Lexie Baden rides the Poma lift at Howelsen Hill in December 2008 while training with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. City officials are taking a close look at the ski area's finances after budgeting $769,812 to subsidize it in 2012.

File photo

Lexie Baden rides the Poma lift at Howelsen Hill in December 2008 while training with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. City officials are taking a close look at the ski area's finances after budgeting $769,812 to subsidize it in 2012.

Steamboat officials may examine whether Howelsen Hill can be profitable


— In recent years the city of Steamboat Springs’ general fund has supported the operation of Howelsen Hill and the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena by nearly $1 million per year. Now the Steamboat Springs City Council appears ready to see whether the facilities can generate revenue instead of eating it.

City Council members expres­sed their support during an all-day budget hearing last week for re-examining the city-owned facilities across the Yampa River from downtown. Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director Chris Wilson said Monday that he would present the idea of forming a Howelsen Hill task force to begin investigating whether the ski area and rodeo grounds can generate revenue when the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission meets Wednesday. If Parks and Rec Commission members support the idea, Wilson said the topic would be added to the group’s Oct. 26 work session agenda.

The city’s annual subsidy of Howelsen Hill came up when Wilson presented the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget to council members last week. His proposed budget for 2012 includes scaling back the hours of operation at the small, historic ski area at Emerald Mountain. Several City Council members expressed concern that Steamboat wasn’t maximizing Howelsen Hill as an asset for the city.

“Are there additional ways we can make this more of a community ski hill, more of a revenue generator?” City Council President Pro-tem Jon Quinn asked. “I think it will take some dollars to study that.”

The City Council didn’t discuss spending money to study whether Howelsen Hill could become a viable revenue source, but council members acknowledged that such an analysis could cost money.

The city’s subsidy of Howelsen Hill and Brent Romick Rodeo Arena’s operation is budgeted to be $798,331 in 2012, Finance Director Deb Hinsvark wrote in an email Monday. She wrote it is expected to be $769,812 this year. In 2010, the subsidy was $952,597.

“That $700,000 or more every year is a big, big number,” City Council President Cari Hermacinski said Oct. 4. “I think that, you know, as we move into more difficult budget years, it’s going to get a tremendous amount of scrutiny.”

Wilson said a vast majority of the annual subsidy stems from operating costs exceeding revenues as the ski area.

He said the city assumed operation of the ski area from the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in 1977 (the club operated the ski area since it opened in 1914) when the two parties reached a joint-use agreement.

“My understanding is as long as the city’s had the facility, it’s required a subsidy,” Wilson said.

Winter Sports Club Executive Director Rick DeVos said all of the club’s more than 1,100 athletes buy a Howelsen Hill season pass, which ranges in cost from $25 for a child to $160 for an adult. He said the Winter Sports Club also pays for the operation of the ski area during training and competitions that take place outside regular hours.

DeVos said the annual costs for an athlete to participate in the Winter Sports Club can reach $4,000 per child. He said the nonprofit club provides some financial assistance from its scholarship fund to 50 to 75 of its 800 families.

Wilson agreed that the issue of whether the ski area could generate revenue for the city needs to be studied. He suspects the Parks and Recreation Commission will agree.

At the Oct. 4 budget hearing, City Council member Kenny Reisman also supported pursuing whether the ski area could become a revenue generator. Reisman said its use didn’t feel right.

“I know it’s not a simple answer, but I feel like we’re heading into the winter not having it optimized,” he said.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com


Scott Wedel 5 years, 6 months ago

So who is using these facilities and is making lots of money that could afford to pay more? Only way to reduce subsidies is to make the users pay substantially more.

Charge $500 each for the winter sports club athletes?

Charge the rodeo promoters $50,000 per rodeo event?

Seems odd that somehow Howelson Hill is supposed to be profitable while airline subsidies are supposed to cost over $2M a year while Vail Associates claims their winter airline subsidy program normally costs about $250K.


beentheredonethat 5 years, 6 months ago

Charge $500 each for the winter sports club athletes

Charge the rodeo promoters $50,000 per rodeo event

Both great ideas.

Why exactly are tax payers dumping almost one million dollars per year into a facility used only by a very small portion of the community?

If it is really such a valuable experience then let the users cover the true costs of that experience. Spending such extravagant amounts of limited funds, so that a few can recreate, at the expense of many is ludicrous.

If the users are unwilling or unable to pay the operating expense then it is time to either lower the taxes on the rest of us or redirect the money towards real city government responsibilities.


addlip2U 5 years, 6 months ago

Scott W.

How about a 2% lift ticket tax which could be used to establish the winter air program "reserve" fund (with public oversight) and provide a means to fund the operations of Howelson Hill on an ongoing basis.

A lift ticket tax would not be in lieu of Ski Corp continuing to fund the winter air program at a level of $1.3 million annually (adjusted for increased costs on a proportional basis).

Rather than ask locals to contribute 50% of the revenue collected by a 0.25% sales tax, locals would probably contribute less of the revenue (on a percentage basis) with a lift ticket tax.

