Sun, smiles close out Free Ski Sundays at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat |

Sun, smiles close out Free Ski Sundays at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After nearly 40 years of coaching ski jumping, Scott Clayton can spot potential.

He saw a lot of it Sunday when dozens of kids took advantage of the jumping lessons offered during the final day of Free Ski Sundays at Howelsen Hill.

"Getting people out and having all these kids, there is really nothing like it in the world," Clayton said.

By 2 p.m., 950 free lift tickets had been handed out, and the city-owned ski area was on track to have its biggest day of the season. On Sunday during President's Day weekend, 1,023 people took advantage of the free skiing.

Sunday was also closing day for public skiing at Howelsen, and it even included some tailgating in the packed parking lot.

Cherise and Wes Arnold were visiting Steamboat Springs on a ski vacation with their three children, and they decided to venture away from Steamboat Ski Area.

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"It was either spend $700 for us to all go skiing or come here," Cherise Arnold said. "We wanted to try it out. They wanted to try out the jumps."

Steamboat resident Mike MacKinnon has brought his two young boys several times to the Free Ski Sundays.

"It's been phenomenal," MacKinnon said. "You just see so many families here. It gives them a nice outlet and a safe place to be."

Kevin and Carrie Thompson were teaching their 21-month-old son Eli to ski with some comical laps on the magic carpet.

"First day on skis for him," Carrie Thompson said. "He won't put his hands in them, but he's got his poles."

Outside Howelsen Lodge, five Steamboat Springs City Council members grilled up free hot dogs.

"There's a lot of smiles," councilwoman Kathy Meyer said.

The idea for cheap skiing at Howelsen came last fall from then-council-president Walter Magill.

Magill floated the idea of offering $1 lift tickets every day with the goal of getting more people to use Howelsen.

Concerned about the fiscal impacts to the city, the council came up with a compromise and offered free skiing on Sundays. Meyer thought it would be a good way for the community to recognize Steamboat's Olympic heritage during an Olympic year.

Before Sunday, nearly 7,000 free lift tickets had been given out during Free Ski Sundays.

"I think the goal we really wanted to accomplish was getting people to come back out and use our biggest, best public park that we have, and I think we've accomplished that," Council President Jason Lacy said. "For a long time, I think people have forgotten about this. I think we wanted to remind people what a jewel we had out here, and I think we've accomplished that. Hopefully, that will translate into more usage for the future."

The future of Free Ski Sundays is uncertain.

After a full year of Free Ski Sundays, the council will have a better idea of the financial impacts and can weigh that against positives.

"My thought is, I'd like to see us do at least one Sunday every month," Meyer said.

A decision will likely be made this fall when the council decides its 2019 budget.

"We'll also have to talk about the lift because that will probably have to be replaced and moved in the next year or two," Lacy said. "That's going to factor into what we do and when."

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.