Thursday, February 1, 2001
Steamboat Springs Spectators who have come to the Winter Carnival in the past 88 years have seen it all.
"When it first started it was street events in the morning and ski jumping in the afternoon," longtime Routt County resident Vernon Summer said. "Ninth Street was lined with people who came out just to watch the ski jumping."
In those early days, the professional ski jumpers would come to Steamboat from around the region hoping to pocket some of the prize money that was offered and take a shot at setting a new world record.
But it wasn't a world record or even a hill record that got Summer to the ski jumping hills back when he was just a small child.
A week earlier, he saw Conrad Merrill ride a toboggan off the middle jump at Howelsen Hill.
Summer had returned to the carnival with hopes of seeing the feat one more time.
"I just remember being a little disappointed that he didn't do it again," Summer said.
"Of course it wasn't planned as a carnival event. Conrad had just done it earlier in the week and gotten away with it."
Over the years, the carnival has sparked tons of stories like this one.
Ski jumping world records came and went just like the names of the athletes who set them.
It has also witnessed future Olympians competing in events like the donkey jump, and the antics of some of Steamboat's best-known residents have helped to raise the event to legendary status.
In Steamboat Springs, the annual carnival is as much a part of winter as, well, you guessed it, snow.
"The Winter Carnival was first held the second week of February and was founded to give a break and add some excitement to the long and cold Routt County winters," said Candice Lombardo, the curator at the Tread Of Pioneers Museum.
The event first began in 1914, not on Howelsen Hill, but on the steep slopes of Woodchuck Hill, where Colorado Mountain College is now located.
Norwegian Carl Howelsen organized the events that first year to help locals break the monotony of the winter.
Events included ski jumping, Steamboat Gun Club shoot, a 10-mile cross-country ski race, a boys stake race and a ladies quarter-mile and return free-for-all.
In the years that followed, the carnival changed in many ways.
The location moved across the Yampa River to Howelsen Hill, events such as the parade and street event became regulars and the event was slowly molded into what it is today.
People such as Olympian Buddy Werner, know for his dominance on the alpine course, set new marks in events like ski jumping.
In fact, Werner competed in his first Winter Carnival in 1943, when he soared 72 feet in the Class F jumping, according to Sureva Towler's book "The History of Skiing at Steamboat Springs."
In the early days, trains from Denver filled with spectators arrived in Steamboat for the Winter Carnival celebration and a chance to see a marching band perform on skis.
The band was added to the carnival events in 1935 and is still a highlight of the parade.
The event has survived snow-drought years, the loss of the town's beloved son Buddy Werner and Colorado's, and Steamboat's, economic ups and downs.
Today, tourists pack the sides of Lincoln Avenue to watch the Winter Carnival events unfold on the final Saturday and Sunday just as longtime locals have watched the event unfold for the past 88 winters.