Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Every day this spring, Jeff Nelson has taken a moment to look up the face of Howelsen Hill and hope for the best.
Every day, Nelson, the skier services/rodeo supervisor for the city Parks and Recreational Services Department, watches as the earth just below the knoll of the K-114 jump slowly slides down the steep-pitched slopes toward the bottom of the outrun.
In the weeks since the ski area closed, a noticeable gap that stretches roughly 45 feet across the middle has formed in the typically smooth surface of the jump hill.
"It started at the end of last season," Nelson said. "We did some surface work to stop it, but it has continued to slide. I guess Mother Nature never intended for soil to stay put at 38 degrees."
Nelson said cracks and slides have been common at Howelsen for as long as the jumps have been in operation. For the past several years, city crews have repaired damaged jumps, made improvements to help with drainage and tried to limit any major problems.
But the only thing Nelson can do now is stop for a moment each day, look up the hill and watch nature at work.
"We can't really do anything about it until the slide comes to a stop," Nelson said.
Nelson said he will not know the extent of the damage until the hill dries out for the summer and the earth, rock and soil come to a resting point.
Once that happens, he will have a better idea of the problem he will have to solve. He will know how deep the fault is, what will need to be done to repair it and how much the entire operation will cost.
"We will have to come up with the money out of our operating budget, unless it's too extensive, and we are just hoping it doesn't come to that," he said.
Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic Director Todd Wilson remembers when the K-90 hill slid six years ago. That time, the ski area had to use heavy equipment to push the dirt back into place and build new drainage ditches to avoid the same problem in the future.
It was the biggest slide the longtime coach can remember, but the K-114 slide, if it continues, could be bigger, he said.
However, Nelson said the slide isn't all bad news.
Hopefully, the slide will uncover a problem and crews will be able to find a more permanent solution.
Doug Bradfield of Civil Design Consultants said he doesn't think the recent slide will have any impact on plans to update the jump complex by turning the existing K-50 into a plastic-covered K-68. In fact, he thinks crews will be able to fix the K-114 hill while they are updating the smaller K-50 hill.
"I don't think it's that serious," Bradfield said. "We will get up there and evaluate it once things dry out."
He expects the plastic project to begin in early May, and if all goes well, he expects the plastic surface to be on the hill sometime this fall.
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