Alpine slide’s future in limbo on Howelsen Hill
May 12, 2017
Steamboat Springs — With several questions still lingering about the stability and future of Howelsen Hill, the city of Steamboat Springs does not want to automatically renew a 15-year-old contract for the operation of the Alpine slide.
But when city officials and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club sit down to discuss the possibility of a new contract and the attraction's future beyond this summer, they won't be seeing eye to eye on whether the city provided adequate notice to get out of an automatic, five-year contract extension this fall.
City Manager Gary Suiter recently sent the Winter Sports Club an 11th-hour notice stating that the city plans to terminate the current Alpine slide contract and not opt for a five-year extension when it expires in October.
Suiter said with an ongoing soils study probing the hill’s stability and the lingering possibility of Steamboat Ski Area taking over operations of the historic ski hill, he thought it best to terminate the contract this fall and "start with a clean slate."
"What does that mean for the slide? I'm not sure," Suiter said Thursday.
Since 2002, the slide has been operated by a subsidiary of the Winter Sports Club and is a source of revenue and jobs for the club.
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About 60,000 riders went down the slide in the summer of 2013 alone.
The attraction is still scheduled to run this summer as the contract does not have a chance of expiring until Oct. 31.
Suiter said the future of the Alpine slide will likely be decided by upcoming negotiations with the Winter Sports Club and the ski resort.
"The lift towers move every year. The slide moves every year (because of landslides). It seems like there could be a better solution," Suiter said.
Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne said Friday he doesn't think the city intends to just get rid of the slide in the future.
"I'm optimistic we're going to find a long-term solution," Boyne said. "The reality is we understand there are a lot of issues at Howelsen, and we're prepared to discuss Howelsen in its entirety."
Councilwoman Robin Crossan said although there will likely be some “growing pains,” she thinks the ongoing discussions about the future of Howelsen will lead to a better facility for the community.
Suiter's timing and execution of the contract non-renewal notice has caused some disagreement between the city and Winter Sports Club leadership over whether proper notice was given.
At issue is whether or not the contract will automatically renew in October or actually be terminated as the city desires.
Suiter first informed Boyne about the planned contract termination via an email the day before a 180-day notification deadline, which is spelled out in the contract.
But the contract also states that any such notice needs to be made in writing to the president of Community Slide Inc., the subsidiary of the Winter Sports Club, via a certified letter in the mail to a specific P.O. Box address.
Suiter sent that letter in the mail to the proper entity on the day of the notification deadline.
However, the contract states that proper notice to terminate the contract hasn't been given until either the letter is actually received, or three days after the letter was deposited in the mail, whichever came first.
Suiter said the city thinks it gave proper notice and met the 180-day deadline.
Boyne said the Winter Sports Club believes proper notice was not given before the deadline because the letter was not received by then, therefore the existing contract is set to automatically renew through 2022.
Boyne said he did not want the upcoming talks on the Alpine slide's future to be focused on the technicality over the notice.
"I'd rather work with the city to structure something that we can call live with," Boyne said.
City council members reached Friday afternoon said they were not aware of the disagreement over the notice the city gave to the Winter Sports Club.
But the last-minute movement on a contract with a longtime community partner did not sit well with some.
“I didn’t like the fact we were doing it at the last minute,” Council President Walter Magill said. “Scrambling at the last minute wasn’t very professional or in line with the agreement” we have with the Sports Club.
Suiter said the decision to not renew the decision came up “suddenly.”
Magill said he thinks the upcoming contract renewal deadline might have been discovered when the city revisited the contract after it was experiencing some more issues with a lift tower on Howelsen.
He added he thinks the council supports the Alpine slide.
“Kids love it. Families love it,” Magill said.
Tower 6 leaning again
Shifting earth on Howelsen is again impacting some of the infrastructure on the historic ski hill.
Suiter said tower No. 6 of the Barrow's Chairlift is leaning again.
The movement of the tower comes two years after a landslide damaged the Alpine slide and knocked the same lift tower out of alignment.
Work completed on the lift towers back in the summer of 2015 was estimated to cost $267,000 to complete. It involved using soil nails to secure the towers and using a crane to reposition a tower.
The city is waiting until the earth under the towers finishes moving to gauge whether or not it will be deemed safe to operate the chairlift without an extensive repair.
"If we are able to make the required adjustments, we will have the lift cleared by the State Tramway Department," city parks manager Craig Robinson said in an email.
Robinson said the city was able to make adjustments and run the lift safely last year despite some movement.
In the summer, the lift ferries riders up to the start of the Alpine slide.
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