Steamboat Springs Jeff Nelson probably could have predicted in October how many skier days Howelsen Hill would log this winter.
"The last four seasons our skier days have averaged right at 14,000," Nelson said.
He is the skier services/rodeo supervisor for the city of Steamboat Springs.
Howelsen Hill is a city park, and perhaps the only municipal ski area in America to combine alpine skiing, snowboarding, freestyle jumping, ski jumping and groomed cross country skiing. Add in the ability to host international World Cup skiing events, and Howelsen is truly rare.
Durango has Chapman Hill, but it's nothing like Howelsen. The closest thing may be Snow King in Jackson, Wyo., but that impressive little ski hill is owned by the lodging property situated at its base.
Howelsen sold a few more than 800 season passes this winter and took in a little more than $50,000 in revenues, not nearly enough to offset the operating budget of $500,000.
The city is left to subsidize the true cost of operating Howelsen Hill.
Nelson is quick to point out that among the 45 people who work at the ski area are many who work as few as three hours a week, and others who are full-time city employees.
Those full-time employees work elsewhere in the city's parks system spring, summer and much of the fall.
But their entire salaries are charged to the ski area budget, skewing the figures to some degree.
However, if the city were trying to break even on its ski area, it probably wouldn't be charging the low fee schedule it is, and Nelson says although he wants to capture all the revenue the city is due, he's more interested in his employees forging strong relationships with the skiing public than he is with counting every skier who grabs the T-bar for the ride to the top of Howelsen.
"It's more important to me that they give good service than whether or not they mark off every skier who bought a ticket that day," Nelson said. "Our lift operators are on a first-name basis with (the skiers) by the end of the season. I think that really relates to what Howelsen is all about the kids growing up in a great atmosphere."
Skiing Howelsen's steep 400 vertical feet, or one of its gentle winding trails down the back of the hill remains a bargain.
Through Dec. 31, a season pass for adults cost $80 and youth age 18 and under paid just $25. Kids 6 and under picked up a season pass for $15.
Daily passes are $10, but there are two opportunities daily to ride the lifts for just $3.
The "nooner" pass allow people to ski or snowboard for $3 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. And $3 will also leverage four hours of skiing from 5 to 9 p.m.
When Nelson dreams about making improvements at Howelsen, he thinks about replacing the old snowmaking system that was installed in 1981.
It was originally intended only to cover the ski jumps with manmade snow.
Now they cover the alpine slopes, build the freestyle jump and help create the snowboarding halfpipe.
The old system turns 400 gallons of water a minute into snow under favorable conditions. A new system could increase that the volume to between 1,500 and 2,000 gallons a minute.
"That would reduce the time we spend making snow by six weeks," Nelson said. "We spend about three months making snow. With a new system we could open by mid-November and our kids wouldn't have to travel to Keystone and A-Basin," for early season slalom training.
Nelson realizes a new snowmaking system is probably a pipe dream it would cost millions of dollars. And he believes he has the kind of employees that will continue turning out a quality product.
"The crew at Howelsen Hill is just fabulous," Nelson said. "They've bought into the idea that this is the heart of Steamboat."