Old town tradition

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In a city transformed over the decades by changing economies and rapid growth, one thing has remained constant -- Winter Carnival.

This year, the mid-winter festival will celebrate its 92nd year, and despite subtle efforts to modernize the event, Winter Carnival remains much as it has since it began in 1914.

Local legend Carl Howelsen founded Winter Carnival as a way to interrupt long Routt County winters with fun and games for local ranchers and miners. Taking a break from their work, locals would come into downtown Steamboat to participate in events like ski jumping, cross-country skiing and shooting.

As years passed, the event grew in size and scope, eventually including events such as skijoring, during which ski-clad children are pulled down Lincoln Avenue by galloping horses.

Today, Winter Carnival continues to be one of Steamboat's most endearing traditions, attracting visitors from across the globe to sidewalk vantage points for daytime activities and events. Local businesses often offer warm cider and snacks for the large crowds of observers; indeed the event itself relies on the support of the community for its continued success.

The biggest beneficiary of that success is the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which has sponsored and organized the event for its entirety. Proceeds from sales of Winter Carnival buttons -- the official entry pass to festival events -- help fund the Winter Sports Club, which offers training and coaching for hundreds of young skiers and snowboarders.

Winter Carnival will always be a special and unique event, Winter Sports Club director Rick DeVos said.

"I think Winter Carnival encompasses the winter history of this valley over the past 100 years," DeVos said. "It was started as a way for people to break out of cabin fever, and that continues today."

"It's a celebration of winter. It still hangs onto all of the great traditions, from horses pulling kids down the street to fireworks at Howelsen Hill."

This year's Winter Carnival takes place from Feb. 9 through Feb. 13. Most of the events are held downtown or at nearby Howelsen Hill, where the Winter Carnival ends each year with the Night Extravaganza, an evening finale featuring the famous lighted man and fireworks. n

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