Free ski day brings end to Howelsen Hill’s winter season | SteamboatToday.com

Free ski day brings end to Howelsen Hill’s winter season

Austin Colbert

— While the future of Howelsen Hill remains in the shadows, Sunday's free ski day — the finale of the winter season before it closed to the public — was nothing but bright skies and even brighter smiles.

From local 6-year-old Austin Johnson making new friends while climbing on the snow piles, to the Texas trio of Jack Guy, Nick James and Preston Tolbert taking a few ski laps in Steamboat Springs during their spring break, Sunday was a chance for everyone to experience all the city-owned hill has to offer.

"I think small ski areas like this are a vital part of the ski industry and getting, if nothing else, the youth involved. Howelsen Hill has really got something for everybody," said Todd Wilson, ski jumping and Nordic combined program director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. "We just need to pull together and find the best way to keep this going. I think there is tons of support and everybody realizes this is a valuable, worthwhile venture. I call it the greatest place on Earth."

With 17 Alpine ski trails, 13 miles of Nordic ski trails, snowboarding, snow tubing, world-class ski jumps and options for fat bikers, Howelsen Hill long has been a Steamboat gem.

However, what the future holds is anyone's guess — city council and community members alike have continued to discuss how to move forward, from funding options to improvements to erosion prevention. While those opinions may vary, the consensus among Sunday's free ski day participants was all about keeping the fun going.

"This is the ideal training and child kind of skiing areas," South Routt's Ivars Mikelsons said. "This is the perfect place for it. The ski culture here is just awesome. You go into the lodge and you are surrounded by skiers and racers and, it just gets them enthused."

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Mikelsons frequently uses Howelsen's extensive Nordic trails and rarely passes on free skiing. Sunday, it was mostly about allowing his 3-year-old daughter, Luisa, an opportunity to do the same. Not only did Luisa shed her harness for the first time, but she took her first chairlift up the face of Howelsen and enjoyed lap after lap on the magic carpet.

"I think for where we are with her right now, this is ideal for us," Mikelsons said about taking his daughter to Howelsen versus the Steamboat Ski Area. "As far as jumping facility and Nordic facility, this is really great. I think they should definitely keep this going. It's just a great place to be."

While Sunday was the end of the ski season for the public at Howelsen — the Steamboat Ski Area doesn't close until April 10, it will remain in use for other events, such as training for the Winter Sports Club athletes and the Slash and Burn Banked Slalom, which runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The smaller ski jumps also closed Sunday, but Wilson said the larger jumps would remain open for another 10 days for the SSWSC kids.

"It's amazing that something can be happening in your own backyard and you are not aware of it. Hopefully programs like this can help the community," Wilson said about the free ski days at Howelsen. "Our forefathers built this with this idea. I think they'd be very proud to see what this has become. And it's our job to maintain it and keep it going for the next generation."

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert