Skiing icon Glen Plake, left, and Scott Flower, right, help Cole Puckett, over the jump ramp on Lincoln Avenue during Winter Carnival last year.

File photo

Skiing icon Glen Plake, left, and Scott Flower, right, help Cole Puckett, over the jump ramp on Lincoln Avenue during Winter Carnival last year.

Now in its 96th year, Winter Carnival has history on its side

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— Although Steamboat Springs is known as Ski Town USA, winter sports didn't become ingrained in local culture until the legendary Carl Howelsen organized the first Winter Carnival in 1914.

To this day, Howelsen's Winter Carnival is one of the most unique and exciting community events in the country. Where else can one see grown men riding in the scoop of a shovel and being pulled down a snow-covered Main Street by galloping horses?

Of course, the beginnings of Winter Carnival were a bit more tame. Howelsen's front-page announcement for his "Midwinter Sports Carnival" on Jan. 12, 1914, was the first mention of skiing in the Steamboat Pilot newspaper, according to Tread of Pioneers Museum archives.

In 1914, the carnival was held on Woodchuck Hill, where Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus 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 the 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 between 1,500 and 2,000 spectators from the Front Range.

The exhibition moved to Howelsen Hill in 1915, where Steamboat's first ski-jumping world record was set during the 1916 carnival. Ragnar Omtvedt set the bar at 192 feet, 6 inches - a record that 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, in which children on skis are pulled down Lincoln Avenue by horses.

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

Although time-tested, Winter Carnival is always evolving. During this year's 96th annual Winter Carnival, spectators and participants can take advantage of slightly more modern events, including the Telemark Challenge and a Dual Slalom Bicycle Race down the snowy face of Howelsen Hill.

The beneficiary and organizer of the carnival is the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, a local winter sports program that provides training and coaching to hundreds of aspiring skiers and snowboarders. Proceeds from the sales of Winter Carnival buttons - the official entry pass to festival events - help fund the Winter Sports Club.

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