A great tradition lives on

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Traditionally, February was when people fought cabin fever during the long winters that help define Northwest Colorado.

Winter Carnival was designed to help local residents break free of the winter doldrums. Although the city constantly is changing, Winter Carnival has remained largely the same for the past 93 years.

Local legend Carl Howelsen founded the Winter Carnival in 1914 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 to downtown Steamboat to participate in such events as ski jumping, cross-country skiing and shooting.
Some of the first Winter Carnival participants assembled at Howelsen Hill for a shot at prize money and the chance to break the world ski jumping record.

In 1914, the carnival was held on Woodchuck Hill, where Colorado Mountain College now stands. The event later moved across the Yampa River to Howelsen Hill.

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

Some of the more traditional aspects of the Winter Carnival -- the parade, horse events and ski jumping -- still are crowd and participant favorites, even almost 100 years later.

Other festivities include dual slalom bicycle racing, a tubing party, a snowboarding jam session, chariot racing and fireworks.

The Winter Carnival continues to be one of Steamboat's most endearing traditions, attracting visitors from around the globe to sidewalk vantage points for daytime activities and events. Local businesses often offer warm cider and snacks for the large crowds that gather downtown.

The beneficiary of the carnival is the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which has sponsored and organized the event since it began. 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 always will be a special and unique event, Winter Sports Club executive 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."

DeVos said families make it a point to mark Winter Carnival on their calendars because so many people enjoy watching and participating in the events.

"These four days are a great opportunity for everyone in the family. There is something here for everyone," he said.

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