Howelsen's Nordic trail grooming to continue


Trails in the Howelsen Hill area offer good options for Nordic skiing, from a quick lunchtime skate-ski trip to a long cross country trek with picturesque views of town.

With the help of recent donations, those trails should stay groomed throughout the winter.

Dan Smilkstein, president of the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council, said that when the winter began, funding to support a quality grooming schedule was virtually nonexistent.

But benefactors learned of the financial need and began donating. Now, the council has the almost $5,700 in private donations necessary for grooming.

The donations mean daily users will have another winter to enjoy the trails.

The rest of the $7,000 to $10,000 needed to groom trails is budgeted by the city of Steamboat Springs, said Jeff Nelson, Howelsen Hill Ski Area supervisor.

The city has always groomed the trails in the area, but most of the work is paid for with private funds donated through the Nordic Council, Nelson said.

The donations that came earlier this winter kept the grooming program running, he said.

"We're back on track, just like last year," Nelson said.

Smilkstein guesses the number of daily users has doubled since last year, with between 150 and 200 people skate skiing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing on the trails each day. Dog walkers are allowed on the western side of the area on trails such as Blackmere Drive.

"There are people using it before the sun comes up in the morning and into the night," he said. "It's a huge, valuable community resource."

About four years ago, the Nordic Council helped raise funds to create about 10 kilometers of trails to add to the already existing trail system, including trails such as the Bluffs, Howelsen Meadows and Häkan's Spar.

For the past few years, most of the grooming costs have been paid for with a $10,000 donation the city made four years ago, along with other private contributions, Smilkstein said.

That money ran out last year, and Smilkstein said the Nordic Council is thankful to have the new private donations for this winter, which came primarily from one benefactor.

"There may be a little bit of a shortfall, but we're pretty confident that we can come up with that," Smilkstein said.

That shortfall could amount to between $1,500 and $2,000.

Although it would be ideal if the trail system could stay open to the public without any charge to users, Smilkstein said, it's unlikely that a regular, quality grooming schedule can be maintained if there are no fees.

One option for collecting fees to maintain trails would be to set up boxes to take donations, Smilkstein said. Two such boxes have been made but have yet to be placed on the trails.

Though funds are not in place to upkeep the trails for the next few winters, Smilkstein said he has confidence that those funds will come through.

"I've learned over the last four years, with the level of volunteering, (to have) faith," he said.

To make a contribution to grooming at Howelsen Hill, check out the Nordic Council's Web site at, or mail a check to 1475 Pine Grove Road, Suite 102, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail


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