Tom Ross: Howelsen closes 2012 in style |

Tom Ross: Howelsen closes 2012 in style

Tom Ross

— Howelsen Hill closed for the season and did it in style.

I'm not a Howelsen regular, and I had forgotten how much fun that tricky slalom hill on the other side of the river can be. Next to Snow King in Jackson, Wyo., we have one of the best urban Alpine skiing experiences in North America. And ours is a city park.

A buddy pulled me out of the house Sunday morning to try some downtown skiing, and I was glad he did. The sun had just begun to warm the north-facing slope on Howelsen, and the Alpine snowboarders already were practicing on a slalom course when we arrived. It was impressive to see the deep gouges they were carving in the coating of corn snow, and we hustled over to the Poma lift to catch a ride up to the second exit.

None other than the Honorable Hefe of Howelsen, Jeff Nelson, was there to greet us and usher us onto the old surface lift.

When we got up top, the coach of the young snowboarders was very accommodating as we waited for one racer to speed through the course, before we jumped in to weave our way across the slope before the next snowboarder entered the course.

If you haven't been to the top of Howelsen for some time, you might have forgotten how grand the view of Old Town is from that elevated vantage. Any time I ski Howelsen, I'm reminded that I'm putting down tracks where legends like Skeeter Werner Walker, Gordy Wren, Moose Barrows, Heidi Bowes Nunnikhoven, Jack Miller and so many more Alpine skiers honed their racing technique.

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One of my favorite memories of a ski race on Howelsen dates back to 1989. Vail hosted the Alpine World Championships that year, and during the week before the big event was under way, the best skiers in the world were looking for a race.

In those days, the slalom course on Howelsen was just a smidge short in length for a women's World Cup slalom but plenty big enough for an FIS race, and on one beautiful January day, I found myself on the side of a race course with my 200mm lens shooting the likes of Switzerland's Vreni Schneider zooming by (I can't swear Schneider, who won slalom silver and giant slalom gold in Vail, was there on Howelsen that day, but I believe she took part).

Howelsen Hill closed Sunday not because the snowpack had deteriorated but at least partly out of budget constraints. And that's easy enough to understand. That we have a municipal ski area at all is remarkable.

Also remarkable is the fact that the good corn snow we skied on during the weekend was the product of prolific snowmaking efforts by the Howelsen crew in October and November 2011. Thanks, guys, for all the hard work that went into a great closing day!

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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