Steamboat Springs The city's efforts to upgrade facilities at Howelsen Hill are overdue. We hope the city is willing to go even further in improving this important community asset.
Howelsen is not only a historic ski hill, but also a key recreational component of our downtown area. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the site features an array of activities including ice skating, ski jumping, hockey, rodeo, hiking, biking, tennis, skateboarding, softball, baseball and horseback riding. It hosts concerts, volleyball tournaments, community meetings and Easter egg hunts.
The problem with Howelsen is it has "developed incrementally, often without the benefit or commitment to a master plan," the city's master plan for Howelsen states. As such, parking and traffic flow can be a challenge. Everything from the rodeo arena to Olympian Hall could use a facelift.
"Over the years, I've seen a lot of little Band-Aids go up, and it's time for surgery," said Jeff Nelson, the city's ski and rodeo supervisor. "It's time for a new knee."
Surgery will begin this fall, when the city undertakes Phase I of improvements at Howelsen. The city will spend $440,000 to replace the night lighting on the Alpine ski side of Howelsen Hill and improve snowmaking capacity. Similar projects are scheduled for Howelsen's Mile Run and Murri Peak areas in 2008 and 2009. Upgrading the hill's lighting is mostly an infrastructure project, but it will allow Howelsen to host larger ski and snowboard races that have more demanding lighting criteria.
While we are glad to see the city getting started, we are more anxious to see some of the bigger projects identified in the master plan, which was written in 1999, updated in 2005 and revised again recently. Among the improvements called for in the plan are expanded skiing and snowboarding terrain; new lifts to the ski terrain and ski jumps; the addition of tubing at Howelsen; an amphitheater at the base of the jump area for ski jumping competitions and concerts; expansion of the Howelsen Hill Lodge and the Dehaven Training Center to include office space, locker rooms and restrooms; parking lot expansion and improvements; a full-service Nordic Center with rentals and lessons; a year-round climbing wall; plastic on more ski jumps for year-round training; expanded biking and hiking trails; and a winter-summer freestyle area.
The master plan also includes possible changes to the rodeo grounds. The biggest change proposed is the addition of a 5,000-seat indoor arena that could be used for rodeos, equestrian competitions and other events. The changes also include putting the Nordic Center at the site of the yurt that serves as the ticket office for the Alpine Slide and moving the horse stables to consolidate them in one location with the horse barns.
We would add to the master plan to include a renovation of the concession area and more restrooms at the site.
Howelsen Hill is a major draw for visitors and locals, and it's good to see the city finally putting some money behind a plan that is almost a decade old. But this is simply a starting point. The city needs to continue such improvements in the coming years.