Winter tradition in its 95th year

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— Although Steamboat Springs is now known as "Ski Town USA," winter sports did not make their debut until local legend Carl Howelsen put on the first Winter Carnival in 1914.

Howelsen's front-page announcement for his "Midwinter Sports Carnival" on Jan. 12, 1914, was the first mention of skiing in the Steamboat Pilot, according to Tread of Pioneers Museum archives.

In 1914, the carnival was held on Woodchuck Hill, where Colorado Mountain College now stands. The next year, the event moved across the Yampa River to Howelsen Hill, after Howelsen raised about $500 to lay a ski-jumping course and cut trees.

Festivities for the inaugural carnival included ski jumping and cross-country races as well as a dance at the Cabin Hotel. Twenty trains brought in between 1,500 and 2,000 spectators from the Front Range.

The exhibition moved to the newly constructed Howelsen Hill in 1915, where Steamboat's first ski jumping world record was set during the next year's carnival. Ragnar Omtvedt set the bar at 192 feet, 6 inches - a record which stood only until the 1917 Winter Carnival, when Hans Hall improved upon Omtvedt's leap by more than 10 feet.

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

Some of the more traditional aspects of the Winter Carnival - the parade featuring the Steamboat Springs High School band on skis, horse events and ski jumping - are still crowd and participant favorites, nearly 100 years later.

However, Winter Carnival always is evolving. Although the traditional chariot racing will not take place during the 95th annual Winter Carnival, a new event has been added to the roster - a Red Bull-sponsored "sledstyle" snowmobile demonstration, said Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club special events director Caroline Bohlmann.

The beneficiary of the carnival is the Winter Sports Club, which sponsors and organizes the event. Proceeds from the 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.

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