If you go
What: Parks & Recreation Commission regular meeting and presentation of Howelsen Emerald Mountain Park Nordic feasibility study
When: 5:45 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.
Call: Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services at 879-4300 for more information
Steamboat Springs It was hard for a group of Midwesterners on Sunday to think of how the Nordic skiing at Howelsen Hill could get any better.
"This is a great place here," said Brian Roll of Chicago. "Each time you come out, you like it a little more. This is a great place."
Roll was cross-country skiing at Howelsen with his brother Greg Roll and friend Chuck Albrecht. In the end, the only thing he could think of that would make Howelsen better would be more wooded trails.
"It's nice to ski in the woods," he said.
Despite Roll's contentment, consultants Wednesday will present the findings from a study looking at the possibility of an expanded Nordic center at Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain that could transform it into a world-class destination.
"Our conclusions were very positive," said Jonathan Wiesel of Nordic Group International, the firm that conducted the study.
Wiesel said he and partner John Frado initially were pessimistic about the center's possibility. After looking at maps and driving by the site, Wiesel said the terrain looked too steep and challenging to transform.
"We thought it would be very, very difficult," Wiesel said. "This is not something we anticipated."
Now, Wiesel said the proposed center has the potential to be "absolutely remarkable." Nonetheless, Wiesel said the proposed center would not be simple - or cheap - to create. Wiesel will present his findings to the Parks and Recreation Commission at its regular meeting Wednesday. Chris Wilson, the city's director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services, said he expects Nordic skiers and other Howelsen trail users to attend.
Lyman Orton, who owns 1,200 acres on Emerald Mountain, said Sunday that he approves of the proposed center.
"I think it's a terrific idea," Orton said. "I think we need that in town."
Wiesel said the city of Steamboat Springs would either have to purchase land from Orton or work out some other arrangement with him to create the Nordic center. Orton currently allows all but motorized recreation on his land. He said skiing fits in with the atmosphere he's trying to protect.
"It's skiing," Orton said. "It's not machinery. It's not snowmobiling. Cross-country skiing is a quiet sport. I think it fits fine."
Another significant challenge Wiesel identified is the fact that the lower terrain at Howelsen Hill is some of the most challenging. How to transport beginners to the easier terrain above is a question that will need to be addressed, Wiesel said. Proponents of a bypass over Howelsen Hill have said such a road would solve that problem, but Wiesel said that his study's conclusion is that such a road would be "pretty undesirable" due to the aesthetic effects it would have.
Orton, who is a staunch opponent of the bypass, agreed that the Nordic center's appeal to all skill levels would be critical to its success.
"I think the key is that it needs to be good for everyone from beginners to Olympians," Orton said.
Due to the number of unanswered questions, Wiesel said he has "no idea" of what the center's final cost might be. Wiesel said next steps depend on what the Parks and Recreation Commission decides to recommend after Wednesday's presentation.
"It really depends a lot on what the recommendation is to the City Council and what the City Council decides to do," Wiesel said.
If the city decides to move forward, Wiesel said the next step would be the creation of a trails master plan. Wiesel said 40 kilometers of trails are needed for a Nordic center to become a true destination.
"Steamboat can do it," he said.
Wiesel said Steamboat's center has the potential to provide enjoyable summer trails as well, and as such, refers to it as a "world-class trails park," not just a Nordic center.
"There are a lot of good cross-country areas in America, but there are very few that are good in the summer as well," Wiesel said. "This could be one of those really rare areas."