The new, plastic-covered ski jump at Howelsen Hill cost a lot of money and will be used by just a few people. Still, we think it can play a key role in distinguishing Steamboat as a unique summer destination.
Steamboat has been known for ski jumping since Norwegian legend Carl Howelsen introduced the sport to locals at the beginning of the 20th century. The jumps at Howelsen Hill have produced some of America's greatest Nordic skiers, including Gordy Wren, Gary Crawford, Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane.
But as the sport advanced, the Steamboat facility didn't. In preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, the facilities at Park City were upgraded to include plastic-covered ski jumps that allow for training and competition in the summer.
By comparison, the Howelsen jumps looked dated. After the Olympics, the U.S. Nordic Combined Team, half of whom were Steamboat natives, moved from Steamboat to Park City, where they could train year-round.
Steamboat's jumps were in jeopardy of going the way of Winter Park's, which have been taken off the hillside.
Enter the Colorado Ski Heritage Project Committee, a group of 24 people who took on the task of raising $2.8 million to put plastic on at least one Steamboat jump. Their effort, literally, was to salvage history.
Over the next couple of years, the committee set about raising money. The city of Steamboat Springs approved $370,000 in funds for the project. Another $1.2 million came from the Energy Impact Assistance Fund; $270,000 from the Gates Family Foundation; $150,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado; $100,000 from the Boettcher Foundation; and $50,000 from the Daniels Fund.
About $470,000 came from more than 200 private donors.
Earlier this month, the plastic-covered K-68 was dedicated. It was named for State Sen. Jack Taylor, who helped spearhead the state's involvement in seeing that the project was finished.
The Senator, as the jump is nicknamed, hosted an event over the July 4 holiday. Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Executive Director Rick DeVos said he was "floored" by the level of interest in the summer jumping event -- large crowds turned out to watch. Ski jumping practice provided a terrific backdrop for the thousands of people who attended the Free Summer Concert Series featuring the Chicago Blues Reunion on June 30 at Howelsen Hill.
That's the public benefit of the ski jump. There are a handful of places to see ski jumping in the summer. And The Senator's visibility from and connection to downtown Steamboat is unique -- it isn't available anywhere else in the country.
The number of Winter Sports Club ski jumpers who are involved in summer training in Steamboat Springs has doubled since last year. At least three times a week, jumpers are on The Senator. Spillane, who is based in Park City, has used the jump several times and can now spend more time training in his hometown.
DeVos said the long-term plan is to develop a summer series of competitions in Steamboat, Park City and Lake Placid, N.Y.
It may seem like $2.8 million is a lot to spend on a program that right now features 25 jumpers, especially when the city is trying to address a variety of other recreational needs. But the potential return on that investment is significant. Marketed and promoted properly, summer jumping can be a great draw for the community and a boost to the Winter Sports Club.
In that respect, the jump not only is preserving Steamboat's past but also enhancing its future.