Tom Ross: Carnival tradition changes with time
February 11, 2012
Steamboat Springs — I thought the Winter Carnival guide produced by the newspaper staff this year was among the best I've ever seen. I especially liked the reproduction of Bonnie McGee's painting, "Carnival Traffic Jam."
The view from behind of anonymous carnival horseback riders on Lincoln Avenue with the slopes of Mount Werner looming in the background gives it a timeless quality.
Having participated in the preparation of a few Winter Carnival special editions over the course of three decades, I decided to dig into the archives to see what I could find. Winter Carnival, and in particular today's Diamond Hitch Parade, embodies some of the longest-standing skiing traditions west of the Mississippi River. But the truth is that Winter Carnival events have evolved throughout time, and events and competitions that once were a staple have faded from the scene. I still miss the chariot races.
After picking through the newspaper archives, I landed on the program for the 58th Winter Carnival, which took place from Feb. 6 to 14, 1971.
Just so there's no confusion about my advanced age, I didn't write any stories for the 1971 Winter Carnival program; I was a second-semester senior at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wis., and I'd never heard of Steamboat Springs.
The first Winter Carnival was all about ski jumping, and it still was a big deal in 1971 with the Class A jumping championships at 3 p.m. at Howelsen Hill. Special ski jumping for senior athletes has faded from the carnival scene to a great degree. The biggest ski jumping events in 2012 are the Pro Alpine ski flying finals. They're a spectacle but would look unfamiliar to Carl Howelsen.
In 1971, there was a greater emphasis on Alpine ski races for community members. There was a challenge race between ski school instructors and ski patrollers at Mount Werner. (I wonder who would win that bet in 2012?) And at 1 p.m. Wednesday, there was an invitational ski race for owners and managers of ski lodges. I wonder if they had ringers 41 years ago.
Events taking place this weekend that didn't happen in 1971 include the Telemark dual challenge, the snowboard jam session and the International Muzzle Loading Biathlon (one of my favorites).
I guess it doesn't matter which events come and go from Winter Carnival as long as the event itself never dies. Steamboat wouldn't be Steamboat without it.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com