Winter Carnival: Steeped in 100 years of tradition |

Winter Carnival: Steeped in 100 years of tradition

Annual celebration of Western flare and skiing heritage returns to Steamboat Springs

Winter Carnival events on Lincoln Avenue.


Gene Cook, 90, volunteered at Winter Carnival ski jumping competitions in the 1950s

Cook confirmed that in the 1950s, Winter Carnival marked the only time between hunting season and summer when Steamboat’s commercial lodgings were busy. He purchased the Western Lodge on Lincoln Avenue in 1956. “We had four or five good nights during carnival,” Cook said. “The rest of the winter, we might come down at night and rent a room to someone whose car had broken down. We charged them $4.” Cook said the biggest impression that Winter Carnival left on him was the way the entire community pitched in. “What is so significant to me is that everybody was volunteering in planning and executing, and everything worked,” Cook said. Cook was standing on the landing hill of the ski jump during one carnival when Ansten Samuelstuen, known for jumping with his arms thrust forward, outjumped the hill and landed beyond the K Point. Samuelstuen was a member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club from 1951 until 1965 and broke the U.S. record in 1951, soaring 316 feet. The record stood for 11 years. Samuelstuen also was a member of the U.S. Olympic jumping team at Squaw Valley, where he placed seventh in 1960. He also competed in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.


Katherine Gourley, 87, recalls a Winter Carnival in the 1930s

“At that time, it was ski jumping and that was the thing,” Gourley said. “We came in from the ranch, in the sleigh pulled by horses, because that was the only way. We almost never drove in the winter. It was about eight miles. Both of my bothers (Ivan and Everett Hudspeth) were world-class ski jumpers, and we’d stand out there and watch, and there were no facilities. No bathroom, no food, no lodge. I got a little cold. The big deal was that they gave out the trophies at the Chief Theater. Ivan qualified for the Olympic tryout in 1936, but he didn’t have the money to go and John Steele (Steamboat’s first Olympian in 1932) went instead.”


Nancy Howell recalled her first trip to see Winter Carnival in 1951 or 1952 with a group of students from the University of Denver.

“We came by car and someone forgot to arrange housing for us. When we got here, there were no rooms, but someone said we could sleep on the (wooden) benches in the courthouse. We were so young we could do that. I remember watching the ski jumper Art Devlin break the record. I was right there and saw it.”

— Steamboat has been a cowboy ski town for a century now, and the Winter Carnival riders who gallop their horses down Lincoln Avenue every February with young skiers towed behind are living proof.

The Winter Carnival street events that bind town and country folks, skiers and cowboys are a blur of sight and sound. The coats of quarter horses are thick to ward off the winter cold, and they snort vapor from their nostrils as they pound down the street with helmeted children hanging tightly to the tow rope. At the curb, parents beam with pride while they say a little prayer during this Steamboat rite of passage.

The genesis of Winter Carnival is ski jumping — which has been the foundation of Steamboat Springs' annual celebration of snow since its inception in February 1914 — but it might be a few of the other events unique to Ski Town USA that have kept the tradition alive for a century.