Nearly a century after it began, the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival is still going strong.
The 91st edition, which wrapped up last weekend, would have made Carl Howelsen proud of the event he started and the community that continues to support it.
Attendance at Winter Carnival events was up. More than 4,000 Winter Carnival buttons were sold, raising $30,000 for a worthy cause -- the youths in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Another $30,000 was raised through a drawing for a Jeep Rubicon. Estimates are that more than 3,000 people attended the Night Extravaganza at Howelsen Hill.
Such numbers are refreshing. They demonstrate that after all these years, Steamboat Springs embraces Winter Carnival the way the community did when the event began.
When the first Winter Carnival was held in February 1914, it featured competition on Woodchuck Hill where Colorado Mountain College now stands. The carnival was designed to give people a respite from the snow and cold and give them a reason to come off the ranch and gather with their neighbors in town. In the early days, Winter Carnival featured ski jumping, cross country skiing and shooting competitions. Street events were added in the event's infancy, as was a parade.
More people live in town now, and there are fewer ranchers. But the Winter Carnival remains a celebration of our ranching and skiing heritage. And it remains a welcome respite, an opportunity to shake off the winter doldrums and have a little fun.
Part of what makes Winter Carnival so special is that though times have changed, many of the events have not. The Winter Carnival that just passed was not so different from the first carnival -- the 2004 show featured ski jumping, a parade, cross country skiing and shooting in the form of the Muzzle Loading Biathlon.
Watching ski joring, the donkey jump or the diamond hitch parade is like watching history pass on Lincoln Avenue. For residents such as 86-year-old Vernon Summer -- who has gone from childhood spectator to participant to grand marshal to spectator again -- Winter Carnival is a constant that is woven into the fabric of this community in the same way as Howelsen Hill, the Yampa River and Rabbit Ears Pass.
The Winter Carnival has evolved through the years to include events such as fiery hoop jumping, the Lighted Man, Gelandesprung jumping, the telemark revival, bicycle racing on snow, tubing parties, a pancake breakfast and other events. Adding events helps keep Winter Carnival fresh and should continue.
One of the highlights of Winter Carnival this year was the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the silver and bronze medals won by Billy Kidd and Jimmy Heuga at the 1964 Olympics. About 200 people skied Buddy's Run on Sunday with Kidd and Heuga. What a way to end a great week.
It is important to preserve and celebrate our heritage, and Winter Carnival is a terrific way to do that. It's great to see the strong community support for the event the way we did this year. Here's hoping that support stays strong for another 90 years.