On Scene for Feb. 24

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Center of the universe

Trudging through snow on the slopes of Howelsen Hill on Sunday with a camera slung over my shoulder, I saw children everywhere. They were zooming around in clothes of all colors and with the confident abandon of children playing in their backyards -- because that is exactly what they were doing. They own the place.

"Welcome to the center of the universe," said a parent who was walking with me, pointing out his fifth-grade son getting ready to take another stab at the snowboard jump.

His son has been at Howelsen Hill pretty much every day this winter, and why not? A children's season pass costs $50. A family pass is $250. A family of four easily could spend that in a day at Steamboat Ski Area.

The parent -- a tall, lanky dad with a deep tan -- knows Howelsen well.

"I've been just about living here for the past 20 years," dad said. He used to work there and can point out spots where he and his buddies used to build kickers to catch "about 150 feet" of air. Children create all kinds of paths through the trees, he said, making the most out of their gem of a backyard.

For people such as myself who weren't raised in the shadows of a big-time ski resort, Howelsen smacks of hometown ski hills with tow ropes, night skiing and killer chocolate chip cookies.

Sure, Howelsen has world-class ski jumping and racing, but days such as Sunday -- when kids horse around, learn tricks and breathe mountain air without paying $70 for a lift ticket -- are what make the hill a local icon.

"These cookies are so hot," dad said, referring to taste and temperature. "I smelled 'em, and I had to get one."

Make it a joe

Maybe the Four Points staff is getting old.

While catching the Mama's Cookin' show last Friday at The Tugboat Grill & Pub, our group of four bypassed the crowd dancing in front of the stage and made our way to a table in the back, where we could hear each other talk while listening to the band -- a sensible maneuver for showgoers of any age.

But when I ordered an Irish coffee instead of a beer, my friends let me have it.

"What? Coffee?" one friend asked incredulously.

That the coffee had whiskey in it didn't matter in the slightest. I still was sitting at a wooden table in a bar on a Friday night, listening to a kickin' rock-blues-jam band, sipping a coffee drink out of the kind of glass that, try as you might, you just can't grip in a manly way.

Hey, sometimes I need a little pick-me-up.

I may have somewhat redeemed myself by winning a few pool games with my partner, until a girl named after a bluegrass instrument that rhymes with a Chinese language that is also a kind of orange -- puzzle that one out -- got serious and ran us off the table.

A tip of the cap: For the latest last-call in Ski Time Square, walk the plank at the Pirate.

-- Mike Lawrence

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