Steamboat's Winter Carnival has rich history

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Check out a complete list of events for this year's Winter Carnival here.

— In Routt County, whether you’re shopping at a grocery store or walking through downtown Steamboat Springs, there’s always a chance you’ll see a former Winter Carnival queen or grand marshal.

Like Tammie Delaney, owner of Yampa Valley Feeds in Hayden, for example: Not only was she a Winter Carnival queen in 1983, but two of her sisters also were carnival queens at one point, and a fourth sister was a carnival princess.

Delaney said she helped organize a “queens reunion” a few years ago.

“It doesn’t mean a lot until you put them all together and look at the women who have been involved through the years,” she said. “It’s an amazing group to be a part of.”

Delaney’s father, Bill Bowes, was president of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club board of directors in the ’70s. Delaney said the Winter Carnival was an integral thread in her childhood fabric.

“Winter Carnival was the way that we could all have fun together as families,” she said.

It’s fair to say many local families would say the same.

That community feeling is central to the rich history of the Winter Carnival, which turns 98 this year with a theme of Building Athletes … Building Individuals.

The legendary Carl Howelsen organized 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 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 1,500 to 2,000 spectators from the Front Range.

In 1915, the exhibition moved to Howelsen Hill 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 on 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 Winter Carnival — the parade featuring the Steamboat Springs High School Ski Band, horse events and ski jumping — still are crowd and participant favorites nearly 100 years later.

“A lot has not changed, and I think that is what is so cool about it,” Delaney said.

The beneficiary and organizer of the carnival is the Winter Sports Club, which 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.

The 100th Winter Carnival will come in 2013.

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