Valley Pass offers skiers affordable opportunity

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The idea of being able to ski the scenic mountain trails of the Lake Catamount, Vista Verde, Howelsen and the Steamboat Ski Touring centers as much as you want this winter -- priceless.

The cost of maintaining and grooming those treasured cross-country trails -- expensive, to say the least.

To help cover the costs to maintain trails at Howelsen, and to keep Nordic skiing thriving in our mountain valleys, the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council is offering the Valley Pass again this winter.

"The Valley Pass is a really good deal," said Dan Smilkstein, president of the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council. "Esp--ecially when you add up the cost of passes from all the areas."

The pass, which goes on sale Tuesday, offers cross-country skiers unlimited access to the Ski Touring Center, Lake Catamount Ski Touring Center and Vista Verde.

It also will allow skiers free use of the trails located at Howelsen Hill ski area, for which fees are expected for the first time this winter.

"The City Council will consider a resolution on Nov. 15 authorizing the Howelsen Hill Touring Center's rates for the 2005-06 season," said Chris Wilson, director of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces for the city of Steamboat Springs.

If the proposed rates are approved, skiers will be paying $5 a day or $50 for a season pass to use the cross-country trails at Howelsen Hill.

Wilson said the city also would honor the Valley Pass, which allows the skiers to set tracks at four area centers, including Howelsen.

People can purchase the Valley Pass until Dec. 25 for $245. After that date, the price increases to $315. A family pass, which consists of two adults and any number of dependent children younger than 18, will cost $600 through Dec. 25. After that date, the price will increase to $700.

Smilkstein estimates the cost to purchase the passes for all four Nordic centers separately would be $525.

"The season pass thing is really just getting going," Smilkstein said. "Last year, we sold about 70 passes, but with the changes at Howelsen, we expect that number to triple."

Smilkstein said a portion of every pass purchase goes toward the grooming of the Howelsen Hill Nordic Center. The Howelsen Hill Nordic Center is owned and operated by the city of Steamboat Springs, but the current Parks and Open Space budget does not cover the cost of grooming the Nordic Center.

Rising fuel and insurance prices have increased the demand for support from the community. The sale of daily tickets and season passes to Howelsen also will help cover costs. In the past, the Nordic Council has used donations and proceeds raised through the sale of Valley Pass to cover the shortfall.

The Nordic Council is hoping for donations to help support other council endeavors. The donations are tax deductible and will go to support the Nordic Challenge Community Race Series, development of projects such as the Valley Nordic Pass and visitors pass, maintence of the Nordic Council's Web page, and lobbying efforts to promote trail growth and development for winter recreation and athletes.

Smilkstein is hoping locals will discover the value of the pass and what it's doing for the Nordic community.

"We've almost doubled the amount of cross-country terrain at Howelsen Hill," Smilkstein said. "Now, we have to find a way to maintain it and keep growing at the same time."

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