Steamboat Springs The heavy equipment working on the eastern flank of Howelsen Hill this week is building the newest extension of the city's cross country ski trail. And there's a name change involved.
Dan Smilkstein of the Nordic Alliance said the new extension will add two-and-a-half kilometers to the original three kilometers constructed last year at this time on city property.
The new segment will extend the trail all the way to the boundary of private property where the path of a natural gas pipeline is visible from U.S. 40.
Last year's trail segment was originally named the "Bluffs Loop" because it traverses a bench overlooking the Yampa River.
Now, 2001's three-kilometer addition has been renamed Haks Sp(trail) in memory of HakLindgren, a native Swede who had a significant impact on Nordic skiing in Steamboat and Colorado. The name "Bluffs Loop" will be saved for the new extension. A series of handsome new trail signs are already in place helping to guide skiers around the loop.
The completion of the five-kilometer Bluffs loop will also provide the easiest access yet to the rolling intermediate skiing in Howelsen Meadows, Smilkstein said.
"The trail will loop back along a series of relatively mild climbs to make the trail connection to Howelsen Meadows," he added. "You won't have any of those abrupt climbs."
The trail is also open to people on snowshoes.
The City of Steamboat Springs' Jeff Nelson said he thinks this fall's work will finish off the development of the trail system at Howelsen and make it a viable partner with the half-dozen touring areas that now exist in the Yampa Valley.
"It's going to be a wonderful trail," Nelson said. "I think it's going to give us a total facility so we can be a great asset to the valley as far as another touring center. If you wanted to come here for a cross country vacation, you could go to a different area every day and see new terrain."
Nelson is the city's skier services/rodeo supervisor. He served as chief of the cross country courses during the Winter Olympics at Soldier Hollow. Collaborating with Nelson on the trail design were Steamboat Springs Winter Sport Club Nordic Director Todd Wilson and former U.S. Nordic Combined coach Tom Steitz.
Smilkstein said the trackhoe building the trail is only being used where the side slope on the terrain is severe enough to require a road cut to provide reasonably level skiing. Only about one-third of the new extension is being cut with the heavy equipment, Smilkstein estimated.
Ricky Mewborn, a former Olympic ski jumper, is operating the backhoe for Native Excavating.
The balance of the trail is being "brush-hogged" to remove sagebrush and make it easier to groom the snow in winter. Nelson said the areas where only brush removal is necessary results in less impact on the landscape.
Nelson said the trails at Howelsen are entirely dependent upon natural snow.
They are groomed for both skate and classic skiing, with the budget for that work being supplied by the Nordic Alliance.
Smilkstein said the Nordic council would plan a volunteer workday later in the fall to complete the work of removing brush from the new ski trail.