Capital improvements at Howelson Hill could be funded from that portion of the lodging tax currently being used to payoff the bonds on the Haymaker clubhouse.


BeCoolHoneyBunny 5 years, 6 months ago

It really comes down to whether or not this community wants to support SSWSC. True, the city's "subsidy" of Howelsen Hill is primarily for operations that benefit SSWSC the most. Steamboat always brags about being Ski Town USA and how may Olympians we have produced. This is a big part of Steamboat's image and a big marketing tool for tourism.

Howelsen Hill will never be profitable in the form it is now. Everything that produces revenue is given to SSWSC to support them. There are no hotels, bars, restaurants, ect.. to generate revenue like other ski areas. Ski passes, nordic passes, tubing, and the Howler Alpine Slide are the only things that generate $$. SSWSC runs the tubing and the alpine slide and keep most of the profits. Ski and nordic passes are so cheap that they will never be a money maker.

H.H. is a city park. Why does it need to be profitable anyway?

The city could stop funding all maintenance of the ski jumps, which benefit a few and are not even open to the public, and probably cut their HH costs by a third. But again, it has for a long time been the city's desire to support SSWSC.


exduffer 5 years, 6 months ago

Before anyone goes spouting off about this we need to know if it is all of HH that is a black hole or just the Rodeo grounds and the Ski Area. I am sure the softball/baseball fields are a gold mine because Triple Crown pays us handsomely;) I know the bike trails make money from all the passes they sell and the Town Challenge. I know the cross country trails make tons because you hear everyone saying they are going to Summit county where it is cheaper. I know the BMX track kills at the cash register because they need to build another track at Whistler. I know that we can't cram enough in so we had to buy another 800 acres. I know, I know, I know...


exduffer 5 years, 6 months ago

I know that the water and sanitation district makes so much money that the city does not have to meter their own use. I know that the tennis center has gold bracelets exploding out of it's doors. I know that the plows are pushing bundles of cash when they plow the roads of Wildhorse and Barn Village. I know, I know, I know...


John Fielding 5 years, 6 months ago

. When I inquired about water for city use several years ago I was told they also pay at the commercial rate. Was I misinformed?

I have suggested several times that the Nordic jumps become a venue for bicycle flying competition.People usually just laugh, but there are many who would enter the contest, and many times more who would pay to drink beer and watch.

I have also suggested that those industries that contribute most to juvenile delinquency be assessed for programs to combat it. Routt county has the highest incidence of minor in possession reports. My "dime a drink" proposal would raise a substantial amount to defray the costs of constructive youth activities such as skiing at Howelsen.

Anyone know how many ounces of alcohol are sold in Steamboat each year? .


cityworker 5 years, 6 months ago

duffer and John The city only has 1 un-metered park, which is Dr Rich Weiss Park... The parks dept has to pay for every water bill out if their utility budget... Duffer, great points though


BeCoolHoneyBunny 5 years, 6 months ago


That money is the subsidy for winter operations at Howelsen Hill. The share that goes to the rodeo, I bet, is a small percentage. Howelsen Hill the park, is operated by the Parks Division in the summer, it is a separate budget.

That $ goes towards the operation and maintenance budget for HH in the winter. It pays for grooming, snowmaking, lift operations, everything it takes to run a ski area.

On top of the normal costs, that is also money used to subsidies SSWSC operations at HH. Those subsidies include:

SSWSC offices at HH Lodge, SSWSC weight room, SSCSC locker rooms, plus the electricity and heating bills for those facilities. All maintenance and operating costs for the jump complex Fuel and maintenance costs for SSWSC winch cat Maintenance and operating costs for SSWSC tubing operation Energy and labor costs for SSWSC events the list goes on. . . ..

How can we ever find away to make HH profitable when we already foot the bill for all of these things?


exduffer 5 years, 6 months ago

Bunny here are a couple of things for you. ($160,000) for trails and open space. ($270,000) for recreation programs, and this does not include the cost of maintaing the facilities. I think that if we see the actual line items of the HH ski area/rodeo grounds budget that a lot of this $1 million is a slush fund used to help support many of the other parks and rec programs.


sedgemo 5 years, 6 months ago

Does anyone have actual figures which separate the Romick Arena use from the rest of HH activities? I'll hazard a guess that charging $50k PER EVENT (!) for the summer rodeo would sink it for good. Our rodeo is A GREAT SMALL TOWN AMERICA event, and it would be an absolute embarrassment to ignore its history and attraction to locals AND tourists.

I would, however, like to see more ranch-related events there, in keeping with Steamboat's International marketing image and heritage, but the rodeo has a lock on all the summer weekends so making anything else happen there is problematic. If the arena were covered it could host events year round, including cow events, rather than sit idle nearly nine months a year.


sedgemo 5 years, 6 months ago

How about both?

Does anyone have the separate numbers?


sedgemo 5 years, 6 months ago

Thanks, Duff, but I can't open one that large... but maybe the task force will come up with actual numbers, and publish those.


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