saturday a "great day" that hopefully showcased the small ski area to its local community.

"Howelsen is what makes Ski Town USA, Ski Town USA," Robinson said, gesturing around at the bustling lodge of ski boot-clad toddlers and international Nordic teams.

"Whether it's the teams training in every discipline or the little kids who have never skied before."

The city of Steamboat Springs operates the historic ski hill and offered the community appreciation day as a thank you for supporting the Howelsen Hill Centennial Campaign, which has raised $1.8 million of its $2.3 million goal to support operations and improvements.

On Saturday, there was abundant entertainment for the public as skiers and riders rode the chairlift. At the softball fields below, countless Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club youngsters played in the snow, crawling through tires and pulling one another on toboggans. The freestyle team was going inverted off a jump near the base, a snowboard race team whizzed through gates and young Nordic combined skiers competed on the ski jumps.

Thirty-year Routt County resident Jane Howell rode the lift again and again Saturday, taking it all in. Every time she passed ski area workers, she thanked them for the job they did.

"My kids grew up on this hill," Howell said. "I always worked it and never skied it, so it was on my bucket list to come ski here."

Several years ago, she bought a season pass and crossed that off her list. She also purchases a pass to Steamboat Ski Area, and they each serve their own purpose, she said.

Howelsen has become to Howell more than a training ground for her children and grandchildren: It's a close-to-home recreational escape.

"It's a hometown hill," Howell said. "I can walk over here, throw on my cross-country skis or Teles, and in a couple of hours, I get fresh air, sunshine and a good time."

"And just look at the view."

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

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